Written by: Cindy Loewer
We’ve always had horses. The kids and husband enjoyed many different horse activities. I went along. They wrangled horses; I wrangled the ice chest. That arrangement worked fine for many years until “empty nest” caused a paradigm shift. I decided I would learn to ride a horse… just enough to go on a few local trail rides a year. So, at 55, I began my trail riding career. This year marks my 10th anniversary of trail riding. In that 10 years, I have ridden 1,736 + miles in Arkansas, Missouri, Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah.
When I tell you I was a nervous rider, no one knows that better than the horse I’ve been riding for the past 9 years. He has ignored a lot of squirming in the saddle and inconsistent cues. He is sure-footed and level-headed and doesn’t need my interference to get on down the trail. My horsemanship skills include how to hold the saddle horn in all transitions. Ten years later, I don’t always hold on to the saddle horn.
Anytime you jump off into something new, you are going to need the right tools and equipment. The “stuff” is so nuanced. Your pocketbook always effects just how much nuance you can afford! Any horse related activity requires a LOT of stuff! I wasn’t smart enough about any of the things to know what to even ask for. It has taken a lot of trial and error to figure out the aides that work for my riding style. My favorite aide? Using the clip on my lead rope to connect to my roper reins so I my horse can lower his head on the trail to graze or drink from the streams. You will never find my saddle without 2 cushions in the seat–a gel PLUS a lamb’s wool. No one else I ride with needs that ridiculous set up. That’s what makes me comfortable, so that’s what I do.
I get that everyone has something to learn about riding a horse. I had a LOT of something to learn. I have always been so frightened I will do something wrong that will result in my being on the ground instead of on my horse’s back. Actually, that has happened a few times… but it wasn’t always my fault! Every transition caused so much anxiety. I have only just begun to not fear every transition. I usually place my horse between the good riders with seasoned horses when the going gets tough. I see where their horse tracks on the trail and try to follow their lead. I trust my trail riding buddies to coach me through the hardest of places… and accept their encouragement to follow through. My most challenging ride was probably working our way down a steep mountainside in Chromo, Colorado. The most fun I’ve had on a challenging ride was PeekABoo trail in Bryce Canyon.
I imagined that when you were trail riding, the trails would always be marked. As it turns out, if you do enough trail riding, sometimes you end up riding where the trails aren’t marked or there aren’t any trails at all! Our trail riding friends (mentors) have trail ridden for many years. I remember the first time we left a well-used trail to go through the woods. We were crossing fallen trees and dodging tree branches, because when you are off trail, the trails aren’t cleared. At some point, our friend said, “Any time it gets too rough, just let me know and we’ll get back on the trail.” What?! You know where the trail is? I thought we were lost! I have learned it matters who you follow on the trails.
Are you ready to start a new adventure? Maybe it’s a different horse discipline. Maybe you are ready to start running, riding a bike, hiking or even knitting. You’ll probably be nervous or anxious as you begin. Until you get some hours in your new skill, you may have to make some adjustments–like holding onto the saddle horn. You won’t always have to have that crutch, but don’t let needing a crutch keep you from trying something new. Although, it might be a little embarrassing to have training wheels on your bike 😊
Let folks help you with suggestions for the “stuff”/equipment you are going to need. Because we can order from the internet and there is a lot, we can waste our money on. Do some research. Look to see what others are using. Don’t be in too big of a hurry to change everything. Sometimes experience makes the stuff we already have work better. My lead rope attached to my roper reins is an adaptation of a fancier device sold on the internet. I needed the help… we used what we had.
Not all trails are clearly marked. It’s best to have good folks to follow on the trail. Cultivate relationships with folks who know how to “do” your new adventure. Going off trail can be scary, but you will learn a lot in that new environment. Your mentors will have skills, aides, devices, and experience that will make your learning meaningful and more fun. Their wisdom can save you from a lot of wrecks or knotted thread.
Keep a journal of your journey. I started keeping my trail journal in 2014 when my trail riding friend suggested I keep up with details from each ride. That’s why I know how many miles I have ridden through the years. I can follow my progression from riding with my eyes closed to riding with my eyes wide open!
I really never intended to enjoy trail riding this much. I am grateful to my husband and friends who have mentored me when I was so fearful. I still hold on to my saddle horn a lot of the time, but I am on the trail!
About the Author
Cindy Loewer is a wife of 40+ years and mother of seven children. She is most proud of the fact that in spite of them not coming with an instruction manual she and her husband raised productive members of society. It is important to note she claims to have retained most of her sanity. She is proof old dogs can learn new tricks – it just takes longer.
A huge thank you to Cindy for sharing her story. If you enjoyed this post, please consider subscribing so you never miss a post. Thank you for being here!