What do you do for fun when you’re 89? Go horseback riding of course! That’s what mom did on our recent trip to Iceland. One might think it’s a risky hobby for a senior citizen, but it’s not as crazy as it sounds. Getting older has meant that mom’s legs aren’t what they used to be. Even though she does regular exercise classes, pilates, stretching, etc., age has a way of catching up with even the most dedicated exercisers. Mom needs to be more careful and aware, even when walking. Uneven ground, cracks in the pavement, and inclines are all things that can cause an older person to stumble or fall. Put Mom on a horse, though, and her not-so-young legs are no longer a hindrance. Her many years of riding have given her a sense of balance and steadiness in the saddle. The muscle memory kicks in. Mom has a freedom to roam that eludes her on the ground.
Nothing brings mom joy like being on a horse trekking through the hills on a wildflower-speckled trail. She’s in her element. You may even hear her quietly chatting with her horse, offering words of praise or even having a conversation. Mom’s always been an animal lover, but she has a special place in her heart for horses.
Mom used to be part of a horseback riding group that took many vacations together. They dramatically rode horses along the beach in Andalusia, Spain. They stayed on a horse ranch in Chile. Mom even had her first encounter with Icelandic horses when her group rode though the vivid-hued autumn leaves in Vermont. These vacations are no longer possible given her age, but when we chose Iceland, I knew she’d soon be back in the saddle.
Icelandic horses are very unique, originating with Norse settlers in the 9th and 10th centuries. Since 982 (over 1,000 years ago) no horses have been allowed into Iceland from other countries. Not only that, but if an Icelandic horse leaves, it cannot return. A unique trait of the Icelandic horse is that it has two extra gaits in addition to the walk, trot, canter/gallop of most horses. These gaits are the tölt and the flying pace. Icelandic horses are also smaller and sturdier than most breeds.
We rode on the south coast of Iceland near Skógafoss waterfall. As mom went to mount her horse, the first thing she did was ditch her cane. Once mom was astride, she was all business. She got adjusted to being back in the saddle, and her confident seat was immediately there. She also took a moment to get a feel for her horse. Then we were off.
Once we hit the trail, mom relaxed into the moment. This was her happy place. I caught a glimpse of a huge smile on her face as we rode through green fields speckled with tiny yellow flowers. I also caught little snippets of mom softly talking to her horse.
Mom’s highlight of the ride was when we crossed a small stream. She commented that it had been years since she’d ridden through water, so it was a special treat. Icelandic horses are especially sure-footed, and mom’s horse confidently navigated the rushing flow and rocky bottom.
After the ride, mom couldn’t have been happier. She did have some concerns going in since she hadn’t ridden for a while and was a little more reliant on her cane than usual during the trip. But mom has never been one to let her age stand in the way of doing what she enjoys. Her vital spirit is also what keeps her so youthful. So cane or no cane, if there’s a horse to be ridden, mom will do it!
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