Horse­man­ship, 60 & Over

Learn­ing to ride in your 60s poses unique chal­lenges, but noth­ing you can’t over­come— with the right at­ti­tude.

Horse & Rider - - Your Stories - By Ed­mond P. DeRousse

Ibe­gan tak­ing rid­ing lessons at age 63. I’ve dis­cov­ered learn­ing to ride a horse isn’t as sim­ple as learn­ing to ride, say, a bike. You must master how to sit and how to keep your bal­ance— that much is like the bike. But you must also learn how to po­si­tion and co­or­di­nate your hands and feet. Plus how to fol­low the move­ment. Plus how not to bounce. Plus how all the gear works, not to men­tion how to in­ter­act with the horse. And all of it must be pro­cessed in the brain at roughly the same time.

Of­ten it can seem like me against the horse, me against the trainer, or me against me. Some­times sep­a­rately. Some­times all to­gether. It’s a chal­lenge.

Garbage In, Garbage Out

A com­pli­cat­ing factor is that I’ve put an aw­ful lot of junk and wrong think­ing about horses into my “hu­man pro­ces­sor” over the years. By now my stor­age bins are pretty full, so stuff has to be deleted be­fore I can put new stuff in. And, be­lieve me, a lot of new stuff needs to get in there as I try to learn to ma­neu­ver my horse, Aztec. The fact that my pro­ces­sor doesn’t process as quickly as it once did is also a factor. (That’s my story, any­way, and I’m stick­ing to it.)

Here’s some­thing else to con­sider. For those of us who’re no longer young­sters, older mus­cles seem ei­ther to be re­stricted in their move­ment or sim­ply don’t re­spond as quickly. It’s a law of na­ture.

Brain and brawn are sup­posed to work to­gether. Com­mu­ni­cate with each other. For ex­am­ple, my trainer gives a command. My ears hear it and send the command to my brain. My brain sends it out to the ap­pro­pri­ate mus­cle group. They re­spond to the command and the ma­neu­ver is ac­com­plished.

That, at any rate, is how it’s sup­posed to work.

Some­times, though, my brain just gets mud­dled. My trainer gives a command. My ears hear it and send the command to my brain. My brain sends it out to the ap­pro­pri­ate mus­cle group. The mus­cle group sends the brain back a mes­sage: “Ain’t doin’ that to­day.” The brain then has to find a work­around. What should’ve been a sim­ple process has got­ten clogged. At the same time— and as I’m try­ing to fig­ure out what went wrong—a new command is on the way.

I com­plain to my trainer about this sort of thing, and be­cause she’s a good in­struc­tor, she finds a way to help me work through it. As a re­sult, my horse­man­ship skills have ac­tu­ally im­proved to a sur­pris­ing de­gree.

More Chal­lenges

Lately, though, I’ve been deal­ing with some new mind games. I’m sure the dis­trac­tions in ques­tion have al­ways been there; I just didn’t no­tice them be­fore. Now that I’m a bet­ter rider and have dumped some bad habits, there’s room in my brain to no­tice and deal with these other things.

For in­stance, my trainer ex­plains a new ma­neu­ver. Be­cause I’m that bet­ter rider, I have an eas­ier time mul­ti­task­ing. So be­sides im­ple­ment­ing the ma­neu­ver, I find my­self ac­tu­ally notic­ing that my trainer is urg­ing me to raise or lower my toe, as well, or to feel what Aztec is “telling” me, or to put my left­cheek pocket deeper in the sad­dle.

I also hear the other rid­ers (who’re wait­ing their turn to prac­tice the ma­neu­ver) telling each other how good my ride looks—or ex­press­ing their con­cern that I may be about to have an “un­planned dis­mount.” I can even hear that ob­nox­ious bird chirp­ing some­where in the arena.

My trainer keeps telling me that with con­tin­ued prac­tice, I can and will over­come these chal­lenges and dis­trac­tions. And you know what? She’s right.

Now that I have the ben­e­fit of a cou­ple years’ rid­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, I’ve no­ticed com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween Aztec and me has sig­nif­i­cantly im­proved. He un­der­stands my body move­ments bet­ter, and I can ac­tu­ally feel his re­sponses to my ver­bal and phys­i­cal com­mands.

And, oh! What fun it is!

Ed­mond P. DeRousse is a re­tired ed­u­ca­tor for the Illi­nois De­part­ment of Cor­rec­tions. He served seven years in the U. S. Army and worked as an ex­ec­u­tive for the Boy Scouts of Amer­ica. Af­ter watch­ing his wife hav­ing so much fun on her horse, he de­cided to join in. Aztec, a once- ne­glected geld­ing adopted from a res­cue ranch, in­spired him to write a book about his eques­trian ad­ven­tures. Learn more at com­mon­manad­ven­

The au­thor with Aztec, his res­cued geld­ing.

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