Mature Age Riders: Challenges and Benefits

natalie foxon podcast Nov 28, 2022

I wonder how many of us riders believe that it'll be possible for us to ride well into our old age. Like Queen Elizabeth who was still riding at 96 years old!

Today we're talking about the experience of being a mature age rider, above 60 that is, albeit not quite as mature as the Queen was!

Our riders joining me for our conversation today are Sue, Helen, and Jaci.

This is an edited transcript of an episode of The Collectives podcast – listen here, or watch the video version above.



My name's Sue, I live on the southeast side of Melbourne. I rode for 30 years from the age of 10 to the age of 40. Then I had a gap of about 15 years where my children were doing a lot of sport and a lot of riding, and then I came back to it 10 years ago.

There definitely are benefits of being a more mature age rider. I'm semi-retired now, so I have more time. I retired from my part-time teaching job at the end of last year, so I'm not rushing and stressing and trying to fit in a ride. We still run two businesses from home and I have plenty to do, but there's not so much pressure.

My children left home quite a few years now, so I don't worry about them as much. Financially I’m more comfortable, so I can actually afford to spend a bit of money on my horse, my horse gear and not feel guilty about it or skipping pennies. So that's a real benefit.

I think probably the best thing is I'm motivated to ride. I always have been. When I didn't ride for 14 years, I put on weight, and since I've got back to riding, I am 14 kilograms lighter now than I was when I first came back to it. I didn't want to look like a fat old woman on a pony, so I got fit. I started exercising, I started running. Riding gave me the motivation to get fit. I feel better in myself and I feel better about myself.

In terms of the challenges of being a mature age rider, we can't help but face up to the fact that our bodies are not as young as they used to be, and so it does get harder physically. We probably carry aches and pains that we didn't used to have. I've got arthritis in my thumbs and I've also something else in my wrist. Throwing on wet rugs on horses in the winter down here in Victoria, it's horrible. They're heavy. Horses are hard physical work if you're having to do all of the care yourself. So that's tiring. But it also, as I said before, motivates me to try and keep fit so that I can keep doing it.

I try and run three kilometres twice a week, and I walk and do other balance and strength and flexibility exercises pretty much every day that I'm not going off to a show or something.

There is also the mental challenges, I think on the whole I'm not as confident as I used to be when I was younger. I was an event rider for 20-plus years and I guess you could say I was quite a brave rider. I'm not anymore. You know, if a horse starts to get upset, I get worried. I’ve had enough experiences of being spat out and hurting myself that I don't want to go there.

I wear a back protector all the time now, except if I'm at a show, just because I did get bucked off in February and fractured a vertebrae and it's just not worth taking that risk.

It's hard to find a suitable horse when you’re older if you still want to compete and perhaps be competitive, but you want something that's really sensible because temperament is, I think, the number one criteria.

There's also that loss of confidence, I guess you call it imposter syndrome. When you go out to a show, everyone looks young and beautiful and they're riding these beautiful, big-moving, handsome warmblood horses and you think, ‘oh, I don't think I should be here’. But, you know, then you go out and get a nice score behind a couple of those big beautiful horses and you think, well maybe I wasn't so bad after all.

It probably makes me less willing to enter the bigger shows, and maybe that's realistic, you know. It depends on the horse you're riding and where you feel you're at your own personal level of confidence that you can be there and not feel out of place.

I think what I have noticed changing over the years is that yes, we have the professional riders now which we didn't have very many of in the past, but we also have a lot of expensive horses and very well cared-for horses. I think the horse welfare has changed. People value their horses. They're not just the working horse now, they are a sport horse and we treat them incredibly well. They are looked after to the nth degree.

In days gone by, we would be working on shocking surfaces. Even in the dressage ring, there'd be great puddles, holes, and slippery grass, and you just went and rode on whatever it was. Whereas that doesn't wash anymore. Now we have really good surfaces in most cases.

I'm hoping that I get another good five years in the saddle, and I've got a lovely little horse now. I would say to people, don't waste time with horses that you don't get on with or don't really like, make a decision. I made a decision four times with my last horse and ended up keeping him for five years, and in the end I sold him. He wasn't working for me. But the one I have now, I love him to bits.

I would really love to be doing elementary by the end of next year, and I would love to be doing medium or advanced with that little horse in another couple of years’ time.



I live on the north side of Sydney, up towards the beaches, very luckily into a little acreage area. I've been riding for about 60 years, which is a bit scary, on and off. I also had a break when I went away to London to university, and I didn't ride till I came out to Australia, actually. I had Tuesday and Wednesday off work and nothing else to do, so I started to ride again, but it was very different, very bush riding, so that was fun.

I would definitely echo all the benefits of being a mature age rider that Sue has said. I feel it a success when I can actually get my leg over the saddle in the morning. I don't spring down to the ground like I used to anymore, I’m careful of my knees.

I think the mental health benefits are huge and that was very evident during COVID. I am so privileged to live where I do on my five acres, and to be able to go up and even just be with my horses, not even riding them, just brushing them was wonderful.

There’s also less pressure being a mature age rider, I mean, I know I'm not going to the Olympics now. I've come to terms with that. So there's a comfort and a reconciliation in being content with what I have, and being happy.

I've had my horse for 15 years now, we know each other inside out, and there are still things to learn, but it's very satisfying. There's a connection there that I love and perhaps that I would've bypassed in my ambition when I was younger, maybe.

Also, I enjoy the women that I've attracted, and they are mostly women, I don't seem to bump into too many blokes around here. We have our own little adult saddle club which is very supportive and we celebrate each other's small successes, sometimes that’s just getting on.

In terms of the challenges of being a mature age rider, I'm battling arthritis and injuries, and I had a pacemaker 18 months ago that's taken a while to come back from, but that was a driver for me. I was like ‘I'm not done yet, so I'm going to get back on and go out to a competition and cover myself in shame, which I did. But nevertheless, I got there, and we did it.

Also, I would also counter that by saying that the muscle memory of years does help to overcome some of the stiffness things. I am also motivated to go to yoga, and I've just been to the gym this morning to do weights. That’s a great thing when you're older, for example, my grandparents were done by 65. They were what I would call elderly. Now I see people in their sixties and seventies, not like that at all.

I'm extremely lucky in that I've had a horse now for 15 years and she's just an absolute trooper, and I can take her anywhere. I've done a lot of bush riding on her. She's not really phased by very much except small piglets and peacocks, you know, she'll go through fields, of cows and sheep, and so when I take her to competitions, I know that she's not going to be a problem and I can go by myself.

I think though when she's done, because she's 21 now, that I will now downsize literally because I do like to trail ride, and getting on and off 16.1 is a lot harder than getting off 14.3. I don't have to have a big, fancy warmblood, I couldn't ride one anyway. I mean, I own one. I can't even do sitting trot on it, it's just such a big moving horse, I don't have the flexibility in my back. So that is a challenge.

In terms of competition, I'm less driven by it now. Actually, I'm a bit of a clinic junkie. I like going to clinics because there's no pressure to perform as such. I've been training with Brett for 20 years, I think now, on and off, and I'm still learning and still improving. That to me is more satisfying than coming over the $3 ribbon. 

Horse selection is important, to have a comfortable horse. Also, the physicality of rugging them and filling up water troughs and all that stuff becomes more of a challenge as we get older, but it keeps us fit and that keeps us strong.

Part of the joy is just hanging out with the horses, which I like. I do cheat because I have someone who comes in during the week and does the boxes, and it’s also a time thing, we have now got my mother-in-law living here, and my granddaughter looks after them, but I do them at the weekend. There's something about just turning up to a horse, slapping a saddle on it, riding it and going away again that, that loses the soul. And perhaps sometimes I just like looking at the horses in the paddocks!

I think that horses have become more accessible over the years actually. It was very much, certainly in the UK anyway, a rich man's sport. When I came to Australia, horses were working animals so they were treated in a slightly different way.

My experience in the UK was in civil service riding, in the royal mews, and those horses had a specific job. I think what those people have in common with a lot of the Australian country bush people, is a lot of knowledge has gone because they now ride motorbikes, and that knowledge isn't going down from generation to generation. Horses have become less of a working animal here. I've watched that change happen and I’ve watched a lot of that innate experience decline.

There's a lot more urban horse ownership, which has changed how we keep horses. You know mine are quite pampered, but I like Jackie, I'm on small acreage, so it has to be managed a particular way. So that's possibly changed to them being chucked out in a big paddock. And I think we look after them so well that my horse at 21 still looks like a useful working horse. Like us, we're aging better. Whereas before they were considered old and had it by 20 really. I think nutrition and the way we physically manage all competition horses, not just dressage horses, has changed attitudes.

I’m hoping to get another couple of years out of my dressage horse, and I like to keep trail riding, and hopefully teach my granddaughter to ride. I hope that I'll always have a horse in the back garden to go and pat.



My name's Jaci and I live just outside of Port Macquarie in NSW. I've been riding on and off for close to 50 years, I guess, but I stopped riding for nearly 20 years due to my career and moving around a fair bit, not being able to have horses.

I actually find that I'm a lot wiser, and more knowledgeable now, as a mature age rider. And while the body's not always able to do what I'd like, I'm able to focus a lot more on my learning.

I'm lucky enough that Brett Parbery comes up to a clinic an hour and a half away, and it's a wonderful experience. We have really good days where we have clinics and there's the friendships that have been established because I’m working with people that are actually similar minded.

I think that's what Helen was reflecting on. You get these connections that probably, when I was younger, I just didn't have time for because of other pressures.

I find that I'm more inspired to actually work harder as a mature age rider. I just couldn't spend the time before, but now I am semi-retired. I still have to work, but not fulltime. And I just find the horses give me so much pleasure and lifestyle. All of these things just make it a really enjoyable past time.

I'm not as keen to compete as I used to be. But having said that, I made the State Championships about five years ago. That was a big thing for me, in 40 years of riding, I'd never got there before.

I’ve managed to get past being a Prelim rider, up to now competing at Medium and training Advanced. So that's great for me, because I wouldn't have been able to do that in my younger years.

What I find challenging is the recovery, the recovery time for any injury just takes forever, and it's partly because I've now been diagnosed with osteoporosis and with that diagnosis it's made me a little bit more fearful of actually having accidents with horses.

We’ve mentioned about the importance for mature age riders of finding the right horse, well I've been now looking for the last 18 months for the right horse. I've travelled up to Queensland, it’s a seven hour drive, four or five times I've travelled down to Victoria. I've traveled all sorts of places looking for that right horse, and it's all about temperament for me. I'm not as worried about the movement if I can have something that's got a sweet, sensible sort of temperament, that's what I'm looking for, and I've found it extraordinarily difficult. I think it’s partly because people don't realise when you're older that you are that much more sensitive about trying not to fall. When you're younger, you don't think about it as much. Particularly with the osteoporosis and doctors saying I shouldn’t ride anymore. I want to ride still, but I don't want to be on something that's risky. I'm very lucky that the horse I've got now, although she has her issues, we know each other and I know when she's going to do something that I'm not going to be happy with. I've been looking at spending big money to get that right horse, and I think that will be my one last horse. I don't even want to compete, I just want to go to clinics and improve myself and have fun with it. That's why I said temperament for me is everything.

I have contemplated as whether I just buy a really, really top horse and then get somebody professional to ride and whether I'd get the same amount of pleasure from that. Well, the answer to that is no, I want to keep riding myself.

I like the camaraderie of the clinics and the people that you go with, there's a whole group of us that go away together to clinics.

I actually enjoy the physical activity of going out every morning to the horses. I go out, I feed them, I rug them, I pick up all the manure because I'm on small acreage, and then I ride, and I think that helps keep you fit. I don't want to have my horses with somebody else. It’s a lifestyle choice.

The thing that I've noticed most over the years is that there are so many more professional riders out there, and it's become a much more professional industry that’s about riding as opposed to people that worked with horses in the past. You look at all the competitions now and the majority of people are professionals.

I'm hoping that I'll be riding for another 10 to 15 years. I'm hoping.


Thank you, Sue, Helen and Jaci for sharing your experiences with us!



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