As someone who has pretty much grown up around horses – and who has spent the last 20 years taking care of them full time – I often forget that not everybody has been as up close and personal with horses as I have.
A couple of years ago, I met a wonderful woman named Catherine via my friend who was her instructor at the time. Thinking that Catherine was maybe in her 50’s and that she had been riding for some time, I was shocked when I discovered her true age and that she had only been riding for a short period of time. Catherine started taking lessons at Foxwood about 1 1/2 years ago, with my friend and also with me. We became “Facebook friends” and after each lesson, she would often post about not only her riding lesson experience but also about what happened at the barn and the life lessons that she takes away from it.
It’s a perspective that differs from mine. And it is one that I, too, can learn from.
Back in December, I asked Catherine if she would share some of her experiences with riding, horses and Foxwood and she said yes…and I will share with you her “chapters of riding life” as she sends them my way. Catherine is a fabulous writer and I hope that in sharing her horseback riding experiences, it will bring a little perspective to each of you.
Until next time,
Catherine’s story – Chapter 1
There is no surprise ending to this tale. It has an unqualified happy ending.
My story begins seven years ago on the occasion of my sixtieth birthday. As a senior, I embarked on a mission to learn to ride a horse. In the realization of this quest, the pleasures of learning a new set of skills, forming cherished relationships with experienced riders of all ages, coming to love the pleasures of the touch, sight, the olfactory, and tactile nature of an equine relationship, and feeling the joys of sitting astride a horse in motion have enhanced the quality of my life immensely. It started seven years ago.
We have all heard the familiar adage that you cannot teach an old dog new tricks… I am the old dog and can announce that this is a fallacy.
When I turned 60, my daughter, Kelly, decided to organize a surprise birthday party. This task was complicated by the simple fact that she lives in Ottawa and the party was held in Tottenham. She remembered that I had always wanted to learn how to ride. The party invitations contained a request that, in lieu of a gift, a donation in any amount would be consolidated and used to purchase a series of horseback riding lessons.
Not only was the party an unadulterated surprise, but I ended up with eleven lessons, boots, and a helmet as well as a place to ride. This happy story has an even happier ending. Kelly embarked on a series of long distance, time-consuming, interviews of prospective instructors. This resulted in my first introduction to my riding instructor, Paige. She received an unqualified five star rating and made Kelly feel certain that my needs would be well-taken care of and I would be made to feel safe.
To add a further complexity to this meandering tale, I would like to introduce Paige’s son, Keir, to my story. Two of my grandchildren, Ryan (9) and his brother Liam (6) visit us in Tottenham in the summer. Their time with their grandparents is enhanced by time spent with Paige’s son, Keir. Ryan and Keir have been enjoying a week filled with fun since they were 3 and Liam joined them 2 years ago when he had just turned 4 and is now fully partnered in all social activities. Their week-long visits are spent in a series of planned and informal activities with the two households. Liam has informed his mother in Ottawa recently that he will be visiting Tottenham again this summer and will be engaged in learning to ride a horse with Paige as his instructor. Apparently this is a non-negotiable commitment for all parties involved. Paige and Keir have also visited Ottawa! Yes, Paige has become my second daughter!
As you read through this tale, you have become aware of the many sideways steps my life has taken because of a gift received seven years ago. It has nothing to do with a senior learning to ride a horse but everything to do with my personal experience.
It is time to digress from my digression and actually speak of how the experience of learning to ride a horse has enriched my life. I would like to pay tribute to all of the wonderful horsewomen with whom I have become friends and for whom I have the greatest respect. Without exception, they have been incredibly supportive and cheered me on when I floundered. It was their encouragement and support that led me beyond thoughts of what I could not do and feelings of discouragement to focussing on what I can do now, how much I have improved and where I am going. The focus on encouragement is the best motivator. To all of these women, I am grateful for the gift of their encouragement.
Prior to my first lesson, I was apprehensive, but nothing was going to stop me from filling part of my “bucket list” and thoroughly enjoying this new chapter of my life. I ride for pleasure. I have no intentions to enter any competitions and for that I think my coaches are grateful! My doctor rides and thought it was wonderful that I was going to take up the sport. Yes, another supportive horsewoman offering affirmation.
My first horse was Josie. She is a very gentle senior and is now living out her retirement on Paige’s farm eating grass and hay. She was a fitting introduction to horseback riding. She was my tricycle. I was not yet ready for the two-wheeler.
Then one day, Paige determined that my complacency needed to be challenged. She informed me that it was time to “change up”. Egad! I then realized that my destiny had arrived. I also realized that I was looking forward to it. Not surprisingly, I was also a little nervous. Veda, part Arabian & part Quarter horse was perfect for me. She was a little stubborn, so I had to work rather hard, but we succeeded in doing so many wonderful things. When Veda didn’t like what I had in mind, she would stomp her feet and swish her tail and then, proceed to do what I had asked of her. As an experienced mother and grandmother, this was no surprise.
I fell in love with her. All of the barn-folk knew that if I was riding that day, Veda was off limits. We seniors benefit from getting older… I became the “Gramma” of the barn. The younger children were so encouraging, and helpful.
Because my hair is long, I will usually wear it in a braid when riding. This resulted in a photograph that I treasure. One of the girls had braided Veda’s tail and took a picture of the two of us from behind! It is a great picture.
We rode outside in the good weather. I was jumping small jumps and trotting away. One day, Veda decided to canter after the jump. What a thrill and shock! We only did a few steps, but there was a smile on my face for days… I learned to trot without stirrups, jump with my hand out to the side and then, to canter. I had learned so much and was so happy to be among these beautiful animals.
I have come to enjoy the many varied experiences associated with horses and have contrived to spend extra time for all of the stimulating sensory experiences proffered by horses and barns. The sights, the smells and the feel all offered incomparable and unequalled experiences for me. Several years ago during the winter of the ice storm, a lovely young exercise rider, Leigh Anne, decided not to go to Florida that winter. She was very experienced and worked with Roger Attfield at Woodbine Race Track. She chose instead to get her horse-fix by mucking out stables at Paige’s barn. I saw an opportunity here. Because I was awake around 5:30 a.m., I decided to join her and helped out three days a week. It was only a 5 minute drive from home and the horses got to know the sound of my diesel truck!
I fed the horses, and through Leigh Anne, learned about different foods and what each represented in their diet as well as the different amounts for each pony. I felt like a flight attendant wheeling the barrow full of food down the aisles. Stalls were kicked, nickering going on with some saying, “Feed me first”. Unlike a flight attendant, the food was free and so were the blankets. In-stall movies were not offered.
Leigh Anne taught me so much about the horses, their individual needs, the care they required, etc. I would blanket the ponies and put them into the paddocks along with some hay (I learned it was best to put the hay out first!). When it was too icy or too cold, we put them in the arena to run around. The “girls” would gather at the end of the arena, so I had a huge whip that I hit the ground with and then, they would take off at a gallop. Here I was in the middle of these six beautiful ponies tearing around the arena feeling quite safe.
It was the best winter! I loved every minute of it.