Back in the Saddle
By 2-Star Parelli Professional Nancy Slater
So you’ve found more time for you, now that the kids are grown! The time has come for getting back into your passion that you temporarily put on a back burner. You’re getting back in the saddle, oh boy!
But, something feels… different. Why are you hesitant to jump up there and tear off at a gallop into the sunset?
Well… physically, you’re not a kid any more! You’re probably not in shape, riding muscles weak from lack of use. Your balance will not be as it was, either. Your mind may remember what to do, but muscles forget!
Also, mentally and emotionally, even though your mind is thinking like a 15 year old about riding, the truth causes self doubt. You think about what might go wrong and it makes you anxious. You might even find yourself making excuses not to ride! Nature has a built in caution to keep us safe as we age. ‘Be careful!’, we told our kids a hundred times. We were kids once… but now is different.
Preparation: Take care of your unsteadiness by starting a diet and exercise program to strengthen your core and increase balance. Horseback riding is a sport! Be sure to stretch those leg muscles to increase range of motion and avoid painful cramps! This will give you the ability to follow your horse’s movements with confidence.
You want to start back with the right horse. One that will fill in for you, not challenge you evoking fear and chaos! When looking for a new horse, be picky. Your getting-back-in-the-saddle horse should be a nice quiet, older horse. And one that has no scars on the bridge of his nose! (A red flag meaning he has little or no stop). Avoid buying solely for Pretty. If you find a healthy, good tempered, well trained horse that’s also pretty, you’re lucky!
If you already own a horse that has been on extended vacation, he might be acting like an oversized couch potato! He’s become a pasture ornament and now prefers to keep it that way! (If you can only catch him at feeding time, this might be an indicator!)
In either case, new horse or old friend, it’s best to get in your horse’s mind and get control of his emotions before you swing a leg over. Test his reliability to take care of you when you get back in the saddle.
Find out what he’s thinking about. See what bothers him, with you watching from a safe distance!
Practice skills and good habits using ground work. Learn to relax and connect with each other. Everything then can and should be transferred to the saddle. Ground work exercises will show how much trust and respect your horse has for you. Play with him gently, then exuberantly, practicing body yields, stops, and turns until he looks rideable to you. Your horse will then be more calm and connected for you under saddle. If he isn’t, you can get off and get it, then get back on. I call it, pulling the car over!
One of my young horses got very claustrophobic feeling the squeeze of the saddle cinch, and it was enough to cause him to blow backwards unexpectedly during ground work.. So I had him fast trot, lope, and gallop with the saddle on, without me on him. After a few times of reinforcing that he would be OK, he accepted the saddle completely. Then, he was fine with me in it.
Each time, before you ride, take a couple of minutes to do a ‘preflight’ check. And when you ride out, ride with like-minded people who support you, not those who might leave you behind. If we listen to those people who tell us to “Just get on and make him do it!”, we can quickly get afraid of riding and bail out of our dream completely.
It’s hard to admit we’re stuck. Sometimes we need more information. One of the safest, time tested ‘people training’ programs is Parellì Natural Horsemanship. No matter if you ride Western or English, it focuses on a willing partnership with your horse in a step by step program using Horse Behavior and Psychology. Licensed professionals are available worldwide, so getting stuck is not an option.
Knowledge is power, and this is especially true when working with our horses. Learn how to read your horse, know what he’s thinking, and help him get calm, connected and responding. You’ll be safe, have fun, and, who knows? One day you might find yourself teaching your grandkid not only the joy of riding, but how to be horseman. And best of all, you’ll feel like a kid again, when you climb back in the saddle!