You’ve probably been told at some point that getting back into a sport is so easy—it’s like riding a bike, they say. That’s what I was expecting when I returned to horseback riding in my mid-thirties after a decade-long hiatus. But rather than picking up where I left off the last time I was in the saddle, I felt like I was starting from scratch, both in terms of knowledge and ability. Now, instead of worrying whether I would have time to ride multiple horses in a day, I was left wondering how many days I would be sore after each ride.
So, what’s a previously-competitive-rider-turned-out-of-shape-equestrian to do? Here are some tips for adults returning to the riding ring (or to any sport, for that matter):
- Approach it with a beginners mind: While you might remember how to tack up a horse like it was yesterday, many things have likely changed since you’ve been out of the ring. From new equipment to different schools of thought, it’s good to get a refresher from a barn friend or trainer. Even though I feel confident in my equestrian knowledge, I still like to ask questions, especially when other people’s horses are in my care.
- Go at your own pace: This is true for any sport or workout that you haven’t done in a while, but it’s especially true when you return to riding and reignite muscles that you don’t regularly use. For me, my soreness initially lasted for many days post-ride and encompassed everything from my legs to my back and shoulders. Eventually, I found a routine that worked and helped me combat some of the stiffness. Going for a walk after riding, taking an Epsom salt bath, and doing some gentle stretches helped my muscles recover in a shorter timespan.
- Add in some cardio: Aside from being sore, I noticed I would get very winded when I returned to riding. We would trot one lap around the ring, and I needed to rest (the horse was fine). While this was embarrassing, I realized I needed to up my cardiovascular game in between my riding time. So, I subscribed to The Ness and regularly take their cardio sculpt class during the week. I love that I can do the workout from home and don’t need any special equipment. In just a few short weeks, I noticed that I was noticeably stronger when I rode and more fit overall.
- Practice self-care: As most equestrians know, there’s more to barn life than riding. If time in the saddle is too taxing in the beginning, spend some time getting to know riders and trainers at the barn, watch other riders, and enjoy being in the company of horses. There are plenty of times when I’ve just gone down to the barn to “hang.” While I enjoy my riding time, I also get a lot out of talking to younger equestrians who are coming up in the sport.
- Give yourself a break: Starting or resuming anything new is challenging—especially as you get older. But you should commend yourself for getting back to something you love, taking time for yourself, or trying something new altogether. Now that I am a busy caregiver, being at the barn is a true sanity break for me. I love that when I arrive at the barn and the gates open up, it’s like I’m transported to a whole new world. The horses are happy to see me (so long as I come with carrots), and the riders share a common bond. It is my happy place, my therapy, and my home. And while I might not be heading to any shows soon, I am embracing returning to the equestrian world as an adult rider, even while recognizing my limitations and the learning curve ahead of me.
To all of my fellow adult riders out there who are returning to the sport, we’ve got this. And remember, if you survived riding in a crowded indoor ring in the winter back in the day, you can do this, too!