Confessions of a Timid Rider: My Middle-Aged Equestrian Reinvention

It’s not easy to reinvent yourself. Sometimes I ask myself how I got here then I look back on my life and it seems strangely inevitable. Sure I took the long way around but I think that in doing so I’ve learned much more and have zero doubts. Everything I have experienced and learned along the way has led me to this point. It sounds like such a cliche. But it’s my story.

 

I grew up in an affluent, suburban New Jersey town where the world was my oyster. I was that kid that pretended I had a barn in my backyard and rode invisible horses. I begged and pleaded with my parents until they finally paid for horseback riding lessons. They were probably hoping the reality wouldn’t hold up and my obsession would dwindle. Unfortunately for them (and all the other non-horse people in my life) my passion only grew.

Pony Rides at the Kentucky Horse Park 1987

Pony Rides at the Kentucky Horse Park 1987

 

I rode for years but at my barn the horses were already groomed, tacked up, and ready to go. The grooms adjusted our stirrups, and when lessons were done I gave my horse a pat and handed the reins to the next person. I never learned how a barn worked. And looking back I want to kick myself. For those who know me now, they would be surprised to learn I was painfully shy. I was too shy to ask the questions that were burning in my mind. It was so much easier to read books and look for answers.  I was fearless in the sense that however my horse reacted, I would handle it and everything would be ok. But I had zero confidence in my ability to win ribbons at shows. My anxiety and lack of confidence got the best of me. Toward the end of high school I started to think about what I could do with my life.  I never considered I was good enough that riding could be anything other than a hobby. I gave in to my fear.

Me and Picasso, Watching Stables circa 1989.

Me and Picasso, Watching Stables circa 1989.

So I attended university with the intention of working in publishing, which I did successfully for over a decade. But as good as I was at my job and as much as I loved the people with whom I worked, I was lacking in that intensity for medical publishing. I yearned to feel PASSION for my career. 

 

Being a stay-at-home mom changed everything. Having three kids in two years was a bit of a surprise even though twins run in my family. I was able to work from home for a few years until it became apparent my young children needed more of my time. Lucky for me, I had a mother-in-law who wanted to help. I was able to take some time to myself once or twice a week to run errands, get my nails done, or OMG! do something for myself. And after years of living in cities but dreaming of riding on horseback through the woods night after night, I made getting back into horseback riding a priority.

 

I decided to make my dreams a reality when my oldest daughter was 8 months old. I don’t know what I expected. But it was shocking to realize that when I mounted up on to that old Thoroughbred that I was much further off the ground than I remembered. And FEAR kicked in. Real fear. The fear that comes with realizing that I have small children at home that rely on me and that now I have something to lose. 

 

But I didn’t stop. I took baby steps to get comfortable again, and fell in love with that horse, like I’ve fallen in love with a number of other horses over the years. Each animal has something to teach me, and the ones that made me most nervous taught me most of all. But adulthood and all my experiences over the years had given me the most important lesson of all; the confidence to ask questions. I want to learn everything about horses. I learned how to groom and tack up a horse. I follow my trainer around and stayed late to watch other lessons. I watch her do groundwork and drive her crazy with my incessant chatter. I became a thirty-something working student so I could learn the inner workings of a barn and did turn-out and feedings. I asked all the questions I was afraid or too shy to ask years ago. And I NEVER stop asking questions.

 

Because of my passion and my desire for knowledge I have the supreme gratification of improving the quality of life for horses and dogs throughout New Jersey. On the cusp of turning 40, I find it a dream come true that I now have an equine career. I reinvented myself based on my passions. When people ask what I do for a living and I say, “Equine and Canine Massage Therapist” I get either of two responses: excitement that I can work with their animals or sheer confusion that this is in fact, a real thing. I will be the first to say it’s definitely a niche market. 

Me with my favorite OTTB, Delight.

Me with my favorite OTTB, Delight.

 

I took the chance to do what I love and when it came down to it there was never any choice at all. All roads led me back to the equestrian life. So I hope my message is clear: follow your dreams. Reinvent yourself. I did. 

 

Have you ever reinvented yourself as an adult and chased a passion? We would love to hear from you! 


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Heather Wallace is a Certified Equine Sports Massage Therapist (ESMT), Certified Canine Massage Therapist (CCMT), and Aromatherapist. The best thing that she can imagine is having a career improving the quality of life for horses and dogs alike. She and her business partner, Danelle Stukas, are the co-owners of Bridle & Bone Wellness LLC based in Monmouth County, New Jersey.