I recently returned to the equestrian world after more than 20 years away. I grew up riding saddle seat in the Midwest, but once college started—quickly followed by world travel and then a career—horses seemed relegated to my past. Last year I decided that I most definitely wanted them back in my life, so I found a stable with positive reviews and arranged for hunter-jumper lessons. It has been fun yet at times, very difficult, but I have not looked back since. In the meantime, I realized a few things, some of which were new and some I’d forgotten:
1. Sometimes the horsey smell lingers for a while, even after you shower.
It’s just magic that way.
2. At first you won’t be as good as you once were.
That’s the way it is with any sport that you step away from. The key phrase is “at first.” Deal with it and get out there and ride. You’ll see the improvement as your legs figure out where to go and your core starts holding you up more.
3. Clinics = Camps.
You can’t do pony camp as an adult (or at least I haven’t found any) but if you look around, you’ll find clinics for adults. It’s essentially the same thing. The bummer is you now pay for it. The bonus is that they might have wine and beer.
4. Get negative voices from years ago out of your head.
Seriously, this will only hold you back. And you will be surprised by what your brain has retained all these years: mean-spiritedness, unfair comparisons to other riders, passive aggression—all sorts of crap that you never missed. Remember why you wanted to return to horses and shed the unhelpful criticism of the past. Working with a positive trainer can push out any leftover negativity.
5. Kids are not the worst.
You might occasionally be scheduled into a group lesson with a gaggle of tweens. Don’t panic—they can actually be pretty nice, they will know everything about all of the lesson horses, and a surprisingly low percentage will roll their eyes at you. (Don’t take it personally; nobody over 30 is cool.) You will, however, have to watch your swearing around them.
6. You're free to show affection.
You can hug/kiss/snuggle with your horse or whatever horse you are riding just as you did as a 12-year-old and not feel the slightest bit self-conscious about it.
7. The learning didn’t stop at 17.
You will always have new things to learn about horses whether it’s general health, new breeds, or personality quirks. It just expands your horse world, and it’s wonderful.
8. You will have a new community.
You can make a new group of friends spanning all ages, and you will look forward to seeing them. I was already blessed with a great group of friends so getting even more good buddies was an unexpected perk.
9. Riding has not miraculously become an inexpensive sport.
Unless you’ve hit the life-jackpot enabling you to buy everything you ever wanted, there will be some sacrifices. This summer, mine included a trip to the Redwoods and a new pair of hiking boots.
10. You can call it a day when you need to.
During our time as kids and teens—when we needed to please a trainer or parent or when our time really wasn’t our own—we didn’t have this luxury. And while I’d rather be on a horse than not, there are some days when things are just not going right. Maybe it’s poor weather, maybe your horse has an attitude problem, or maybe you have a blinding headache. You can decide that today just isn’t going to be salvaged and opt to come back later.
About the Author
Amy Hempe is a writer and teacher living in Denver. In addition to leasing a horse, she has two dogs and hikes, snowshoes, and makes valiant efforts to go running.