The Best Reasons to Stop Riding


wm-lilith-pastureI think I’ve heard all the clichés about change that I can stand. At a certain age, we don’t need to be reminded how hard change is. But fall is all about change, I notice. Most of us get poked by the passing of time, in one way or another, right about this time of the year. Falling leaves and all that…

Like usual, there are extremes: Every now and then, I read an article declaring that riding horses is cruel. Any horse. That it’s just too demeaning for horses; that ethics require that all horses be freed from their slavery to humans. I might be imagining the righteous tone. Return them all to the wild, I guess.

On the other hand, I hear from riders in their nineties, riding horses in their thirties, with an arthritic shell of bravado. Good for you, really. So pleased that your horse has avoided injuries that long, and the same for you. What luck.

Then there are the rest of us, pushing the muck cart and casually wondering which hip will be replaced first. We have horses that had long careers or got hurt in turnout or weren’t born with perfect conformation. Or maybe we just aren’t lucky. Is it time for someone to be turned out to pasture?

Has it crossed your mind that your horse is slowing down? Maybe more than once? Is it really hard to push him to the canter and then he breaks right away? Or maybe he’s reluctant about being caught. After a sluggish warm-up, he seems depressed and you kick him a little more all the time. Or maybe he drops his head lower and lower. That’s if he’s stoic, of course. Not every horse has that patience.

So you check with the vet, try some stronger supplements, and that buys you another year. Then you start negotiating. No more steep trails, or maybe you get new arena footing. But now you’re asking yourself again if it’s time.

I’m sorry it hurts, but listen to him. Good horses don’t randomly start lying. And if your horse really is asking for the break, I know it breaks you even more, but let him rest. In this light, a career-ending injury has the clarity that slow-motion decline lacks. Maybe he’ll feel better in the spring and maybe not, but for now, let him be and tell him he’s a good boy. A horse’s riding life isn’t a race where the last one standing wins. Don’t make him feel he’s failed you.

Love him enough.

Maybe it’s you that is having a hard time; your past injuries are catching up and it’s hard to get comfortable in the saddle. Maybe you are a certain age and your courage hormones have abandoned you. They do that, you know.

Or time makes you rush too much. You have a list of all your lists and so many people depending on you. You burst into the barn and ride fast, but you’re still late. Your horse behaves like the victim of a drive-by assault. It’s an honest response and you’ll deal with it when you have more time.

Or maybe your fear has just grown an inch at a time until it became disabling. It isn’t that you aren’t as brave as you once were; it’s an actual full-blown anxiety attack that you’re trying to fight but it never goes away. It’s a fear that paralyzes your lungs and you can’t control your limbs. It isn’t the usual common sense alert that something might happen. It’s an air raid siren that never goes silent. Never. You know your horse feels it, too. Would it be different on another horse?

So, you get the help of a kind trainer and you do your very best. Still, you dread the worst, every stride, and fear never lets you breathe. It happens every time, but you don’t admit the truth. Months pass, you know you’re safe, but there’s no logic or relief when it comes to fear. It’s possessed you.

You feel obligated. You feel like a loser. You’re too old or too busy or too frightened. You’d hate to think what people might say. You’d be letting your horse down. But in the quiet, when you listen to your heart, you know.

Love yourself enough.

We all have dry spells and going into winter is a great time to take a break. Nothing bad will happen. He won’t miss your holiday stress. He won’t forget his training and neither will you. I promise. Come spring, you’ll be back in the saddle and the view will be different. That’s the way change works; you can depend on it.

If you know it’s bigger than a season, take a breath and try to tell the truth. You might have to say it a few times to get through it. Integrity matters because secrets, or the illusion of them, are poison. Besides, he knows.

What if it isn’t wrong?

I have a barn half-full of retired horses; some have been retired longer than they were ridden. They let me know every day that they are no less for it. We should have that confidence.

Humans seem to put so much self-judgment on whether they ride or not. I see it every day, as an instructor. Riding is wonderful; I’m glad I’m still in the saddle. But the longer I’m around horses, the more I believe that they don’t care if we ride or not. Relationship, as it relates to herd dynamics, is what matters to horses, and that isn’t defined by our altitude. Maybe it’s time to re-invent ourselves and up the conversation. Wouldn’t it be ironic if no longer riding meant that our horsemanship improved?

The scary question: If it’s the end of the world, what will you do instead of riding? Love them, just like you always have. That never changes.

Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Equine Pro

This blog is free, and it always will be. Free to read, but also free of ads because I turn away sponsorships and pay to keep ads off my site. I like to read a clean page and think you do too. If you appreciate the work I do, or if your horse does, consider making a donation.

Anna Blake

112 thoughts on “The Best Reasons to Stop Riding”

  1. This is just getting too spooky! Why do you always talk great sense about the very thing I seem to be tackling right at this very moment. I’m sure there must be some deep psychological explanation but for now – just spooky, That said – thank you, it all helps!

    • Looks like you might be in the UK? I swear, I’m not stalking you. But maybe us humans have more in common than not… Thank you, Marian. I’ll take spooky as a compliment.

  2. I love the photo with the donkey looking into the camera as if to say, That’s right, I NEVER get ridden and look how great I am! 🙂

    This is an important message for all of us. I now take the hot southern summers off from riding and contrary to what I heard for much of my riding years, it’s often those fall/early winter rides that are the very best – totally tearing down the notion that if we don’t use it we lose it. My 27-year old still enjoys riding but we have nothing to prove and my goal is to see that happy, relaxed, proud face of his when he gets his peppermint at the mounting block (where I dismount now!) and then we head to the tack room for his post-ride meal. We can get that wonderful face whether we ride a third level test or just walk and stretch. And if he doesn’t put his nose in the bridle (we’re bitless now) I take it as a sign that he doesn’t want to ride that day. It’s rare that he doesn’t put his nose in the bridle!

  3. You always make so much sense.
    The other day my horse was not happy. He had been out and then in his stall for the night. I did not ride. I wondered
    why the attitude. Next day we just went to the indoor to lunge. Eventhough I did not ride he was so much happier for my interaction with him. Riding may not be nessary but I do believe they enjoy interaction.
    Your articals are supreme.

  4. Dealing with injurys both horse and human have brought a different closeness to our relationships. I responded once about my dark bay horses being diffacult personalities for me. So my current dark bay has been laid up. Spending time has brought a new level of trust we have not had before. Your comments are timely and worth considering. Well done!

    • Laura, isn’t it interesting? Rehab time is so often special. Good for the two of you.

      When my old horse retired 13 years ago, I had no idea we were just beginning! Thanks for commenting.

  5. I lost my lovely quarter horse last summer to a terrible colic. All year before that happened I had been promising myself to get “back in the saddle” and I didn’t. I’m 72, he was 20. We were both a bit out of shape, but not injured or unable to go. This year I’m ready to ride again on my lovely Appy gelding who also turns 20 this year. He and I both are slowing down, but still enjoying a nice stroll down the lanes, in the park and on the beach. I absolutely respect his signals to slow down, and hope he respects mine!…lol. Thanks for a lovely blog that I enjoy reading every day.

  6. Anna, you’ve done it again *wiping away tears*. I suffered from the creeping anxieties for a lot of years. I had bought my 2 year old dream horse finally when I was in my 30s and for a lot of years it was great. But then I had a bad fall or two, and now in my 40s and crazy busy I couldn’t help but think “what if I got REALLY hurt?” As a single woman with no safe place to fall and no backup team, it was a legitmate concern. but I kept at it, because I truly loved my boy, and he WAS the horse I’d been waiting for since I was 9, and honestly, I was just being an idiot. it stopped being fun being in the saddle. I loved being at the barn, and being with my friends, and spending time with him out in the pasture, but in the saddle? Not so much. Fast forward to my 50s…arthritic hips indeed (I laughed at that line about casually considering which one to replace first). He was now not so young, and he’d never had what you might call a good work ethic. And one day I decided not to ride that day. And then the next. And the next. And that was it. I stopped riding 7 years ago when he was 17. He turned 24 last week, lives a natural horsekeeping lifestyle in a real paradise, and I still go up every weekend to feed and groom and just hang around him. I still dream about riding, you know, but when I’m awake, so long as I can still enjoy him, I don’t miss it. It took me a long time to get past the guilt of not riding, but now I’m afraid I’m becoming one of the “horses have no ambition and honestly, would much rather spend their days grazing” bunch. When he’s gone, I won’t get another, but will feel blessed that I had the privilege of sharing my life with horses for so many decades. Thank you for saying out loud what so many of us think, but are afraid to express.

    • Oh Paula, what a love story. Judgment and guilt does no good at all, but sharing a life with honesty is the very best outcome. Just love him. That’s plenty. Thank you for this heartfelt comment.

    • this is so so so me. I’m 60 this year and my older mare (13) has come up lame this year. If we ride, it’s a casual walk and I don’t feel a need to go *any* faster. She can’t and I’m happy to just amble around the property. Sometimes I feel guilty, after all, I board and that board $$ could go toward retirement, finish the porch, etc etc but who wants a lame horse? So Herself is here, and we do what we want. The young mare, who is sound? I started riding her this summer, and she’s a nice ride, but I don’t know that I really want to ride anymore.

      • Holly,
        See my comment below (when posted). I am 63 (in Virginia) and have been reducing my riding to 15 minutes three times a week – that’s about it. I am doing lots of groundwork, play, exercise in-hand over cavalletti/poles, walks in the pasture paths at the boarding barn. All three horses (two senior, one 10) love the new life — mixed up, an occasional ride each week (sometimes two) but mostly ground work and play. They love it and our bond with them is much, much stronger than before. We are side by side and do the same work. We are a herd, just being careful to be safe, but enjoying every moment. Life is precious and our sensitivities have grown in terms of what is ethical and what is not.

        We love just spending time with them.

        Any rides are just at walk or trot — no more fast work. They do that themselves in the pastures with their herd mates! No worries.

        There are so many who follow the old ways — that’s OK, “Chacun a son gout!” (as they say in French: each to his own).

        For my husband and I, we have arrived at a point (at 63 and 68) that we love the company, companionship and joy our horses bring; do our best for them, and ensure they have all they need. They have plenty of friends. They seem to love being with us and trot or canter to the gate when we arrive, ears forward, excited. What more could you ask for?

        Best wishes to you.

        Nuala Galbari
        David L. Justis, M.D.

  7. Thank you for taking the time to write this. I have just started reading your blogs and love them. I have started doing lots of groundwork with my horses and it’s make me realise I won’t miss riding. Just spending time with them is a pleasure .

  8. I hurt my back….tore a muscle after being in the horse industry for 20 years. I worked as a trainer, an instructor for both able bodied and physically/mentally challenged individuals and also handled trained stallions at an Arabian breeding farm. Devastated I completely was forced to give up horse related activities….after 3 years I ventured into the idea of riding again and into my life appeared a large standard donkey!!!! I cannot tell you how much this guy has added to the quality of my life. I am close to the ground….he is a steady and kind beast with a WONDERFUL ground covering walk….surefooted as heck and LOVES the trail………am I a better horsewoman for my hiatus absolutely!!! My donkey has taught me so much about patience and confidence…….and people LOVE HIM….when I ride they flock to us like kids to cotton candy……

    • I have two donkeys in my barn, they make us better at EVERTHING. What a happy solution you’ve found. Thanks for commenting, Tracy.

    • Tracy, I often ride an older draft mule, retired from wagon-pulling. And when I ride him out in company, in the public eye, it is like riding out on a rock star, lol! Very attention-getting, and his wonderful disposition that I can trust makes it even better (-:

    • Tracy,
      That’s a wonderful story! Thank you for sharing it.
      There might be a donkey like this in my future.

  9. Oh yes, I am there! My body hurts, my schedule is crazy busy and I want to ride my boy so much, but what if I fall? I have not given up riding , but it’s so great to be supported and understood! You are a wise and gifted woman and I thank you for sharing your words and feelings.

    • Doshia, what I know of your life… well, you are saving the world. You have a good horse and all the time you need. Thanks, take care.

  10. Wonderful! I have never ridden as little as the last summer and can say without reserve that I haven’t enjoyed my horses as much in a long, long time. It recently struck me that it’s the only area in my life where I’m still constrained by the ‘what will other people think’ shibboleth. So, I’m working that “I don’t give a fig” muscle. Really hard. I expect to be reliably impenetrably unperturbed and not prone to spooks any day now! Lol. Fantastic piece??

  11. P. S. Yesterday I took my 19 year old out for the last trail ride of the season, to a great trail he used to ride every week. I could tell he had a great time, so did I. He actually cantered an entire field on a loose rein in a hackamore. The same field where I used to get bucked off due to his exuberance. There were stories by others of the same past experiences. We are all older and so are our horses, but it’s a sweet time. I know it won’t last forever and it’s more precious for that reason. He had an injury I thought was the end of his riding, but after a couple of years he was sound again, so now he has a modified riding life. And that’s working for us for now. Love this horse. On the ground and on his back.

  12. Thank you once again for expressing what I have felt – that it is ok to not ride today! There are days when I am full of energy and most of my parts are working harmoniously and I can easily get in the saddle, but other times maybe I’m not feeling as strong or balanced or whatever and I’m reluctant to ride, but feel like I should. What a relief to know I’m not alone. Your blogs always reach my heart and I thoroughly enjoy your approach to all of this. So many out there are completely missing the point.

    • It’s better for a horse when the rider is balanced in a variety of ways… good decision to pick your days. Quality over quantity… Thanks, Celeste.

  13. Very good read and knowing “when it’s time to hang it up” is always difficult and I hope I am able to make the judgement call when that time comes. On a positive note, I can recommend driving as a way of enjoing horses, when that saddle gets too much. Driving is easier physically (especially with pony/smaller equines) and it is a lot of fun. I will finish with this, there are worse things than “retirement” and just enjoying being in company with an old friend reminiscing on “the good ol days”.

  14. The second “half” is my story exactly. Years of being a once-a-month or once-a-week always-advanced-beginner rider on a big lovely, loving, easy-going mare who had to be put down thanks to galloping arthritis. Then a newer big, lovely, loving mare who turned out not to be easy-going at all. After a year-plus of dliigent work, an unexpected riding event gave me a broken left ankle, after which I literally did “therapeutic riding” to overcome my fear of getting whirled again, and then creeping old age required a right knee repair. And those extremities will never be the same, and my mare will never be easy-going because she loves people but she’s anxious to her bones. Now she’s 12, and has only been ridden sporadically for 3 years (not by me). I should sell her but I can’t bring myself to it. Probably selfish on my part. I’m still working on “what’s best? what’s next?”

    • You have a fair quandry, honest and I’ll know you’ll do the right thing. In this crazy world, you mare is safe and that matters so much. Thank you for this comment, Elizabeth.

  15. Thanks you Anna! You have tweaked a nerve that I hate to admit is controlling my quest to find a new riding partner. I have been looking for the last 3 years and know that what I’m seeking is trust and also knowing that it has to be earned. Hence my conundrum of to ride or to retire.There are multiple reasons on both sides of my self-argument. I’ve discovered that pushing 70 is an uphill job and not entirely a downhill slide. Loving and caring my pasture pets is somewhat satisfying but does not get me to my favorite place…riding in the woods on a trusted partner sauntering along…with the sound of hooves shuffling through Autumn leaves.

    • It’s a negotiation, but the local rescue that I work with, gets horses in with too many years and experience… that might be an option… Good luck, Charlotte.

  16. This is reassuring and has so much truth in it. I’m almost 57 and still ride, but not as much, or like I used to. I’m not as brave as I once was, and that affects the quality of my experience and my horsemanship. You’re so right, the horses always know. There are days when I feel great in the saddle, and wouldn’t want anything more, or less. But there are times where fear, or lack of confidence rears its’ ugly head, and I doubt myself, my ability to sit the possible spook or whatever…I’ve had days where I do feel guilty (seems to be ingrained) and feel like I should be better, more, pick your adjective. Bottom line – horses don’t care if we ride them, but they do appreciate being cared for, tended to, interacted with and loved on. That will never stop, for me. Until the day I no longer want to, I hope to continue to give myself a bit of a push to keep going and even be better. I love it that much. Having said that, I will always put my horse’s best interest ahead of my own desires. That’s nothing less than they deserve. Great thoughts! Sometimes we do need to hear from someone else, that it’s okay to slow down, and just be.

    • So much of the traditional opinion about riding is about proving our “manhood”. What foolishness. Do what is right that day; it’w what women are good at. Great comment, Lorie.

  17. Yes I read this blog this morning!!!! It was a very long time before I wanted to ride again after losing Ko. He and I after so many years were so in tune. I do want to ride not but not the most important thing is the relationship. Staring to have Punk carry a saddle while we do ground work. But I am riding Tuff a 14.3 bulk/wht paint. Melissa’s horse. I even trotted today. Wow what little strides compared to Ko! He is very safe. There are others there I can ride and have ridden but we just didn’t get along. And at my age I’m not gonna try to work it out when there is another horse that seems to be willing to work with me.

    I don’t know what will happen with Punk. I am hoping we can ride on the farm. We will see. It may make her too nervous. But I hope. And she was first level dressage so I hope we will mesh easily. Tuff was a barrel racer so instead of outside leg for turns he likes weight on inside stirrup.

    This is a wonderful article. So much for us to think about. I am glad that I essentially retired the boys after coming here. Just about 2 rides a month on Ko. His back really didn’t fit any saddle anymore with his sway.

    Yes much to think about. There are 12 horses at Melissa’s that are retired due to physical issues, age or just bought off track and retired. It is interesting to be in her herd.

    Love, Pam

    Sent from my iPad


  18. This is pretty spooky for me also. I was wondering if I should plan on taking maybe January off….here in Maine it gets to be about 10 degrees and lower during the day. Not fun for riding, but I lease my horse and feel I have to do SOMETHING three days a week or I’m wasting my money. The sweet mare I ride is 16 and more whoa than go and we mostly have a pretty amicable relationship. I respect her middle age and she respects mine. Just started doing Walking Detention and love it, and so does she! Thank you for helping me not feel guilty just working on a good, forward and relaxing walk!

  19. I often get “looks” and have heard many comments, about the fact that I no longer ride my horse. He is going to be 21 this coming Jan 1st. As a OTTB her has racing “jewelry” A bad knee and ankles with little flexation left. A blown curb. A bad tendon.
    When I bought him via a phone call and a few pics and short description on Canter 12 years ago, I knew what I was getting. And I knew that I wasn’t buying him to “ride” I was buying him to just “be” with him. And he and I have a wonderful relationship because of that. I have ridden him about 10 times. Just in a ring. Nothing big, Nothing fancy. Then I got sick. And time passed.
    And his arthritis got worse. And my muscle control got worse.
    So I clean his stall, his buckets. I keep him on rough board. I see him twice a day, every day. I feed him. I groom him. I take care of any cuts he may get. I wrap his legs, and manage his discomfort. I give him carrots. A friend leaves apples when he is visiting from Florida.
    He and I take walks. We always have. He will follow me anywhere, good or bad. He trusts me. And I trust him. All 16h chestnut Thoroughbred inch of him.
    Another boarder will be leaving soon with the racing stable she works for. And is leaving her little 14.3h QH gelding behind. I agreed to feed, groom, muck and care for him while she is gone. She has told me that I am welcome to ride him as well. But I don’t think I will.
    Maybe, if I ever get another horse of my own after my big guy is gone… I will ride again. Or maybe not. Maybe I will just get another horse that needs a home. Needs his or her own person. And I will just take walks with the next one as well.
    Partners do not have to carry one another. They just have to be there for the other.

  20. “Love him enough.” “Love yourself enough.” Listen to your heart, listen to your horse. I think we all, horse-people or not, get too caught up in what other people think, when it’s the last thing we should consider. Why should you care if someone else decided what you’re doing is “cowardly” or “stupid” or you’re not being what they think you should be. They don’t know your heart, they don’t know how you interact with your horse (or dog, or spouse, or friends). You’re nothing but a mirror, they only see their own failings, guilt, fear and put you down for it. I don’t have a horse, it was just not financiall possible, not that it wasn’t, and isn’t still something I desperately want before I depart this massive rock whirling through space. I would like one last good ride, but if that isn’t possible, I’d have no problem just being able to be around these incredible creatures, spending time with them, sharing our hearts. Rudd had to give up riding, due to a swimming accident that left him paralyzed from mid-chest down. What really hurt was when he had to give up the last horse, it was too much for Dot, she couldn’t manage Rudd and the horses. It hurt them both deeply, but they hung on till the last one was found one morning, down and gone across the rainbow bridge at 35 years of age. It would’ve been intolerable otherwise, Rudd never sold any horse that came into his barn, but Yenom (money spelled backwards) was the last.

  21. What a great article! I recognize almost every one of those stages and think/hope I made the right decisions at the right times.
    Thanks for such a remarkable way of sharing your thoughts and insight.

  22. I’ve finally reached the stage where I don’t much care what other people think. When someone hears I have horses they say ‘you must ride every day’ and look at me like I’m freakin’ crazy when I tell them hardly ever! That said I love to ride and when I feel like riding I do but I could happily just hang out with them and chat with them and even just watch them without ever riding again. I’m fortunate to have them in my backyard so I can get my fix any time I want. I’m quite sure they don’t care one way or the other. My mare seems to enjoy a change of scenery when we ride as much as she enjoys an extended scratching session. Frankly it’s the horses’ and my opinion that really matters to me!

  23. I’ve been thinking about this post all day! A couple more things – my old goddess mare who left at age 30 after being totally retired for 5 years taught me more in those last 5 years than I can even express in words. And playing with our pony (only 14 years old but at 12.3 hands no one here can ride him any more) at liberty in the arena and getting to say “canTER” and watch him respond is possibly one of most joyous things I do in a week. He’s part of our herd – equine and human – and he’s not going anywhere. I wish more people knew how amazing it is to have them with you to the very end. The last years are the most precious of all.

    • My Grandfather Horse was retired the last 13 years, he was my first upper level horse, and still, our greatest years have been the last few. So very precious. Thanks, Billie.

  24. My first horse, he was 11 and I was 52 when I bought him. We had two great years of trail adventures, then several years of trying to figure out what’s up with the gimpiness. Now he’s 18 and retired due to arthritis. I rode easy trails for awhile, but after he fell down with me on him, I said, “Enough.” I went back to hiking, as I had done for all those years before him. He’s on a pasture with one other old gelding (abandoned when he developed ring bone) and seems to be enjoying life. (The main thing I do with horses these days is scratch ’em!) But the pasture could go bye-bye any day and then I don’t know what I would do with him.

    Considering how many “pasture ornaments” there are in my area – horses that are never ridden – it never would have occurred to me that people might have “guilt” about not riding! Horses can be enjoyed in so many different ways!

    • Jeannie,

      I love your post. A few weeks ago, my husband and I walked out with two (of our three) horses, on a pasture trail. The four herd members walked side-by-side, enjoying blackberries along the way (humans) and orchard grasses (equids). We often hand-walk our horses and ride only about once a week. Our daily walk is usually for about 30-40 minutes and all enjoy it.

      Returning recently, we passed two riders (not known to us except by site; it’s a large barn with over 106 horses). Both western riders, one woman said, “You WALK dogs; you RIDE horses.”
      Apart from this woman being blunt and rude, the fact that we were enjoying hand-walking our horses was completely our business. We just smiled, ignored the retort, and walked on.

      Sadly, this is not uncommon. Our horses reside on a 180 acre farm and have a large herd to run and play with and a minimum of 15-16 hours’ turnout daily. Each pasture is about 30-40 acres in size. They trot, run, play and chase each other around. We are there four-five days a week to groom, bathe, hand-walk and love them. When they see us, they run to the gate.
      When we do ride, we work no more than 30 minutes (usually less) to preserve their back health.

      There are new ethics when it comes to care and treatment of horses, and they are catching on, but slowly. Our saddles are light, we use no bits, and only voice requests.

      There are other ways and our horses love to play and work over ground poles, off the lead.

      Hurrah for alternatives!

      Best wishes,

  25. I am in such a conundrum right now over my ability to continue riding.

    I have made horses my life and profession. I had the good luck to work in some good barns with good trainers and athletic horses. Soaking up as much knowledge as I could find, and discarding the BS. Then I started getting some clients of my own. Riding 8 horses a day and giving lessons.

    17 years ago, on my day off from the barn… I had a nasty snowboarding wreck. They always say snowboarders are so reckless. But this time it was a skier who took me out. Turns out I had so much damage to my neck I would need surgery to keep from being paralyzed. After one year of recovery, much to my surgeon’s dismay, I started riding again. I rode through the pain and weakness until I felt strong again. I moved home and started up a small training business there.

    Now, 17 years later, the pain and paralysis is catching up with me. I recently had to have several more surgeries. I’m in physical therapy to stay ahead of the pain. It doesn’t always work. My personal horses spend more time being pets than working. I am having to cancel lessons because I can’t get out of bed.

    This is not who I am! How do I come to terms with this person who is not a rider? My whole identity is wrapped up with horses and I find this new person has little confidence.

    Thank you for your as always insightful article. It helps me get just a bit more comfortable with
    the new me.

    • I understand your conundrum. Literally. Personally. We have careers for young people. Even without your nasty injury, things would be changing. Mortality is a bitter pill, and I struggle to find a path ahead myself; I ride comfortably but my barn is full of retired horses, so I only ride during lessons. My solution: I took up writing. Great comment, Anna. Good luck.

  26. I have two handsome guys. Both 17h TB. My older one is a rescue had the most awesome trot…you had to concentrate on the “down” while posting. An easy going guy, I never worked him past his comfort level. Two years ago, I went out in the pasture to bring him in for a lesson and he turned his back to me….instead of the lesson, we went for a walk and agreed at 25, he’d had enough…and now runs to the gate to meet me…he loves our walks through the woods, side by side. My younger guy has a canter that floats on air….but never really cared to be ridden. When trainer suggested a harsh bit and spurs, I balked. I now have two very expensive pasture babies….but I believe they offer us so much more than their backs. As far as the barn gossips, they can chat with one another about my choices, I am busy communing with my two wonderful guys.

  27. I bought Toby, a handsome Arabian gelding a the age of 59…I’m now 65 and he is 16 and the two of us have had many adventures. He’s a nervous guy and can spook easily…but he’s also very courageous. An odd combination that somehow reflects how I am. This year he foundered … and it broke my heart. He’s been recuperating for 5 months and a few weeks ago foundered again. He is now being boarded at my vet’s farm where he is being well-taken care of and loved. I go see him whenever I can just to love on him, groom him and be with him. We enjoy each other’s company. Your article went right to the heart of the matter. I’ve been struggling with guilt thinking that his illness was caused by something I did … didn’t exercise him enough, etc. although I was riding him 2 – 3 times a week. Even my vet who is doing a stellar job of managing his condition can’t explain why he foundered. It could have been the rich grass pasture that he could’nt get enough of or some other trigger…we just don’t know. So now, we just hang out together. I’m hoping he can recover and we can ride again some day but I’m thinking that realistically this may be a career ending injury for him. It’s hard for me to say that…but I have to face that reality. Your post has helped me to realize that if that happens, it’s ok and that perhaps the years ahead could be the most precious of all. Thank you for your insights and your love of these magnificent animals.

    • Sandie, it isn’t anyone’s fault… and things are going to be interesting for a while, for sure. Good luck, and a scratch for Toby.

  28. For me, every ride is a blessing. Take nothing for granted. Horses are a journey and the trail changes as we age, but it always remains a passion within me. I have no need to go fast, jump high, prove anything to anyone anymore. I just want to enjoy all the time I have left with horses……And I don’t HAVE to ride! Always love reading your words, Anna ?

  29. The hardest part about not riding was feeling I had to explain myself for not joining in on the ride. When I took a hard look, though, I realized my anxiety was being with my riding “buddies.” I was so “busy” paying attention to them that I lost sight of the horse that was beneath me. These days I just ride a little around my yard; and that only happens when my riding buddy (my horse!) comes to me to say he’s up for it. Otherwise, we spend the time together just being in each other’s company even when his two herd mates lose interest and walk away from us. As for my two-legged riding buddies, we get together every now and again for lunch!
    Thanks, Anna, for a great read. It so spoke to my heart.

  30. I forgot to say my guy (Dover) had a hip injury that took forever to heal. It was the kind that wasn’t obvious to see to say “This horse needs to be retired.” Instead, I would get comments about his bad behavior, etc. But I just knew there was something wrong physically. I did find someone who discovered the hip injury. For several years she would come and realign his hip. Thankfully, these days it seems he is sound.

  31. Love, love love your articles!. I am 68 and I am still riding my two horses, ages 22 and 19, however, we are now enjoying life at a slower pace.. I stopped showing a few years ago, and several of my friends were surprised that I didn’t want to continue with weekly lessons, clinics, or competitions . As I have aged, I have found that a walking trail ride in the woods makes me completely content. I am mindful how nice it is to be free of pressure…just the two of us “smelling the roses” as we go. When my horse stops to scratch an itch, no one is yelling at me to “get his head up/put him on the bit/march!!” I love the freedom that we are now enjoying. I let my horse pick the pace, usually a relaxed walk, and I admire the scenery. We enjoy each other’s company…and frankly, it’s worth more than a dozen blue ribbons.

    • Barb, I appreciate your comment, and in my philosophy, I would say that the trail reality you describe, is the mentality required for successful showing. 🙂 Thanks.

    • There are so many good things which come with appreciating what’s already there to enjoy instead of driving ourselves to achieve something that’s not there yet …

  32. I am blessed to have a farm which produces enough great hay to feed my 4 pasture pets, and a husband who is understanding of my need for them. We toddle around the pasture maybe 4-5 times a year, but mostly it’s just being in among them, stroking, pointing out burrs for my hubby to pull out for me, sharing their breath. You see, at 58 yrs I have severe RA, but also a rare related issue called “Arthritis Mutilans” (look up images of it if you have a strong stomach). In essence, the bones in my fingers are dissolving, and bits of bone work out like splinters, then I have parts of fingers amputated. I’m down to my thumbs, 1 segment of each finger w/ the exception of no rt index at all, and 2 segments of my rt middle finger locked straight… my typing finger. ;o) I also had to a reaction to an RA drug which means severe neuropathy so my balance sucks and I have to use a walker. That said, I know I’m blessed both to be able to look out my kitchen window and see “my kids”, and to walk out among them. I don’t know what I’d do without them. They keep me grounded, sane and happy. My hubby (the biggest blessing in my life) understands. The bulk of my friends, family and the few neighbors we have do not. But that’s OK. I had my heart horse a number of years back, and while I tell all my horses since they are fortunate for all she taught me, the 3 years I had with her AFTER she could no longer be ridden were absolutely golden in both our lives.
    When I began riding with a girl scout sponsored riding program in 1971, my instructor was a truly amazing woman. I’ve seen her very infrequently over the years at reunions of the program, but since we’ve moved 3+ hours north it’s hard to make the reunions. The last time I saw her was 6-7 years ago. Imagine my surprise to open my mail and find this:

    Shelley in Northern Michigan

    Show original message

    • Wonderful article, and what a girl scout group. Thanks for sharing this, and your story. I won’t worry about you; sounds like you are in great hands, and hooves. Hope you all have a gentle winter. Thanks, Shelley.

  33. Anna, you are so very wise, and you express your wisdom so beautifully. This one is so good, but then I repeat myself – they all are!

  34. Goodness, sometimes I think you have a nanny cam on my life. This has been a rough year+. I have had to (been forced to) assess much of what you so eloquently presented. My 12 year old, very athletic and accomplished, Arabian mare ( a champion in the show ring, my co-conspirator outside the ring) has suffered a cascade of ligament ailments. My determined commitment to her recovery has been impacted by significant arthritis in both my knees (at age 58) and the insult of having two of my friends horses actually fall on me (the last one crushing my foot and adding challenges I have yet to resolve). How does a person ride for 49 years and then within 6 months, have 2 horses fall on them?, for no really good reason? What was the universe trying to tell me? I needed to re-assess, dig deep and that has been hard. Was I afraid to ride again? No. Would I ever ride those two horses again? No. Do I need to still ride for my own mental health so it can happiness? Yes. Do I now have to find a way to get my (slightly used) body strong again and regain the muscle memory and core strength I have lost? Yes. With those questions answered, I was presented with a veterinary diagnosis that gives me no hope of my mare ever being 100% sound again. What now? More self analysis. Am I happy to just ride slowly down a trail on her and be satisfied? I think the answer is no. So, at a time in my life, after years of partnership with what I thought was the horse who would take me to the possible end of my riding years, I will need to search for another companion to join our family. I might have found him. Time will tell. Thank you so much for allowing us to visit your world. You have no idea how much it parallels ours at times. I look forward to my weekly dose.

    • Yes, I recognize that landscape. I’m a year out of my foot surgery and I am not as strong as I once was… the question of who I ride isn’t clear, and now what?? Thanks, Kathy… and good luck.

  35. You sure hit the nail on the head when you spoke of “courage hormones having abandoned us!” My situation involves my mare who has been very ill for over a year but now ready to get back in shape and riding. I am thrilled for her as I almost put her down when no one could figure out what was wrong with her. So she has not been ridden for over a year. We do ground work. I got on for the very first time yesterday and my legs felt like jelly. My last ride on her in 2015 was a crazy one. We got caught in a hail storm and she freaked which made me freak and I was as scared as her! I am trying to get that out of my head but easier said than done. So we walked a little yesterday with my husband walking along side us. My mare was grumpy but we ended better than when we started.
    I am totally at ease and have fun riding other horses. I am 61 but have been riding since a kid. So I am faced with wanting to give this mare the very best restart but can I get over my fears? She has gone through so much pain in her illness that she truly deserves a fearless rider. Thank you for all the food for thought and not having to feel guilty if it doesn’t work out.

    • It might surprise you to know how many successful comebacks start with a lead line. No apologies… all that matters is that it ends better than it starts. Congrats, whatever happens, it’s a win. Thanks Carol, and good luck.

  36. Anna,
    I just found your article. When one begins to think such thoughts, one browses around for others who share the same. After seeing, Path of the Horse, learning about Nevzorov, following Carolyn Resnick and others of that ilk, plus meeting a Danish trainer (albeit online) who has encouraged me to stop riding, I began to seriously think about the whole issue. I am 63, and just returned to riding at age 59, but after three to four years of lessons, I didn’t seem to be making the progress I had hoped for in terms of skill and enjoyment; it wasn’t from lack of work — I began to question what I was doing to my horse to please my trainer. Therein, lay the issue.

    I had grown up with horses and ridden until age 20. Then a 39-year hiatus. As is often the case, I ignored my trainer and bought an OTTB five years ago; he is still the gelding of my heart, but I have learned much from him and, most importantly, I have listened. The training was driving him crackers and my trainer kept pushing, pushing. He never let me know, but I knew when it was too much. I was working in the hunter-hack discipline with a young trainer who kept forgetting I was 60.

    Fast forward to last year (age 62). I adopted a retired jumper (Hanoverian), aged 24 now; then I adopted a retired Tennessee Walker who had been abused — he’s now 17. Together with the OTTB, (now 10) I have been working in-hand, taking them on in-hand walks on the farm trails, playing, giving them all lots of attention, massage, sometimes just messing around in the paddocks or outside the barn. They have plenty of space on this over 100-acre farm and a large herd of over 90 horses (separated into six pastures).

    Long story short: I still ride a little, but no more than 15-20 minutes, and bitless; when I sense my OTTB has had enough, tack is removed right away and I hand-walk and play, groom and massage. Young friends assist, too, and sometimes a friend rides him for a short time.

    The Hanoverian (24) has concussion injuries, bone spurs, mild arthritis — but does very well in equipads and on Prevacox. He is free to play in the pastures and is hand-walked only.

    The Tennessee Walker (18) has some nerve injury on his right hind and back and still reacts in fear at times, but is learning to trust again and loves in-hand work over cavalletti, stretches, and walks in the pasture.

    The OTTB (10) has carried me for five year with no issues; is a gentleman and sweet-natured.
    I don’t want to push that now. Light, short sessions (15-20) then in-hand and walks on the trail.

    You just have to watch their weight and adjust — they do their own trot-canter work in the pastures with their friends and have 10 hours’ turnout in winter; and 12-14 in summer.

    I have had seven good years in the saddle (Hanoverian and OTTB) and I am thankful for that but, like so many of your guests on this site, I am not very interested in riding now — partly due to caution; partly due to ethical concerns. As I am still riding briefly a couple or three days a week, it’s most due to ethical concerns.

    The will to ride is just not there, particularly, although I enjoy a little of it. What is completely fulfilling is walking side by side with my horses and my husband. We all form a herd – humans and horses, and enjoy each other’s company with no discomfort or pain. You still must exercise some caution of course in all handling, but the horses are much calmer with us on the ground, and with friends who join us — either in the arena or on the trail. There are no expectations, just friendship and enjoyment, and trust — a band of friends playing together.

    We do some cavalletti and exercises in-hand for added fitness. Since beginning all this varied work, the OTTB has had no stifle issues — which formerly bothered him when in training.
    I work with a massage therapist who suggests ways to improve fitness in ground work.

    It’s more fulfilling — and when riding, with friends on the ground nearby, it also helps one feel safer and helps the horses feel secure. You can play games, too, with a ball, off lead and practicing over poles and cavalletti; the little Tennessee Walker LOVES to work in the arena in hand and over poles and will follow you like a puppy, no lead, wherever you go and stop when you stop.

    For those who wish to give up riding — the horse will be fine, so long as he had plenty of turnout and good care. Our horses trot and canter to the gate when we arrive — we rarely have to go into the pasture to bring them out. Then don’t run away, they run toward us with pleasure and ears forward.

    To all on this site — love, good health, and a great relationship with your equine friends.

    Happy Holidays.

    Nuala Galbari
    David L Justis, M.D.

    • Thank you for this heartfelt comment. There is a sweet spot between pushing a horse past his, or your, joy and never riding again. Your path is a great example. Thank you Nuala.

    • Thank you, Nuala….your story sounds so familiar to mine! Happy Holidays to you and yours; as well, to Anna and all the followers on this site!

      • Thank you, Lynell, onward to 2017 with new ideas, directions, fun and companionship with our horses.

        I think the most challenging area is what to do next. The trainers, such as Carolyn Resnick, who suggest ‘dancing with your horse’ — have teams who work daily with the horses.
        There are always people behind the camera (such as on movie sets) ready to step in if there are issues.

        Another area is ‘willingness’. The horse may not want to play, or dance. If not, then such activities are also forceful, do you not agree? I always consider the mood of a horse on a certain day, and if they seem a little out of it, I simply hand-walk them around the farm. This always cheers them as they find other grasses to eat and new things to look at. If a horse is in a playful, happy mood — I can tell easily with my OTTB, and Hanoverian, as each one will pick up the lead in his mouth, as if to say, “Let’s go and do something!”

        My OTTB, Captain Jack Sparrow, will turn the grooming bucket upside down or pick up a brush and drop it, or shake a cloth out — he’s a pirate, but this is always an indication he’s in a playful mood and ready for some fun.

        Last week, for example, I took the Tennessee Walker and the OTTB into the large arena (no one else was riding at the time). We set up some ‘tiny’ crossrails (about 8″) and ground poles, and a little obstacle course, just for in-hand work. The two did the course together, Simon the TWH, with my husband, and Captain Jack with me. After about four rounds, stretches, back ups and turns on forehand and haunches, we gave them a few minutes’ rest. Then, we removed the lead lines and left them both in the center of the arena (amid little jumps and obstacles) just to see what they would do. We walked back to corner of the large arena and sat down on chairs, watching, waiting, but said nothing.

        For a few minutes, they just stood there, seemingly taking it all in. Then the OTTB gently nudged the TWH and they both walked in a straight line toward us. Still, we said nothing.

        They both stopped in front of us and lowered their heads; we remained quiet and did not move.

        Then, Jack (OTTB) licked my hand, and Simon nuzzled David. It was so sweet and a lovely bonding moment. We were saying, ‘Thank you for your work’; then, ‘what would you like to do?’

        As a reward, they were taken for a long walk on the pasture trail on a warm, sunny afternoon (60sF). It was a lovely day for all of us.

        The arena work, whether flat, trot work, or over obstacles, which we go over ourselves, is also good for bonding (we are doing what you are doing); however, it also keeps them well-mannered, as any minor issues are checked during this work, such as crowding you.

        The stretches, turns, back ups are good therapy (especially for stifles) and the obstacles help keep them fit. All can be done at trot. Some days they prefer to just walk, on other days we trot them.

        I am British, and was always trained to wear a helmet during any ground work, for additional safety. I remove the helmet for the trail walk, usually, but on this day, I kept it on.

        I don’t like round penning, except during really short visits, when time is a premium, and even then I only do walk and trot. Cantering in the round pen can be frustrating for the horse and can make him over-excited, and it makes me dizzy, so I don’t like it!

        Much of it is about ‘inviting’ the horse to do something — not ‘forcing’ him. If you invite, you will often be surprized at what he does and, importantly, does with a willing heart.

        Happy Holidays, and a wonderful New Year to you.

        Best wishes,

  37. Hi there! I read a few of your articles and thought they were just fantastic so now i am reading your book! Stable Relation. I am already completely enthralled your writing is just amazing i cant wait to see where this journey goes!

  38. So many diverse feelings on this post. I am 60 and in good health, but I just don’t like to ride anymore. I think that I need to stop beating myself up and just simply enjoy my horse. I find I am just as happy just hanging out with him as I am riding him. I’ve ridden almost 50 years and each year I find it less enjoyable. I too will go back to hiking as it has also been a passion for me. I have a wonderful friend in my horse, but he is a spook on the trail, and I find myself getting panic attacks about all of the what if this jumps or that jumps out. It isn’t worth it any longer. I will never sell him and he’s with me for the rest of his life. I’ll just to a rental trail ride barn when I feel like I need to ride. Thank you for such good conversation here.

  39. I just read all these posts and I’m so thankful to have found you, Anna! I have been carrying around so much guilt since I stopped endurance riding 5 years ago now (wow, time flies) and i haven’t done much at all in leisure trail riding in the past 3 years … maybe once or twice? We keep our 4 horses at home and only 1 horse is truly rideable .. the others are rescues. I’m 63 and in good health but I just find more pleasure now in cleaning up after them; brushing them; and feeding them, along with just letting them enjoy each other. I won’t feel so much guilt now. THANK YOU!

  40. Good article. I stopped riding last year due to some aging changes in me that messes with my balance and with getting on and off my horse. I love my girl and spend time with Her, walk her, groom her, kiss her nose. etc. I miss riding but I do not think it is right for me or her. She is 25 and still active, some leg issues but still goes and enjoys turn out. Put her in the pasture and she cantors off and rolls and loves it. He choice in what she feels like doing. I help muck stalls and visit with the horses when I do. She always makes me feel good after I have spent time with her. Can’t feel guilty about what I can’t change just enjoy what I can do. Nothing better than the fragrance of a horse. : )

  41. I ran across this post when I searched for ‘is it time to stop riding’ and I’m glad that I found it. My sweet gelding is a ConnemaraX who has been with me for almost 27 years. I was there when he was born. Today he was diagnosed with cancer. He’s been losing weight and after his bloodwork came back alarming, an ultrasound of his abdomen showed numerous masses in his spleen. His time is very short, much shorter than I’d hoped, and I’m making arrangements for him sooner rather than later because I want him to still feel good at the inevitable end instead of deteriorating even more. It’s breaking my heart.

    He’s been my best buddy. Yet I’ve always felt the guilt of not “doing” enough with him… not showing, not fulfilling his potential, etc. We did a lot over the years, here and there, nothing serious, and he’d do anything I’d ask. He loved to jump and would go over anything, we did games and trails, kids rode him and I gave lessons on him, but I never really got into making him ‘become’ something – whatever that means. I’m 54 and have ridden my whole life, western as a kid, showed hunter/jumper as a youth, got burned out and quit riding completely for a decade before going back to it as an adult. On my terms. Or so I thought. But still I struggled with the “so how often do you ride?” question because the answer was mostly “not very much”. And I felt guilty for it.

    Reading your post and the comments helps me realize that my boy never cared if I rode. He just likes being with me. He’d always come whenever I’d call, no matter how far, and nicker when I walked into the barn. He’d follow me around no matter what I was doing. Four years ago, I blew a disc in my lower back leaving me with lower body pain and muscle spasms. Three years ago, he ruptured tendons in both of his knees in the pasture. We both mostly recovered and would do a little groundwork or I’d hop on bareback and we’d tool around at a walk/trot. Once in a blue moon, I’d put on a saddle and we’d trot a little more, maybe canter a bit. Never for more than about 20 minutes or so. I was out of shape and was afraid to fall. He was the kind of pony who would be the same no matter if I’d ridden him yesterday or 5 years ago. He’s a good boy. Not perfect, but we know each other and understand each other.

    I’ve felt so much guilt that comes from thinking I’d failed him when it was always more about what others might think. He’s my pet. He doesn’t have to ‘earn’ that and I don’t have to ‘earn’ being a horseperson. I don’t think he cares if he’s had an adequate training regimen – whatever that might be. I just hope that he leaves this life knowing he’s been loved for 27 years. I wish I’d realized this sooner and not let our time together be tainted by the expectations of others. I have no plans to get another horse, but should I be so fortunate as to have another one in my life, or any pets for that matter, I will be true to them and to myself… being loved and cared for as a companion is enough to be fulfilling. Life is too short and being cherished is what counts. Thank you for your post.

    • 27 years? You have no failed him. He has had a good life, and we think to much about what should/could be done, and not enough about what didn’t happen. 27 years of horrible things not happening many other things is a wonderful thing.
      Considering sooner rather than later? That’s what people do who truly put their horses first. You have my sympathy, but even more, you have my respect. Thank you, Debra, for doing the right thing all these years and especially now.

    • Hello, Debra. I just want to acknowledge your wonderful message about your “sweet gelding.” Lovely, just lovely.

  42. Thank you both for your kind responses. Today was the day I said goodbye to my boy even sooner than expected. He started having a more difficult time eating over the weekend. He was hungry but having trouble swallowing and his abdomen was uncomfortable. He was dropping weight drastically, feverish, and his heart rate was elevated. So I gave him banamine and coaxed him to eat whatever he was willing to, letting him have the weekend mostly grazing. Grass was soft enough to swallow, so he did like the grass. He got upset when I tried to turn him out though, so I stayed nearby in a chair while he wandered the property, took him to get a drink when he’d come over to tell me he needed a break, and gave him all the cookies and carrot slices he was willing to eat. He was such a personality and the people who had fallen in love with him over the years got to say goodbye with lots of attention. He rallied and yesterday I saw him be more like himself than he’d been in a long time. I’m glad I knew what was going on inside, or I would have been tempted to say that he was getting better as I so desperately hoped.

    But today I couldn’t coax him to eat, he wasn’t even interested in grazing anymore. His brief sparkle was gone and he was obviously very uncomfortable. So I held his head telling him how much I love him while the vet helped him go. His heart stopped almost immediately… he was ready. He was buried with his dam’s ashes alongside a few other horses at the back of the pasture where it is very quiet and beautiful. So he gets to rest and be with his mama again. She died when he was four and he really loved her. I’m not totally sure what I believe in, but it makes me feel better to think of him as happy and comfortable instead of gone. But I keep getting flashes of panic and have to remind myself that he’s safe now. I miss him so very, very much though.


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