I was 32 when this picture was taken. That's so long ago that I had to check with friends to make sure this was a picture of me. I barely remember what it felt like to be that young and....well, alert!
Since my post about middle aged riders and fear, I've done some talking to other old people and some reading, and I've reached a conclusion or two. Middle aged (and Other Aged) riders are not more afraid of riding. They are:
1. More aware of how devastating injuries can affect their daily lives and stretch their families' love and patience to the breaking point, and
2. More likely to own the wrong horse.
By the time most riders have reached an advanced age, they have experienced a number of traumatic events, many of them horse-related. I was fifty...uh....over fifty when I had the only riding accident that sent me to the ER. Not that others should not have also done so, but on this occasion there were witnesses, so I couldn't just hobble to my bathroom and pour peroxide on whatever yucky places needed cleaning. I had to actually seek treatment. A good thing, as it turned out, as I needed stitches. Horse people are notorious for do-it-yourself medicine. Heck! If you can use a clamp to stop a horse's digital artery from relieving the animal of its life force, it's not a huge leap to pick up a needle and thread and "fix it" when some interior portion of your own body is trying to become exterior. Duct tape and a riding crop have splinted many a sprain.
The ER visit didn't cause my long recovery period. The type of accident did. But my family really had to step up during that time, and it took nearly two years for my left shoulder and hip to resume total (almost) functionality. Suddenly it wasn't funny anymore.
If I didn't have my own farm, if there were no horses, chickens, and people here to be cared for, if I'd been able to walk away and hole up for a time while I healed, I might not have experienced such a rude awakening. From what I've discovered in my recent conversations, it's the folks who have horses at home who are the first to discover capital-F Fear. The ones who board out but wind up in a body cast are the next group. The ones who lose jobs or spouses or the ability to function without support are right up there too.
In other words, it's not that middle-aged and older folks are more fearful, it's that they are more likely to have had a serious injury, for the odds to have finally turned against them, and they're more attuned to how their absence affects the larger world around them.
We are also more likely to be unwilling to give up on a horse that isn't working for us anymore (or one that never was). I'm old enough to have horses that have been with me for fifteen years. A fifteen-year-old rider can't say that. A fifteen-year-old rider thinks six months is a long time. Inertia is big in older folks. As I watched Zips Moneypit happily rediscovering his jumping bone, I couldn't help but think that he's misplaced here. He'll stay here until he dies (or I d0) because I know the folly of trying to rehome a horse that age that has never lived anywhere else. And because giving up on him smacks of giving in to my aging.
And we're forgetful! We remember those days when we galloped bareback and helmetless (yes, we did) through the woods and we buy horses that remind us of those days. Then we get on them and feel as if we're suddenly wrong. Different. The horse that attracted the memory us scares the bejeezus out of the real-time us.
Now, that doesn't mean we need to quit. We do, however, need to pay homage to our advancing years and think about also having a horse that is an easy, safe ride. Having more than one horse is out of the question for many people in this economy, but if we have the wherewithal, it's an excellent option. When I'm fresh out of nerve, good ol' Leo is there to cart me around, zippy enough to be fun and solid enough to erase all doubt that I can still ride. And there's Dakota, western to the core and dead-broke-quiet, but happy to try popping over teeny-tiny cross-rails if I'm in the mood.
This isn't the end of the story, I'm sure. The more people I talk to and the more letters and articles I read, the more I see that there are threads that tie us together but also vast differences in attitude and experience. I'll be curious to see where this all comes together into some sort of coherent theory.
Meanwhile, I'm going riding.