Monty Roberts answers reader questions in his weekly “Ask Monty” column. Early in summer 2015, a reader asked the question “Are We Too Old To Ride?”
To sum up, Monty at 80 is still riding and offers suggestions, especially, to emphasize safety. He recommends a lot of the steps I will, such as picking a good instructor who can help a new rider avoid trouble.
That said, as a late-in-life rider taking beginner lessons, I can offer additional pointers and give you ideas how to prepare.
Finding your barn and gathering your gear may take time, so you might as well start building your strength and endurance.
Build your fitness level
A half hour lesson doesn’t sound like much, but it is. There’s more cardio than you imagined, plus you’ll use muscles you didn’t know you had. So, your first order of business is to ask your doctor first if you’re okay to ride.
Still, try to walk at least half an hour three days a week to get started. Park away from the office, store, and take the stairs and climb some hills. Lift some light weights. After all, you’re going to want to learn to saddle for yourself.
Do some yoga or chair yoga, even from YouTube videos, to stretch and practice balance. Even just stand on one foot for a while. Yoga is good for expanding your flexibility.
You’ll be glad when you start bending over to pick hooves.
Plus, knowing I’m riding keeps me out of the fattening stuff and gets me out the door to walk and exercise.
Wear a helmet, even if you ride western. I put my helmet on before I grab my lesson horse’s halter and lead rope, just in case we have an accidental Three Stooges moment. Look for a helmet with an adjustable fit, a ratchet on the inside.
Get boots with a heel. You can probably cheap-out with work boots from Wal-Mart, but you’ll be happier in paddock boots. If you want to use boots you already own, don’t choose anything with an inner leg zipper.
Granted, nice paddock boots can be pricey, but if you keep them nice with leather wipes and regular conditioning, they can go more places than the barn. I wear mine to writer’s conferences when I’m wearing slacks. They’re my go-to shoe for walking all day in New York when it’s not high summer. I also bleach the soles before I take them into society, in case you’re wondering if I’m leaving a trail of barn muck molecules in my wake.
Breeches or jeans. Some barns are fine with either. Others, if you ride English, expect you to wear breeches, a challenge for us curvy ladies. Stickyseats pull on and stretch like leggings. Some barns scoff at Stickyseats as a cheat toward developing your seat. After you’ve been riding for a few months, you’ll know what that means. But, hey, you’re not training for the next Olympics or the Tevis Cup. I spend plenty of time working on my seat, thank you, even in Stickyseats.
Optional gear, depending on the lesson barn
I have a dislike-hate relationship with half-chaps. Some barns suggest you wear half chaps. They do give you the lower leg control that tall boots do without the tall boots price.
However, because of the way my boots are made, if I wear half-chaps, I simply can’t feel my calves or move my ankle sideways. If I lose a stirrup, I have to jab around with my whole lower leg. This must be what it felt like to be a knight wearing armor.
Lesson Barns and Instructors
Your riding instructor is a crucial safety feature.
I’m echoing Monty, but it’s true. A good instructor can see trouble coming and head it off at the pass.
Spend a lot of time checking out your local riding instructors and lesson barns. Look for barns with lesson programs for all ages. You can start this with a web search, but don’t limit your search to the web.
Ask around at your local tack shop or feed store. Go to a horse show and watch who works with the adults. Pick up the local horseman’s periodical or newspaper.
You’re looking for an instructor who is experienced with adult beginners.Even if you rode as a child and “life happened” in the decades since, just go for a beginner lesson, if for no other reason than as a refresher.
My instructor Christine is a balanced seat instructor. Centered riding is also a good feature to learn, but you don’t have to look for specific centered riding instructors. Many instructors are familiar with the techniques but don’t hold the certification.
The barn should have two or more big beginner horses in case one’s with the farrier or out of commission or just to give you a different learning experience. As in “big lesson horses,” I don’t mean draft horses. I mean, mature horses about 15 hands or more.
That said, visit the barn you’re considering and look for mounting blocks with four steps, if you’re short. Some of you are laughing, but those three-step mounting blocks may not be tall enough if you’re short, even with a 15-hand horse.
Try to schedule your visit to watch a lesson with the instructor who interests you. Or, if you have your gear and feel physically ready, schedule a single lesson, just to see how you like it.
Did I miss anything? Add it in the comments section below.
With much gratitude to:
- My instructor Christine who has a website and a Facebook page
- Seven J’s Farm, the location of the photo above, where I take my lessons with Christine and the home of lesson horses Daisy (as you see above), Cowgirl, and Dylan. Here’s the Seven J’s website and Facebook page.