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By Donna Snyder-Smith The Horse Advocate | In My Opinion

The Mature Rider

The Instructors Not all instructors are created equal. Age, time in the profession, and experience and the wisdom that come with that experience are all important parts of the criteria you should be using in your search for a coach who will best understand your needs as an older rider. Young instructors and instructors who work primarily with kids and the “twenty-something” crowd may know the difference between the capabilities of the younger body and that of someone age fifty and over. But that esoteric knowledge doesn’t guarantee that, when in the arena with a student, the younger instructors won’t rely on the exercises they teach regularly to their far younger riders. Nor are such instructors likely to understand that the older body, if pushed too far, takes far longer to repair itself, and will often “defend” itself by becoming stiffer and more rigid in the long run, rather than more flexible. Improvement in both the flexibility and strength of older adults must be made through a series of small, progressive steps.

Caution. It is easy to enter a class, become engaged in the enthusiastic energy of a young instructor and younger riders, and then push oneself far beyond healthful boundaries, and then suffer the consequences afterward.


f you are within throwing distance of the “Over-The- Hill” stage of life and are thinking about taking riding lessons, there are a few things you might want to

consider and a few others you’ll want to know about before booking your first lesson.

First and foremost, older bodies don’t take to athletics (yes, riding is an athletic exercise) as easily as young bodies do. Most of the clients, aged 45 years old and older, that I’ve taught over the years aren’t wimps. They don’t complain; they just try to do what they are told by their instructor. And then they go home and either suffer for a week or buy out the Advil supply at their local drug store. While the cowgirl side of me admires that mental toughness, the physical part of me is now “paying the bill” for all the checks I cashed as a younger person. That makes me an “expert” on riding-related pain. It also gives me a great incentive to find ways of helping my mature clients find ways of mastering the skills of riding without simply pounding around on a saddle for an hour or two each week until their back, hip, knee, and/or ankle pain forces them to stop taking lessons. While this is not meant to be an advertisement for any specific teaching method, I do want to go on record as saying that Sally Swift’s Centered Riding method of learning to ride is the most AARP-member friendly system for learning to ride a horse in the world today.

That said, let’s get on to other “adjustable” aspects of your lessons, which could help you be not only more successful, but also make the journey to being a better (safer?) rider less painful and potentially less physically damaging to your body.

The Horses The way a horse moves has a physical impact on a rider’s body. There’s a radical difference between riding a smooth-moving western horse that’s jogging and riding a powerful, long-strided warmblood. And in a canter or a lope, a medium-strided horse that moves “up hill” in a relaxed, rounded frame will give a rider a feeling of security, allowing the rider to relax the muscles in his or her back and legs. On the other hand, a horse with a rough, “down-hill, ground pounder” type of movement will cause an unconscious, defensive tightening of a rider’s muscles as the person struggles to keep from being catapulted over the horse’s neck onto the ground.

Caution. A mature rider, in order to maximize his or her odds of success, must find an instructor or school that offers horses with movements that are not overwhelmingly stressful to a somewhat slower, stiffer, and mature body. Strain does not produce progress. In the best case, over work may produce an improvement in strength in some muscle groups, but this type of strength is seldom consistent with fluid, effective riding. If your goal is to ride broncs in a rodeo successfully, then perhaps struggle is a good system. But if you want to acquire the graceful, elegant skills of a true horseman, grip and strain is a dead end road.

About the author Donna has been a national sports coach and clinician for 45 years and is an industry journalist and author. Visit www.

Honest Horses Magazine | November-December 2011 27

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