Do your clothes from 9th grade still fit?

Chances are good that your answer to this is a resounding “NO” (or maybe, “I wish!!) Over the intervening years, our bodies have changed. Whether altered by childbirth, injuries, or simply more calories consumed than expended, most of us are differently proportioned than when we were teens. We accept this (although we may long for that slimmer physique at times), just as we accept that our life experiences have given us greater wisdom, more compassion, and a host of other useful skill sets. So why are we so upset that our riding is now very different than what it was when we were young?

I don’t remember it hurting like this!

If we haven’t ridden in a few (or a few dozen) years, we may have creatively edited our riding memories. We remember that wonderful trip around the cross country course at a Pony Club Rally (that’s me on my first horse, O’Malley above), or the trail ride our parents signed us up for on a long-ago vacation. It could be riding double on a friends horse as the first snow fell – looking back to see the perfect hoof prints, hearing only the clopping of his hooves as the snow muffled all other sounds…

Often we don’t remember things like a sore back, thigh abductors screaming in protest when asked to carry us upstairs a day or two after our most recent ride, or the inability to lift our left foot more than 18” off the ground, necessitating the use of a (large) mounting block.

Selective memories can be a partial explanation, of course, but more likely is that we simply havne’t used those muscles in a while… and all too often, we beat ourselves up over it. “I don’t remember it hurting like this!”, “I remember when I could vault on my 15.2 hand horse – now I can’t even get on a pony from the ground!”

And the memory that so many of us feel, but so few of us vocalize: “I don’t remember being afraid”.

Don’t make the mistake of viewing all of your changes as negative.

It’s time to stop making the classic mistake of thinking that riding a horse is like riding a bike and you never forget how to do it. Bicycles, except in the case of Calvin and Hobbes, don’t have minds of their own. Calvin and Hobbes by Bill WattersonThey don’t weigh 1,000 pounds, and if you decide to take a pleasure ride on a bike, chances are you’re not thinking that if you get bucked off you could end up in the hospital, out of work, and generally in deep doo doo physically and financially…

Please stop beating yourself up, my friend. Understand that sore muscles are normal. If you had taken up running in 9th grade, you would have experienced sore muscles in the beginning. Coming back to riding, sore muscles are normal. And just as sore muscles are normal – fear is normal. It’s actually our amygdala (the prehistoric, reptilian part of our brain) working overtime to keep us from being prominently featured in the Darwin Awards.

Unless your fear is extreme, in which case you might want to consider working with a trainer, a sports psychologist, or a life coach, treat yourself, your sore muscles, and your fear with a gentle sense of acceptance. Understand that the changes we’ve undergone since riding in our teens aren’t “our fault” – they are a part of the process of aging, and better embraced than vilified.

Remember that the changes we view as negative are only part of our story. While we may not be as slender, flexible, or brave as we once were, we are now wiser than we were – and that’s a change we should embrace.

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