Most of the riders I work with are older ladies with the average age at around 52. They all want to have a good time on the trail, at events and in competitive riding. For them, and you, I recommend adequate preparation before riding, whether on the trail or at an event.
Preparation is the key for everything we are trying to accomplish with our horse. If you are a trail rider, the more you can do to make your horse safe on the trail, the more you minimize risk of an accident and injury and the more fun you will have. If you are an older rider, you need to be even more aware that horses can be dangerous. Your reflexes are not as quick and your balance and agility are not as good as they were when you were younger. I know this to be true because I ride every day and I am 70. My timing and feel are not what they were ten years ago. The key is to be aware and focus on activities that will prepare us for some great rides.
Even a horse that won a competition or went through a de-spooking clinic last year needs a refresher. With every horse, it is important to revisit basic training, what we call foundation training. With every horse I start from the beginning and work up through the skills. Regardless of how well I think the horse is trained, I have found from experience that it is wise to always spend a little time lunging, round penning or doing ground work. I begin my ride by making sure the horse will go forward and will obey my seat and leg cues. And, I follow up if the horse does not respond to my cues.
Every time I get on a horse I do some foundation work and not only make sure I have control of the body parts but make sure the horse is thinking about me and what I am asking him to do. This is critical for the older rider. If the horse’s mind is elsewhere, it has no concern for you and it will not listen. When the mind is elsewhere, the feet are not under control. Preparation also includes exposing your horse to new and different experiences. The more that you prepare, the safer you are going to be on the trail and the better you will do in competitions.
Even if you have ridden for years, it is important to hone your skills and to ride more correctly. It is important for mature riders to stack the deck in our favor by participating in training and/or effective riding clinics that teach us to give clear, consistent signals. When we use the aids properly, we communicate better with the horse and the horse will be a safer and more enjoyable to ride.
Finally, whether you are in an arena or on the trail, you need to be aware of what is going on around you and use a little imagination. Ask yourself what you would do if around the bend, a deer jumped out or another rider lost control and caused a commotion. Most people drive defensively and I say ride defensively and look for the unexpected. Invest the time and energy before you just hop on. “Stack the deck” in your favor and you will have safer and more enjoyable rides.