One sunny day in May, I asked my very nice neurosurgeon if he was absolutely, 100% sure I should never ride again, and he answered using fairly serious terms like “catastrophic” and “devastating consequences,” And just like that, I saw my riding dreams come to a crashing (and tearful) halt.
“It’s not the riding that’s the problem,” he explained. “But you and I both know it’s not if you fall off, but when.”
Ouch. Spoken like someone who knew a thing or two about horses.
And so, in the blink of an eye, I found myself joining the ranks of non-riders everywhere. Do I still miss it? You bet your fleece-lined breeches I do, but I’m slowly learning to look on the bright side of things. And so I present to you, some seriously great benefits to never, ever, ever riding again.
Currently, my new horsey life is steering towards driving. (See what I did there?). Maybe that’s not for you. The good news is, there are about a million different ways you can spend time with and bond with your horse.
Interested in obstacle courses? They have those, where you can lead your horse up, over, under and around all sorts of fun impediments. Want to try your hand at liberty? A quick internet search will yield about a million videos, books and articles on training at liberty. Always really liked dog agility, and thought “Hey, I wish I could do that with a prey animal?” That. Is. A. Thing. Anything you can dream to do with your horse, it probably already exists somewhere.
Do I really need to explain this one? Your thighs are going to thank you. Your horse’s back is going to thank you. Your trainer, who might be sad about the slight reduction in lesson money each month, is probably going to be happy they no longer have to watch you ride around the ring, slipping further and further to one side… Technically, every day is No Stirrup November now, and that’s totally fine with me.
Riding is great, but it’s time consuming between tacking and untacking, the warm-up, and not to mention the actual riding part. Now that your schedule is free, you have time for all the activities you swore you’d learn or do later on. For all those things you’ve said “I don’t have time to work on this today,” well, today has finally arrived.
Need to work on ground manners? You have time to work on ground manners. Want to take some time and learn fancy braiding? Get the yarn ready, it’s go time. Never really mastered the art of wrapping/clipping/pulling/teaching your horse to bow? You can explore every horse-related skill that your little horsey heart desires.
You know what my hands down, least favorite thing in the entire world to shop for is? A saddle. I feel fairly certain in saying I’m not alone in that either. It’s a bit like Goldilocks and the Three Bears. This one is too small. That one’s too big. That one has flaps that are too short. That one is perfect for me, but too narrow for my horse. It’s enough to make you tear your hair out (or at least throw some hay).
Now, I never, ever, EVER have to buy a saddle again, unless it’s for decorative purposes for my eventual dude ranch-themed vacation home. Heck, I don’t even have to shop for a horse again, which is its own process fraught with tears and glasses of wine. Which leads me to number five…
Little horses. Big horses. Wide horses. Narrow horses. Gone are the days of rejecting horses because they are too tall, too short, too wild or too slow for your riding dreams.
If you’ve always wanted a Mini, you can have a Mini. If you’ve always wanted a draft but you didn’t want to ride one, there’s no time like the present. If the little kid inside you has always dreamed of a pretty white pony named Snowball, you go find Snowball and you love the crap out of him, even if you don’t do anything more than sit in his pasture and stare lovingly at him.
And don’t worry about wasted potential; Snowball doesn’t sit around and dream of winning Olympic gold. Snowball is just going to be happy that he’s got hay to eat and someone to obsess over the nutritional content of his low-cal diet (because let’s be honest, Snowball is probably the type of pony to stay fat on air).
In fact, let me put in a plug here for rescue horses. There are so many wonderfully sweet horses out there that can’t find homes because they need to go somewhere where they won’t be ridden. Maybe take a look around and start your search for your next companion there, and spread a little love around.
One of my least favorite parts of the riding world is how much pressure everyone puts on themselves and their mounts. You want to do well at the next show, you want to jump bigger, you’ve been busy so you have to go get a ride in as soon as the rain lets up. You’re not doing as well as your friends (or your frenemies), or maybe your riding is just not where you thought it would be by now.
One of the best parts of never riding again is that there are ZERO expectations anymore, from anyone else or from yourself.
You know one of the best days I’ve had lately? I was at the barn, on a late, chilly Friday night, and I just hung out with my pony while she ate hay. That was it. There was no worry of whether we would be ready for our next lesson, our next show, whether she’d be capable of moving on from Training level, or whether I would be, because none of that stuff applied anymore. All that guilt of what I should or could be doing was gone. She was a horse, and I was her person, and we both just were. And while I miss riding her, that in itself is a pretty amazing gift.
And so non-riders, unite! Whether it’s by choice or not, let us seize the day and learn to appreciate the positives about not riding anymore (I DID mention the No-Stirrup-November thing, right?). Let us all revel in the fact that we can learn all sorts of horsey skills, or we can just sit in a pasture and stare at our ponies (may they be large or teeny). Contrary to popular belief, riding isn’t the be-all-end-all of horse activities, and you now have the awesome opportunity of complete and total freedom to decide what your horsey life should look like.
My hat (but not a helmet because I don’t need one anymore), is off to you.
When Aubrey Moore isn’t with her horse Flynn, new pony or doing near-constant maintenance on her truck, she can be found with a glass of wine in hand, chatting happily with her cat Frankie.
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