Leaping giant hedges, out-galloping teenagers and always the first to tackle the biggest ditches out hunting — the horsey world is full of senior riders whose bravery in the saddle keeps them young at heart. Do you recognise any of these characteristics?
1. Having more energy than the youngsters
Tove Gray Stephens is one of those senior riders who will still be running around the yard long after those half her age have tired. The Ardrishaig-based 78-year-old still jumps, rides in the sea, runs a livery yard and competes in showing and Le Trec, finishing third in the latter’s Scottish Championships this year.
“I wish I had half her energy and skill,” says Tove’s friend, Carolyn Mcdonald.
2. Taking the lead over the biggest obstacles
Derek Clackett, 75, is a regular sight out with the Jersey drag hunt, jumping the biggest hedges and out-galloping riders significantly younger than him.
“He recently tried a four-year-old ex-racehorse straight off the track for me — he even got on from the ground,” says Derek’s daughter-in-law, Helen. “He hunts twice a week during the season and rides most days year round.”
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3. Older, yes, but completely fearless
“Many people say I’m either brave or stupid,” admits Veronica Martin, 61, who bought five-year-old Crackerjack, unbroken, in November. He objected to a saddle and so Veronica rode bare-back instead.
“It worked and I rode him for the first week without a saddle,” says Veronica. “I only ride when my husband is at home, though, so if the horse appears at home without me he can look for me in the car.”
At 16.3hh, Crackerjack towers above 5ft 3in Veronica, but she says she’s as brave in her senior years as she ever has been.
“But a mounting block is essential now,” she adds.
4. Galloping faster than the teenagers
Sixty-one-year-old Cindy Cameron prides herself on being able to ride as fast — if not faster — that those less than half her age.
“Last year I out-galloped a 16-year-old to win the Scottish Endurance Championships,” says Cindy. “I still compete and did 100 miles at the Golden Horseshoe in May.”
5. Several generations riding together
“I wonder how many people can say they ride out with their great-grandmother?” muses Christine Batty. She is pictured above on the coloured horse alongside (from left) her mother, 54-year-old Pam Horn, grandmother, Christine McCulloch, 78, and daughter Sophie, four.
“My gran rides most days and her favourite hack is galloping along the beach. She’s not slow, either!” adds Christine.
6. Everday aches and pains disappearing to spend hours in the saddle at a time
Jim Nancekivell might be 80 years old, but he is still one of the last to go home after a day out with the Exmoor Foxhounds or Devon and Somerset Staghounds.
“He’s hunted for 75 seasons and rarely goes home until the hounds are finished,” says Jim’s groom, Leah Jerrett.
7. Another year older, a new challenge set
Jacky Chandler took up tent pegging following the death of her husband 11 years ago, and has represented Great Britain four times, including at the World Championships in Oman.
“I had the dubious distinction of being the oldest rider competing which warranted an article in the Omani Times,” says 69-year-old Jacky, whose sport keeps her fit and flexible. “I raced donkeys when I was four and I plan to keep galloping for a few more years yet.”
8. Refusing to see age as a boundary
Chris Kirby is a familiar face on the south-east eventing circuit, having been a cross-country starter for nearly 30 years. His role inspired him to take up the reins last autumn, aged 68.
“I hack out anything my friends think I will be safe on, including ex-eventers and sale horses,” says Chris. “I was increasingly envious of riders in the startbox so I thought I’d go riding while I’m fit enough.”
9. Returning to the saddle after a serious injury
Sue Whalley, 74, nearly died several years ago when she was kicked by a youngster and severed the main artery to her liver. She required a 20-pint blood transfusion and a one-month stay in intensive care.
“She still mucks out two horses every day and carries bales of hay and shavings to the stables,” says Sue’s daughter, Nicky Green. “For her 70th birthday I took her on a riding holiday in France. We did 30 miles each morning and I was stiffer than she was!”
10. Never giving up
Mary Morris first sat on a horse when she was 64. She didn’t have the best of starts, though, when her mount was hit by a golf ball and she was unseated.
“I thought carefully that evening while nursing cuts, bruises and my dented pride whether I should give up my dream to gallop on the beach before I die,” says 71-year-old Mary. “Now I gallop over hill and dale and on beaches in Wales. I still fall off — the last time was while jumping — but I won’t give up.”
11. Being fiercely dedicated
West Country-based Annabelle Studd, 67, returned to riding five years ago after more than 30 years away. In 2013 she was knocked over by galloping horses, suffering a broken hip and undergoing a full replacement. Three months ago, while dismounting her 17hh horse, Frankie, she landed awkwardly and fractured two bones in her foot.
“I had to lead Frankie home in agony for three-quarters of a mile,” recalls Annabelle. “My foot still swells but I stuff it into a boot to ride.”
12. Feeling young at heart
Juliette Kent was in her sixties when she went hunting for the first time. She will be 69 in October.
“I learned to ride in my mid forties after helping my daughter with her pony,” says Juliette. “I’ve had a go at all disciplines. Having a horse keeps me going and I love it — riding keeps me young.”
13. Having endless stories to tell
The combined age of Gavin Hudson (pictured on the right), Robin Gamble and their horses is 178. Both riders are long-standing members of the Tedworth Hunt and the thoroughbreds were home-bred by Gavin.
Gavin, 63, started hunting when he was a child and is a former master of Oxford University’s draghounds. In contrast, 75-year-old Robin’s first day’s hunting was at the age of 55, and he recently retired as Tedworth chairman.
14. Catching the bug late in life
Helen Cammish says Hilton, an anglo arab, has given her 69-year-old mother, Liz, a new leash of life.
“She wanted a happy hacker, and ended up with a horse who was underweight and had lice,” says Helen. “He looks like a different horse now and mum says if he looked as fit and healthy as he does now she would never have bought him.”
Liz rides most days.
“She rode as a child but then gave up, starting again in her fifties because a work colleague wanted help exercising hunt horses. Shortly after that she announced she wanted to go on a ranching holiday in Montana, so I learned to ride too,” adds Helen.