Getting in the saddle again after a long gap can be overwhelming.
Many of us find that riding again as adults, after abandoning this hobby for education, family, or work, is a satisfying way to reconnect with our younger selves.
Starting to ride again after a long gap is great for the body, mind, and soul- especially as we age. Horseback riding helps our bodies stay mobile and strong while keeping our minds active. Learning new skills and reconnecting with old muscle memory supports brain health. 1
To make the most out of your return to the saddle, there are a few things to be mindful of that you may not have considered when you previously rode. These things include:
- Whether it’s ever too late to learn to ride
- What style of riding you should learn
- What to expect when you are returning to horse riding after a long break
- How quickly you’ll get back to your former riding skill
- Why being kind to yourself as a returning rider is key to having fun
- Whether muscle memory applies to a returning rider
New Rider Questions as An Adult Learning to Ride a Horse
As an adult, it can be scary to try something new, and that often leaves us with many questions and concerns about the new activity we want to try. Horse riding is no exception to this. Therefore, we have answered some of our most commonly asked questions below:
Am I too old to learn to ride a horse?
No! You are never too old to ride a horse. In fact, Australian Olympic Rider Mary Hanna was the oldest athlete in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and competed at age 66. Phillip Dutton, who competed for Team USA, was 57. Both athletes did start learning to ride many years ago, but even if you want to go to high-level competitions, there are no age limits.
Even Queen Elizabeth has “given up” riding a few times, only to later be spotted in the saddle enjoying the hobby she;s returned through many times in her lifetime. If she can ride at 96, there’s lots of hope for those of us who wish to start horseback riding in our 40’s, 50’s, 60’s or even older.
Why support is key as an adult horseback rider returning to the sport
Many of us rode wild(ish) horses as teenagers. Given permission to ride, we’d shimmy bareback onto any horse that would stand still long enough to let us mount! But returning to riding as an adult is different.
As you’ve probably learned, injuries are easier to acquire as an adult and much more costly to recover from. Because of this, I recommend returning to riding only if you can set yourself up for success.
Finding a great riding instructor who has the competence and resources to match you with a horse you can trust will make a big difference. With proper safety equipment, a great instructor, riding lessons, and a well-trained horse, you’ll be set to be safe and have fun!
How long will it take for me to learn to ride a horse?
How long it takes to learn to ride a horse varies depending on each individual’s athletic ability, how often they attend lessons, and how good their instructor is. But as a rule, most people become proficient riders in 1-3 years. For an in-depth guide on how long it takes to learn to ride a horse, you can check out our article How Long It Takes To Learn To Ride A Horse: Kids & Adults.
What type of riding should I learn?
When you begin learning to ride a horse, you need to know whether you want to learn English-style or Western-style riding because they are very different skills. Of course, you can learn both styles if you want to, but it is best to learn them individually.
- English riding includes events like dressage and shows jumping
- Western riding is usually more relaxed and includes events such as barrel racing
I started in western riding and loved it. However, after a couple of years, I bought a horse off the race track and had to learn English riding to work with her. It’s never too late to change your riding style.
Additional things to keep in mind as a new rider
- Make sure you find an instructor you like and are comfortable with their safety precautions. (Check out our article on finding a great instructor here)
- Learning to ride takes time. So don’t be discouraged if it takes longer than you want.
- It will take your body time to adjust to riding. You will be sore and might even be too weak to lift the saddle. The soreness does go away, and your muscles will grow! (try our tips for minimizing soreness after riding)
What To Expect When You Are Coming Back To Horse Riding After A Long Break
So you used to ride, you took a break, and now you are looking to ride again? Welcome back! We are so excited that you are re-joining us in the equine community! As an experienced rider, we bet you look back and remember effortless rides, muscle memory that had you sitting a perfect trot, and the incredible feeling of moving as one with the magnificent animal beneath you. But that is just a memory. Unfortunately, being away from horses for an extended period means you will experience a bit of a learning curve. However, it is important to remember that it will come back! So when you start to re-learn to ride, remember:
Be kind to yourself: Do you remember, as an experienced rider, you told a novice that they are doing great and will master that jump with a bit of practice? It’s time to take your own advice. When you have been away for a while, your muscles lose a bit of strength, and a few of the automatic things you did (like keeping your heels down) will need active concentration. So don’t get back on the horse and expect yourself to be perfect. Instead, show yourself the same kindness you would show any other rider.
Don’t rush it: You may have been able to jump a water jump in the past, but it’s been a long time. So don’t be upset with yourself for needing to use cross-rails. It’s important you start small when re-learning to ride. That allows you to ensure your form is correct and that neither you nor your horse will get hurt.
Your muscles will remember: Muscle memory is a real thing that will kick in, but it might take some time. For example, if you go to your first lesson and automatically keep your heels down, your shoulders back, and sit the perfect canter, that is AMAZING! But likewise, if you have to concentrate on those things and it takes 10 or 12 lessons, that is still great, and your muscle memory will kick in.
Final Thoughts On (Re)Starting To Ride As An Adult
Starting the journey to learn to ride is an exciting step, and we welcome you to the riding community! Remember, you are never too old to start, even if you want to compete. Likewise, we are happy to see you return if you are re-learning to ride. Just make sure you are kind to yourself and don’t beat yourself up for not being able to ride as you did a decade ago. You will regain your skill, and you will ride with the best of us in no time.
Research sources used for this article:
- Train your brain – Harvard Health