The horse, a real fountain of youth?Ingrid
Many star riders, like the Queen of England, ride horses at an advanced age. In clubs too, some seniors are taking the plunge into the equestrian adventure. But what are the questions to ask before starting?
Riders are immortal. At least that’s what some of the great riders we don’t talk much about anymore think. For instance, the New Zealander, Mark Todd, took part in the 2016 Olympic eventing games in Rio at the age of 60.
His compatriot, Julie Brougham, at 62, took part in dressage. Among their Australian neighbours, it is Eventer Andrew Hoy who impresses by still actively participating in international competitions at the age of 63 (team silver medallist and bronze medallist in individual at the Olympic Games in Tokyo!).
On the French side, we must mention our dean Michel Robert, medallist at the 1988 and 1992 Olympic Games and still active at more than 70 years old. Not far from him, the British John Whitaker, still competing at 67 years old. Would the horse be a way to keep an Olympic form?
After all, horse riding is one of the only sports where human athletes can successfully compete at such an age.
Nevertheless, it is important to differentiate between riders who have never stopped riding, like our top athletes, and those who decide to embark on the equestrian adventure at an advanced age.
“If you are over 60 years old, I don’t know if it is easy to start. Maintaining an equitation that you have already practiced, it is not a problem, but the learning of motor skills and the accompaniment of the horse, which are essentially unconscious, are not easy to acquire in these age brackets“, explains Dr. Eric Favory, doctor of the French equitation teams.
Movement is life
As with horses, it is important to maintain regular physical activity, even as you get older. And if there are no particular contraindications, such as bone fragility for example, why not start? “What you need is to have a good resistance to the ground, to have a good level of muscular or cardiorespiratory control. Clearly, it is preferable to have a level of strength and flexibility that is adapted and allows you to cope“, adds our doctor.
A vision of aging shared by Dr. André Corman, who created with his wife Stéfanie the structure Cheval Senior, with sessions adapted to this category of riders. “Today we see that what is important when we age is to maintain movement. For this movement to take place, there must be desire”, he says. Pleasure riding is above all what the seniors who are starting out are looking for. “It is this dynamic of pleasure that will reconcile the senior with physical activity” adds the doctor.
At Cheval Senior, for example, we focus on outdoor riding. But once again, this category of riders requires teaching adapted to their expectations and, above all, a specific cavalry, with extremely reliable horses.
A rare commodity in the clubs, as Stéfanie Corman explains: “The limit of the maneuver is there, these horses are difficult to recruit, they must be at least 12 or 15 years old. I use horses that have seen everything to avoid falls as much as possible. For example, we have horses that have done skidding, and are adapted to any type of surprise.”
When all the indicators are green, practicing horseback riding at an advanced age has many benefits, allowing to work on balance, tone and mobility of the spine in particular, but also “to maintain a sensory awakening, with attention in relation to the horse, to its environment, and to awaken all the sensations of perception of movement and proprioception”, specifies Dr. Eric Favory .
Riding as we have just seen, is also a source of motivation to get out of sedentary life, while having an impact on the cardiovascular and muscular plan. “We work muscles that we never work in classical activities. From the moment you practice light horseback riding and acquire this ability to move your body in a certain way, there will also be benefits on the back” adds Dr. Corman.
Finally, as for any rider, be careful to prepare yourself physically. If the rider who is getting older does not have the possibility of coming to ride four times a week, it is important to complete his riding practice with another physical activity, such as gymnastics or pilates for example.
To sum up, the horse will be a perfect ally for longevity, provided that it is maintained alongside!
Jean-Philippe Monserand 68 years old
“My first equestrian experiences go back to the end of the 60’s, during summer courses in New Forest in England. A year before my retirement, my wife took me to a riding school that had been recommended to her, and that’s how it all started. I am a relatively athletic person without being sporty, practicing activities that require a lot of balance such as windsurfing or unicycle.
When I arrived at the Écuries des Vallées with Sophie De Pas, from the first private dressage lesson, I was fascinated by the relationship with the horse. Each lesson started with a little work on foot. As I progressed, I felt a real pleasure to have finer and finer aids, and thus an increased connivance with the horse. After two years of private lessons, which I continue to have, I joined an adult recovery.
There is no spirit of competition, but at the same time, we all want to progress. I did some show jumping but to my great despair, I stopped quite quickly to minimize the risks. Last year, I went from one to two hours per week. However,
I am a bit of an exception, because there are riders of my age at the stables, but they have been riding for a long time. My biggest regret? To have waited until I was 62 years old to start riding, and one of my greatest joys is to have started at 62. So, for those who would hesitate to start a little late, don’t hesitate, go for it!”