Working in the construction industry, Neill Collom had never considered riding to be his kind of exercise, confessing he thought it was more of a “girly” sport.
However, the 55-year-old has found himself eating his words, 10 months on from his first riding lesson, which ignited a newfound passion for horses.
Along with his wife, Justine, who has also rediscovered her childhood love of horses, Neill has been having regular lessons.
But it hasn’t stopped there, the pair now own a horse each and Neill has learnt to trot, canter and jump, and has recently competed at his first ever horse show — pretty remarkable considering this time last year, horses barely crossed his mind.
Neill and Justine’s adventure into the unknown started last summer when Justine was inspired to do a beach ride at Studland Bay in Dorset, however the couple were told they’d have to be confident riders at canter — which they weren’t.
“We spend our summer weekends in Dorset, so I found a local riding school, Lulworth Equestrian Centre, and booked a lesson with the owner Carolyn Gale,” explained Justine. “I could tell as we dismounted at the end that Neill had really enjoyed the experience, so we quickly booked up for the following weekend.
“Over the following weeks, I watched Neill grapple with position (which was ape-like!), leg aids and rising trot, plus nightly tutorials on You Tube.”
While Justine had previously worked at a yard, Neill was a complete newcomer to the sport, yet Justine admitted her husband is now “outshining” her. “I am just getting to grips with canter, while he is jumping and has done his first show — I am a very proud wife.”
Neill is now the owner of “complete gentleman” Moonlight, a seven-year-old Irish dapple grey gelding.
“A friend, who owns a yard, agreed to support us in the early days to ensure ‘Moonie’ was well cared for,” said Justine. “It was a baptism of fire — we learnt to ‘DIY’ with no previous experience and in the depth of winter.
“Neill just rode and rode, taking Moonie out hacking (having never ridden on a road before) and riding him in the school. He taught himself to canter and then, to my surprise, he began to attempt jumping too.”
Neill added: “I was surprised with how physical riding actually is. To start with I couldn’t grasp it all and I really struggled. I thought I was never going to be able to do rising trot.”
However, perseverance paid off for Neill, who throughout the winter would be up at the yard riding Moonie around the sand school, gradually improving his riding.
“Moonie and I have learned together, because he’s only seven,” said Neill. “He has been such a good boy, even when I’ve got a bit heavy handed, he figures it all out for me. Canter was particularly messy to start with but I plugged away and established some balance and control.
“Being in charge of such a big animal is a powerful feeling, and I’ve really enjoyed it.”
The couple had never attended a horse show before, so Neill’s debut in the ring was understandably a daunting prospect for them both and Neill admitted he was “a bit nervous” beforehand.
“Moonie was a star and he loves to jump,” said Justine. “They finished fourth, which for a mature man, who has been riding for under a year, is amazing — they have a wonderful relationship.”
With Justine now having also purchased a “nice and quiet cob” for herself to ride (pictured, above), the pair stable the horses at Lulworth Equestrian Centre during the summer and drive the 150 miles each weekend to ride out together.
“I really wish I had started riding earlier in life,” said Neill. “I do feel like I’m having to rush things now because I don’t have as much time on my hands.
“My advice for others thinking about taking up the reins later in life is, if you want to do it, then get on and do it now — don’t wait. Also make sure you find yourself the right horse, and don’t worry about hitting the deck.”
Justine concluded: “I think it’s really important that men don’t discard riding as a sport. It may be a female-dominated hobby but men should not be excluded — they should be encouraged.”
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