For many equestrians our passion (ummm, obsession) started at an early age. There is an irresistible lure of these noble and graceful creatures that has ensnared us for thousands of years. I can pinpoint exactly where it all started for me. My first memory of meeting a horse is rather hazy. At the time my family was living in Washington State and I was maybe 3 years old. We lived in a suburban neighborhood between Seattle and Tacoma and I remember being curious at the sound of clip-clopping down the road in front of our home. Around the bend came a woman leading her horse. I remember asking my mom what it was because I'd never seen one before and it looked HUGE. I can’t remember the color of the horse or what the woman looked like. But I remember my mother taking me by the hand and asking his owner if I could meet him. I was nervous but so in awe when he nuzzled my outstretched hand and his whiskers tickled. That sealed it for me.
I always begged for pony rides when the opportunity arose but I didn’t mount a horse independently until I was about 8. We were on a family trip in Arizona and my family gave me this special opportunity to ride a horse in the desert. I was so nervous when he shifted stance I hopped off and refused to go on the trail ride. I spent an hour grooming that grey pony instead, and talking to him. I cried when we had to leave and I’ve never forgotten him.
The amazing thing about equestrians is there is no real age limitation. Kids growing up on farms feed horses, muck stalls, and drive quads or trucks before puberty. I've been known to have my 5 year old twins sweep the aisles and clean tack while I bring in horses from turnout. Teenage barrel racers, reiners, show jumpers, and more have sponsors and compete nationally. In the United States professional show jumpers run the gamut in age from early to mid 20’s like Jessica Springsteen to icons like Beezie Madden and Phillip Dutton, both 53.
Food for thought: in 2012 Reed Kessler, an 18-year old United States show jumper, became the youngest Olympic equestrian competitor ever during the Olympic Games in London. Ironically at the other end of the spectrum during those same Olympic Games, Japanese equestrian Hiroshi Hoketsu competed in Dressage at the age of 71. For equestrians age is just a number. Just look at the ever infamous and sassy George H. Morris who at 78 is still intimidating young riders and will still mount up and show the youngsters a thing or two.
Sure, thosese are professionals. But if you go to your local farm or barn you will see leadline, short stirrup, teenagers, young adults, middle-aged adults, and seniors. We run the gamut. Because equestrian life isn’t about age. True passion has no boundaries. And while I am a pleasure rider and have zero aspirations to compete, I am learning every day from the kids just opening their eyes to this lifestyle and likewise from the seniors alike who have seen it all before.
Funny story: as I’ve said I am NOT a competitor. The show ring gives me anxiety and I am much happier grooming, running registration, or giving massages to the equine athletes. But there have been a few times I’ve done schooling shows at my barn, Lancaster Equestrian Stables.. Usually I am the only adult in my class competing against kids, some as young as 13 (for the record I am 39). My husband likes to keep me humble and point out that I am stealing ribbons from the kids and their parents are going to hate me. But the very fews times I’ve done these shows it’s been nothing but camaraderie from all. The kids think it’s funny that an adult is hanging out with them and their parents (my peers) are cheering me on. To be frank, my anxiety keeps me from getting too many blue ribbons anyway. I joke that I’m like Billie Madison going back to school as an adult. For more on that read my first blog post, My Middle-Aged Equestrian Life. Again schooling shows are more laid back than rated shows. Even at rated shows there are age classes in addition to classes such as Low Child/ Adult classes and Open Classes for all ages. The emphasis in equestrian competition is largely skill level rather than age bracket.
Equestrians never stop learning and I can’t imagine living without horses. I have hope that when I am old and grey, my bones brittle and joints arthritic, that I will still spend time at the barn. Just being there makes me happy. Hopefully one day I can be a source of inspiration or experience for the generations that come after. For now, I'm just working on my three daughters.
I'm curious, when did your passion for horses start? As a child or later in life?
About the writer: Heather Wallace of Monmouth County, New Jersey is a certified equine and canine sports massage therapist, co-owner of Bridle & Bone Wellness LLC, and equestrian & canine blogger at Bridle & Bone. She is an adult amateur equestrian in unrequited loved with an OTTB and has two rescue dogs, Gonzo and Beau.