How To Get On A Horse When You’re Over 80
First, be sure you can get out of bed in the morning. If you can manage it by holding on to something with one hand only, you are okay. If you need two hands, it might be better not to ride.
Next, find a horse that is as old as you are. One year in a horse’s life is equivalent to about three years for a human. If you are over 80, you should consider any horse under 20 years old a wild colt.
Then ask how long it has been since the horse has been ridden. If no one has been on him in the past five years, the horse may have forgotten that he is supposed to put up with it. And he may not put up with you.
If possible, get someone else to get on the horse first. The young are immortal; get one of them.
Make friends with the horse while you are still on the ground. Pet him, feed him snacks, speak to him in reassuring tones. Reassuring for yourself, that is. It is always better to deceive the horse into thinking you are not nervous. You can’t really fool him, but if he sees you are trying, he may give you the benefit of the doubt.
Western saddles are heavy, but don’t even dream of using an English saddle. The first time a cowhorse saw one, the horse laugh was born.
Don’t try to throw the saddle over the horse’s back yourself. Never reveal your weakness to a horse you are going to ride. Bet a ten-year-old girl a dollar she can’t do it. Then pay up. It’s worth the money.
If you can put your left foot into the stirrup while standing on the ground, it is too low. You’ll never get your right leg over the saddle. Pull up something to stand on; preferably not a brightly colored metal drum decorated with waving feathers that goes “bong” when you stand on it. Find something that will not scare the horse any more than your demeanor has already.
Since the horse will certainly back up as soon as you stand on your mounting block, get someone to hold the horse. If no one volunteers to do that, back the horse up until he is almost touching the barn. Then, when he actually backs into the wall, be prepared for that to trigger him into taking off like a runner in the Kentucky Derby. Keep women and children out of the way.
Before attempting to actually mount the horse, see if you can lift your right knee high enough for your leg to make a right angle with your body. If not, you may have to get someone to lift the leg over the saddle for you. Get someone else to retrieve it on the other side of the horse and put it where it needs to be.
Talk like a cowboy. “Nice horsey” tells the horse you are a weirdo. Say, “Ho, boy,” when you want him to stand still, but make it sound like “Ho-bwah.” When you want him to move, say,
“Come up, hoss!” And sound like you expect him to do it. Holding a little gravel in your mouth helps.
(Putting a little Scotch in your mouth first also helps. But save some for after your ride; you’ll need it).
Don’t be surprised if the horse doesn’t want to leave the yard. Horses are herd animals; they don’t like to go anywhere by themselves. So if possible, get someone to ride with you. If you can’t, just lead another horse. When two is company, three is allowed. If they like each other, they’ll let you come along.
If the horse gives you any trouble, don’t fight it. No one tries to dominate a horse except fools and rodeo riders with good insurance policies, Or a death wish. Use diplomacy. Come to a mutually agreeable decision. The best decision is to decide it is agreeable to you to do what the horse wanted in the first place. Then you will both be happy.
There is a Scriptural foundation for this. In Mark’s Gospel Jesus said to his disciples, “Go into the village ahead of you, and you will find a colt tied there that has never been ridden… They brought the colt to Jesus and he sat on it” (Mark 11:2). In Texas that makes Jesus a bronc rider! So perhaps we can paraphrase something else Jesus said about a king going to war (Luke 13:31) and make it read: “Or what rider, having trouble with a horse, will not consider whether he is able with his hundred-plus pounds of body weight to oppose an animal who comes against him with a thousand-plus pounds of bone and muscle? If he cannot, then, while the horse is still quiet, he uses his brains and looks for terms of peace.”
At the end of your ride, when you turn around to come back home, the horse will pick up speed. Make sure his enthusiasm doesn’t get him so carried away that they have to carry you away. Above all, do not let him run to the barn; he may get through the door, but you won’t.
To get off the horse, keep your left foot in the stirrup and both hands death-gripping the saddlehorn until your right leg clears the horse’s back. Don’t take for granted that it will. But if it does, quickly jerk your left foot out of the stirrup and free-fall to the ground. Expect your legs to give way when you land.
It’s okay. You won’t be able to use them for about three days anyway
Before you let the horse out, scratch his back well with a curry comb or stiff brush. You may not live long enough to get it back again, but if you do, he’ll still be there. You want his memory of you to be positive.
Riders have no expression like après-ski, but the French word for horse is cheval and that is close enough to Chivas Regal to suggest a happy ending.