Seniors -- people over 55 -- can certainly find advantages in riding horses. The benefits can be many, as long as you keep in mind some important considerations.
If you’re someone who loves horses -- you love the looks of them, their smell and the pastoral environments in which you might find them -- then you’ve got the foundation to potentially be a rider in later years. Of course, there’s more to it than the basic foundation. Knowing that horses are large and fairly unpredictable, you must consider your safety above all if you want to take up riding at a later age.
Say you’ve ridden in the past; you’ll be ahead of the game because you’ll already have a sense of what riding is like -- the work involved in saddling and grooming, and the feel of a horse beneath you, to name just a couple of experiences. If you’re new to riding and in your senior years, or if you haven’t ridden for some time, or even years, you'll want to think about some other things before starting up again, including:
- The shape you’re in. Are you fairly physically fit? Do you engage in a regular exercise program for strength and flexibility? If you’re in pretty good physical shape, you may find the physical impact of riding to be a little less hard on your body -- and it can be hard, with muscle or possibly joint pain. And what about strength? Can you lift a heavy saddle to shoulder level or higher? Alternatively, you may be able to find people to help saddle your horse.
- Your riding ability. You’ll want to have a trainer evaluate your experience with horses before you ever mount up. Advise the trainer of things like whether or not you’ve ridden recently or at all, or if you’ve had lessons in the past.
- The horse you’ll ride. You’ll want to have a trainer match your ability and physical condition to a suitable horse. You may not want to get on that frisky young Arabian if you haven’t been on a horse in a while. A calm and possibly older horse may be just the ticket for you in the beginning.
- Your risk-taking mentality and ability. You’ve got to give some thought to whether or not you’re physically able to take a fall off a horse. It might not happen, but chances are that it will occur at some point if you ride long enough. How are you going to respond after a fall -- do you think you’ll break some bones? Are you flexible and strong enough to recover quickly and stand up without injury? For many older people, falling off a horse is one big detriment to getting on in the first place. You can minimize the risks involved by always wearing a good riding helmet and maintaining a high level of fitness.
If you’re feeling good physically and have a solid comfort level around horses, you can make an educated decision on whether or not to proceed with actual riding. There are plenty of health benefits to riding, as long as you’re able to safely do so. Some of the advantages include:
- Relieving stress. The generally slow movements of a horse, the barn smells and the fresh air all contribute to relaxation.
- Balance and Coordination. You’ll improve in both these areas as you use your own body parts to influence the horse’s movements.
- Your brain gets a workout. The focus and concentration required in riding will keep your brain alert and functioning at optimum levels.
- Your body gets a workout. You’ll actually burn calories while riding. In addition, the entire time you’re concentrating while riding your horse you likely won't be thinking about eating!
- Connecting. If you’re able to ride the same horse each time, you’ll develop a deep connection with him as you build the trust between you. It’s a rewarding bond like no other.
It doesn’t hurt to take a few field trips to a local horse barn or farm to get a sense of what it’s like to be around horses -- even if you've spent time with them in the past -- and to talk to the trainers or others there. After doing so, you’ll be able to get a feel for whether or not you want to continue your senior adventure atop a horse. Trust your instincts, and remember to put your safety at the forefront of your mind -- whether in the saddle or out.