In a rare moment of clarity last winter, it occurred to me that I am not getting any younger. Barring an unlikely lifespan of Old Testament proportions, all indications are that I’m nearer to the end than the beginning.
This epiphany demanded action so I immediately signed up for horseback riding lessons. Jumping over things on a horse seemed to offer the perfect mix of excitement, fear and adrenaline that my late middle years demand as my allotted time runs out.
A week later when I threw my leg over a 20-year-old retired show horse and landed in the saddle, I knew I had seriously miscalculated. Even with the aid of a mounting block and two people steadying the horse and helping me up, my creaky, stiff old bones barely made it and it was very scary up there. The excitement versus fear ratio was not nearly as equal as I had expected. Perhaps I should have factored in my fear of heights.
This was a very different experience from the couple of times I had gone trail riding with Western tack. The English saddle I was now perched on bore no resemblance to the mobile Barcalounger I had used before. Barely more than a butt pad, it offered no sense of security at all. What was I supposed to hold onto?
I have a good trainer though and she quickly pointed out that “there’s no shame in mane” if I needed some stability. Good advice since my signature move turned out to be curling up into fetal position every time I felt off balance which was most of the time. Not falling off a trotting horse while riding in fetal position is a vastly underrated skill and one in which I became quite proficient before the fear backed off enough for the excitement to kick in and I was able to sit back up.
By the third lesson, I had moved up to a 17.2 hand off the track Thoroughbred named “Murder in the First.” 17.2 hands means that he’s a very big boy more suited to hauling around my 200-plus pounds. I was just working my way out of fetal position and my trainer was already thinking about how we were going to look in the show ring. I was more concerned than ever with not falling off since now it was even further to the ground.
One of my new horsey friends told me that it’s much easier to jump a big horse since they don’t have as far to go to make the jump. The logic of that piece of wisdom eludes me though I do take comfort in it.
Four months later, I’ve only been thrown once so I felt ready to check out a horse show last weekend to see if that was to be my next move. It was a revelation to say the least.
I expected to see lots of lovely young women walking around in sundresses and straw hats sipping mint juleps talking to men wearing seersucker and straw hats also sipping mint juleps. I expected to see horses jumping over things which I learned is called show jumping or horses dancing which I learned is called dressage. Last but by no means least, I had hoped that at least a few of the competitors would be over the age of ten.
None of that happened. No sundresses, no seersucker, only one straw hat, no mint juleps, no horse jumping, no horse dancing. There were a few competitors over the age of ten but most of them were horses.
I didn’t know that hunter/jumper, cross country, dressage and eventing are separate shows and at this show the competition would consist of walking, trotting and cantering in a circle while trying to stay against the rail and not get run over by any of the other riders or in turn running over any of them.
It was like a NASCAR race with a one horsepower limit where most of the drivers are pre-pubescent girls. It was somewhat more exciting however, since in the middle of each class, everyone turns around at the same time and goes in the other direction. NASCAR ought to really think about incorporating that maneuver. It is not without excitement.
I already knew that there were youth classes for children ten and under. What I hadn’t seen coming was that in the open class, which is open to all ages, there would be the same group of kids competing against an adult or teenager here or there. Yes, there is a novice class, but these kids haven’t lived long enough to be pushed out of it yet.
Why isn’t there a senior category? I want to compete against the other old people. Apparently, there aren’t any other old people. I am not at all sure that my fragile self-esteem can take having my butt kicked by a 6-year-old girl. That would be a hard thing to come back from. And yet, I’m probably going to try it. It is, after all, now or never.
So if the sand is running through the hourglass of your life a little faster than you’d like and you wonder if it’s too late to make a grab at the brass ring, I can tell you that it’s not too late to try. I just can’t tell you if it’s too late to succeed but you’ll never know unless you give it a shot.
And every day you wait gives more time for more sand to fall and your knees to stiffen, so better get cracking. I’ll see you in the show ring.