I became a newbie horse owner at age 53 by adopting Emma, a tall Canadian sport horse from a rescue operation and took two years of riding lessons on her before riding her on my own. After a couple of months puttering around in the fields behind my house, I finally got the old, rusty trailer out that I had purchased for $500 and drove Emma to a staging area a few miles from my house to participate in a poker ride. I was nervous since I had taken Emma on trails only a few times, and I did not know what this poker ride would really be like. In the fall, lots of organized trail rides were happening in our area. Some of them were fundraisers for various horsemanship associations, and others were simply organized by people who wanted to have company on their rides.
We made it to the sight alright, where about thirty other horse trailers were already parked, horses were being groomed and saddled, and people were posting their competition numbers onto their saddles or shirts. I unloaded Emma, tied her to the trailer, gave her some hay and went to register, paid my dues for the day, got the rules of the ride, and since I was a single rider, was assigned to a group of other riders. I was happy to meet new horse people and as it turned out, one of the riders in the group knew Emma. She had seen her at the rescue when she herself had been looking for a new horse but had decided against Emma since she was such a tall horse. She was happy to see that this beautiful horse had found a nice home. We were five riders, the others much younger than me, but the group suited me well since nobody was overly ambitious and just wanted to go for an easy ride. On this poker ride the rules were easy – we only had to find the trees along the way that had a sack of poker cards hanging from a branch, and we had to ride up to the tree and pull out a card for the collection of a hand, which we turned in at the end to be compared to the other hands. This very nice ride took us through woods and fields, along a creek, under and over some bridges with very few hills to climb or to descend. It was simple fun with the horses in the woods, ending with a BBQ and rewards for the winning hands.
I loaded Em back into the trailer after the event and home we went, tired but happy. This was the beginning of a wonderful fall and winter with trail rides almost every weekend. Some of them were also poker rides and much more challenging than the first one. Most poker rides included tasks along the trail for which horse and rider gathered points, such as walking through a sea of plastic bottles, walking into water and along a truck with blasting sounds of barking dogs and machinery, etc. Even though Emma never did beautifully, she managed to complete almost all the challenges and just lost points from the judges for bad form. I did not care about the points or the form. I felt like an Olympian just because Emma and I were actually able to go through with the whole darn poker thing, coming out unscathed and thrilled to be part of an event that had so many experienced riders, people who had ridden their whole lives and horses that had had years of trail riding and event experience. What a thrill and what an accomplishment to be a novice rider on an inexperienced horse joining in the ride. All the work and patience and doubts of starting my horsewomanship late in life, the money, the care, the worries, the sleepless nights, the failures and discouragements, all of it was finally paying off – with a game of poker on horseback.