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Once More With Falling: The Life of an Adult Beginner

Once More With Falling: The Life of an Adult Beginner

I began riding at a local hunter/jumper barn late in life. I can still recall the first time I felt like a superstar:

I was trotting a crossrail, just admiring the roses, when whoops, I landed in the dirt next to them. My trainer reiterated the “look where you want to go” concept as she gave me a leg up. The saintly lesson horse took me over that crossrail once more, and I stayed on. A true thrill for me, as a 36-year-old working mom.

As a kid, I was a gymnast. It came easily. When I was a beginner, I failed plenty, but so did my peers. By the time we got old enough to feel embarrassed, we were proficient competitors. I imagine it’s the same way for kids who start riding at a young age. It’s a sport dominated by teenagers and a handful of very skilled adults. As an adult beginner, I know I am going to look dumb every time I ride, for a long time. So, why do it?

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Well, I love riding. So why shouldn’t I?

The wisdom I have as an adult beginner is that there is no perfect. There are no Olympics, blue ribbons, or other accolades on the horizon. Helmets are cool, and so is slow progress. I have no desire to master huge jumps or even show at all. I can enjoy reliable lesson horses and someday, a sweet-tempered horse of my own. At this point, I consider myself lucky I can make time for riding lessons. It reminds me of the joy I found in gymnastics as a kid, but without the pressure.

The wisdom I have as an adult beginner is that there is no perfect.

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Humility is a constant theme. I may be a manager in my day job, but I am at the bottom of the heap at my barn. I have immense gratitude for the professionalism of 12 year olds who know exactly how to bridle a cranky lesson horse or get them to pick up their back hooves without kicking out. Because I don’t own a horse, I can afford clothes that make me look like a way better rider than I am. And if there are snobby barn queens, they’re like 20 years younger than me, so who cares?

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As a mom, I want my daughter to see an example of adulthood that isn’t just about earning wages and doing chores. She needs to see that having hobbies is important at any age. I realize that in 10 years, I will still know less about horses than many 16 year olds. I may never be a great rider, but as long as I learn to ride well enough to communicate clearly with my horse, I will consider this crazy endeavor a success. Until then, look for me trotting the wrong diagonal, losing my stirrups at the canter, and brushing the dirt off my way-too-expensive breeches.

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