‘Age is just a number’: how to keep riding into your 90s

  • Horse & Hound caught up with some inspiring equestrians who are continuing their horsey passion into their golden years to find out how they keep going...

    “Forget age, it’s only a number,” says Gabrielle Sherwin (pictured below). “My lifestyle now is no different now to how it was 30 years ago.” Gabrielle, 70, has had her 32-year-old ex-racehorse Raffi for 24 years. “Riding, being in the fresh air and doing all the things you do when you’ve got a horse, is what keeps me fit and healthy,” she says.

    Janet, 87, agrees. Each week, she takes a bus and two trains to get to Murthwaite Green Trekking Centre, where she rides her favourite Fell pony on a two-hour beach ride (pictured below). “Riding keeps me young and makes me feel free,” she says. “I’ll continue riding my beloved Basil for as long as I can.”

    Gabrielle and Janet are not alone. Researching this article, we have heard from huge numbers of Horse & Hound readers with inspiring stories about octogenarian showjumpers, septuagenarian endurance riders and other avid equestrians who are following their horsey passion in their golden years.

    For example, 79-year-old Paddy Rossbach (pictured below) started riding in her late 40s and, despite having a stroke in her early 70s, rides two horses a day five days a week. “I workout at the gym regularly and stretch lots,” she says, “but the most important thing is that you love riding, love horses and have goals to reach.”

    As Paddy, Gabrielle and Janet will testify, you are never too old to enjoy riding – just take a look at the Queen’s regular equestrian appearances. However, the advance of years does have its setbacks. Here are a few things you can do to ensure you are riding fit in your 90s.

    Just keep riding!

    “If you don’t ride regularly, your reactions and muscles don’t work as well,” says eventing Olympian Jane Holderness-Roddam, who is now nearly 70. “If you keep doing it, you feel much more confident and you stay toned up. It’s a matter of keeping yourself ticking along, even if you don’t do it every day.”

    Having a routine and sticking to it will help ensure you get enough activity and feel comfortable riding regularly. “If you stop, you stiffen up!” says 76-year-old Gloria Beckerleg, who is a regular on the hunting field and at county shows. “Have a routine, follow it each day, and work through the aches and pains.”

    Keep yourself supple out of the saddle

    “Some riders will notice a loss of range of motion as they age, and might feel stiffer in their hips, knees and shoulders.” says Dr. Naomi Betesh. “I recommend focusing on this out of the saddle – it’s safer and easier to make progress without having to worry about the horse. Daily stretching, particularly before riding, is important. Yoga can really help here – in particular, hip opener stretches – can help prevent stiffness and improve your position in the saddle.”

    70-year-old Anne Palmer, who is taking on the Wobbleberry Challenge this year, has done yoga for many years. “It really does improve not only suppleness of body, but also of mind,” she says. Alternatively, if yoga isn’t your thing, swimming can be an excellent way to loosen up and keep everything moving.

    Work on your core strength and stamina

    Having a strong core will help prevent back injuries and improve your balance. “You can strengthen your core by incorporating exercises into your daily routine,” says Dr. Betesh. “To start, planks and side planks are great basic exercises you can do each day. Similarly, you can improve your balance by standing on one leg without holding on to anything. If you want to do a bit more, you can invest in an exercise ball – there are many exercises you can do with them that mimic balance while sitting on a horse.”

    Frances Phillips, 72, (pictured above) has just started jumping lessons with her horse, Toto, and does as much as she can outside of riding to keep up her stamina. “I do a bit of Pilates, which is very good, but I generally just try to stay active day-to-day,” she says. “Doing the housework, tending the garden and looking after the horse is all quite aerobic exercise that keeps me fit!”

    It’s a mind game – be realistic and be sensible

    Be realistic about what you try to achieve. “Self preservation takes over as you get older, but that doesn’t need to stop you doing anything,” says Jane Holderness-Roddam. “I still ride the youngsters and stallions, but I only ride the ones who are predictable. I avoid unnecessary risks and always wear a body protector if I’m feeling unstable.”

    Make it comfortable

    Be sympathetic to your body and avoid unnecessary discomfort. If your leg muscles feel tight, lengthen your stirrups when get on so you don’t have to stretch so high when mounting. If your saddle feels uncomfortable, use a sheepskin seatsaver for extra cushioning. And don’t forget to take care of yourself after riding – a long soak in a hot bath will help to ease any sore muscles.

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