What’s it like to ride horses into your 90s? I interviewed my 91-year-old mom to find out. The following article was originally published on Equitrekking. You can read it below or on Equitrekking here.
My mom is 91-years-old and has been an avid horsewoman since before I was born. You would think that horseback riding would have ended for her many years ago. Think again! Mom has never let her age keep her from doing the things she loves. She hasn’t let health issues deter her either. I’ve never known anyone with her drive and determination. From a life-threatening fall on her head to neuropathy in her legs and feet, none of that has mattered. Mom has always found a way to be back where she belongs—on a horse.
I recently sat down with her for a chat about her love of horses and being a senior rider.
What does riding mean to you as an older person?
It means freedom. And bonding with the animal. And it just means being outdoors amongst…being in areas that I love. Environments that I love.
And you love horses.
Yeah, I love horses. I adore horses.
What was it like getting on a horse at 91 years old, for the first time after you had serious health issues?
It was exciting because I really didn’t think I’d ever be able to be on a horse again. And it was a real victory.
What made you think that you could do it?
The fact that I love horses.
But what made you decide that you were ready? That you really would be able to do it again?
Well, I was stronger, back in aerobics. I was doing my exercises. I gained physical strength, stamina. And I never rode a horse that I thought I could not control or would not understand me.
What advice do you have for other older people who might not have thought they could ride at their age?
Just enjoy the fact that you are on an animal that is very kind and loving. If you develop a friendship with animals and a relationship with animals—just give them a hug and a kiss. That’s all they need to know. And just breath in their little noses so they can tell what your scent is. They have to know who you are. It’s communication and you communicate with a horse with love and affection. Because they are huge animals; they are bigger than you are so you have to win their affection and their trust.
You always talk about how riding enables you to do things you normally can’t do since you are wobbly on your feet and have balance issues.
Well, when I’m on the horse, I’m secure. I have confidence in the horse, and if he has confidence in the fact that I can ride him and control him and tell him what I want him to do…it’s all in that communication between you and the horse. And the fact that I am wobbly when I walk, I have confidence in his four legs knowing where they are going and my being able to direct him.
Being on a horse gives me a sense of wellbeing and freedom and being able to look at the other animals, birds, deer, what have you [while I ride].
Do you have a favorite memory of being on a horse?
When I first rode Brett and he ran away with me. He ran away with me, and I said, “What do I do?” and my instructor, Jim Wylie, said, “Betty, hold on!” and that’s what I did. I had confidence in myself that I would hold on. And in Brett. We became buddies. We were the best of friends.
The other one was Eric, who was a great big 16-hand horse—huge. I was riding him and all of a sudden some bell rang, and Eric took off. It was like he was at the racetrack. He was a racehorse. And everyone said, “Oh my god! What’s going to happen?” And Jim said, “Don’t worry. She can handle Eric.” And sure enough, I handled Eric by saying, “Stop that! You know better!”
And that was my being with Eric. And whenever I would ride Eric, I said, “Eric, it’s Mommy, I want you not to do that!” if he did something wrong. I could do that with Eric, but no one else could. Don’t ask me why. I have no idea. I could ride this big former racehorse, and I’m a small person. On a good day, I’m only five feet. On another day, I’m four foot 11.
Do you have a favorite riding trip that you went on?
Oh yeah, the ride up to June Mountain with my friends. That was [laughing] the most exhausting thing I have ever in my life done because we had to sleep in tents, and I had to sleep on an air mattress, and I knew every rock in the ground.
How old were you when you did that trip?
I was about 65, 68…close to 70. So I did a lot of this riding when I was an older person. I was already in my sixties.
What about riding Icelandic horses on our Iceland trip when you were 89?
I loved that! I loved going through the water. I hadn’t gone through streams in a while since I did it in Chile in my seventies.
It reminded me of when I went to Vermont [with my riding group] and we also rode Icelandic horses. It started snowing, like a snowstorm, and I wasn’t properly dressed. Everything froze. They literally had to lift me off of the horse.
How old were you on the Vermont trip?
In my eighties.
Are you sure it wasn’t late in your late seventies?
I think it was in my early eighties.
Any other words of encouragement for older riders?
Have confidence in the horse. Make the horse your friend. Give them apples. Sugar cubes. Bananas. Whatever you think.
Have you seen a horse eat bananas?
Yeah. Brett loved bananas.
That’s wild. I’ve never heard that before.
I once gave Brett champagne. The horse and I were both tipsy.
What was the occasion?
It was somebody’s birthday or anniversary. I can’t remember.
Did he drink it out of your hand?
Uh-huh. Poured it into my hand. That was really wild.
And some other [wild stories]…. When we were riding in Malibu, and it was at night, and we did, it was kind of like dressage. There were six of us riders, and we were in and out of formations. That was exciting. That was good riding. And that’s when Brett fell. He stumbled and tripped. It wasn’t his fault. It wasn’t my fault. He fell on me, and the saddle cut into my leg. And I said, “Brett, listen; now move slightly off, back, back.” He listened to me. “Back, back. When you’re off my leg and the saddle is free–get up.” So I pulled him back and then I said, “Now, Brett, up.” He stood up. I got out from underneath him and got back on the horse.
I trusted the horse, and I learned that if you trust the animal, and they know you do, they’ll respond. They don’t want to hurt you.
How old were you when that happened?
In my mid-sixties. So if I could do these things, anyone could do them. And I got up and rode around the ring, and Jim said, “Show off” and I said, “Why not?”
How often do you currently ride?
Weekly, if it isn’t too hot.