I used to ride regularly as a teenager. I even entered show jumping competitions (see photo above).
I loved Barney; he was the horse I’d always ride if he was available. That horse taught me to trust again, showed me I could be confident and taught me there was still good in the world. In short, he saved my life.
But as therapeutic as I found horse riding it all stopped when I found boys.
Many years later I found I missed horse riding. I needed to return to the saddle. Here is my experience on returning to horse riding as an adult;
Sadly, the riding centre I used to go to had closed. So began my quest to find somewhere that would supply the same magical experience I longed for.
Back in the day, I had witnessed other girls in the yard laughing at the poor middle aged women who came to the stables as I now was. Fearful, nervous and excited. Would I still remember how to ride?
I didn’t want to look like someone in it for the short haul, so I went out and purchased (at great expense) new jodhpurs, boots and a hat. I have a very small head, and hate trying to find a loan hat to fit.
Oh, that walk of shame! The young girls mucking out would be looking at me, judging the poor ‘old woman’ who thinks she can ride.
I nervously drove to the yard. Yes, I’m a grownup and can drive myself now. I can do this.
I approached the office, and completed the form of doom, stating my much heavier weight amongst other details, and declaring I can ride so if I fall off it’s my own fault.
My trusty steed was brought out to me. A lovely cob. When did horses get so big?
I, rather inelegantly, mounted the large horse, and plodded uncertainly towards the school. Most stables these days require a lesson to prove your horsemanship before allowing you out into the world to hack.
Great, I had walking down to a fine art. My hands instinctively held the reins correctly and I started to relax. Then came the trotting.
Oh the trotting! My poor, long neglected muscles. I’d put on weight, I’d grown taller, my centre of gravity had shifted.
The instructor started to yell instructions, “Lean back, you’re too far forward. Keep your leg on. Keep him going.”
Suddenly there was a plethora of commands, and I felt unsteady. I had never struggled so much before. Why was this suddenly difficult now?
My first lesson was a bit of a disaster. My self-confidence flew out the window as I was told how badly I was doing. There was no dismounting block and my aching legs had to swing round and support me as I plonked down from the saddle.
I did manage a polite thank you as I limped home to a hot bath.
I felt stupid and dejected. Something I had so loved now seemed a thing of torture. It took my thighs days to forgive me. It took a few years for my heart to forgive myself.
Eventually the urge to ride became too great for me to ignore. I just had to try again.
I found another stables and went through the same routine. The young lady was much more gracious, but I suspected she was hiding her mirth behind a friendly smile.
The horse I was given was a lovely animal, but very tall. I went to the indoor ring and went round several times. I was gently encouraged to make the necessary adjustments. Somewhere along the line my ballet toes had crept in, and I had to constantly tell my heels to stay down.
But with each circuit I remembered more, and I began to relax. I was asked if I would like to canter. My favourite! I’m a speed demon. On I nudged, and we started to fly down the outside line. We cantered round the corner. Apparently the horse I was on was an eventer. I wasn’t prepared for the sharp angular turns. I stayed on. But once again my fragile confidence faltered.
Why was I putting myself through this? All I wanted to do was hack out, enjoy some pretty scenery and be with horses. I never liked dressage, and the strict rules of the ring have always sent me into a panic.
This stables sadly didn’t do hacks out, so I never returned, despite the lovely horse.
I eventually found the perfect location, and was prepared to drive one hour from my home in my quest for equine joy.
And what a difference! Very helpful ladies, who didn’t remotely look like they’d snigger. My trial lesson was free as it was obligatory. But it was wonderful. I felt my seat settle into this canter. Rather embarrassingly I may have emitted a, “Weeeeeeeeee!” as we cantered down the long side. The horse picked up speed as a result and I was brimming with joy. Sadly, the instructor made us slow down.
The next time I went out for a hack. It was only a walk/trot, but it was lovely. We chatted and made our way around the route in a very relaxed fashion. At last I’d found a place with horses who weren’t ready for the knacker’s yard, and the scenery was right. Yeah, that place changed hands and has apparently gone downhill as a result. Typical!
But I’m not giving up this time. When time and money allow I treat myself to a ride. There’s just something right with the world when I’m on horseback.
I actually rode on a beach on holiday in Tunisia. This had been a lifelong dream. It was marvellous! I sped along the sand with the breeze in my hair, and waded through the cool salty water.
The moral of this article? Yard owners, please be kind to us returners. We may have a fragile grip on our old skills, but they are merely dormant. With gentle encouragement we will remember. Please don’t treat us with disdain, or expect too much from our first ride. Just a little patience is all we need. That, and a hot bath when we return home.
Anyone reading this who is also thinking of returning to horse riding, please just pluck up the courage and do it. Yes, I had some bad experiences, but this is by no means true of every stables. Riding is a pleasure and can be again.