Dressage Life: A Late Start

Taking up dressage at the age of 50 gave this rider a new lease on life.

When I turned 50 I decided I wanted to ride dressage. Why dressage? The sport seemed so elegant with beautiful horses, thin riders and sophisticated uniforms. The dance between the horse and rider seemed so effortless and graceful. I had always loved horses and still owned a few, but had done nothing but trail ride for more years than I cared to remember.

Suzanne Stevenson |

I had a few health challenges, including four hip replacement surgeries, recurring pulmonary embolisms, poor circulation in one leg and being overweight. I had a few support challenges, like a husband that hated horses, six children, four grandchildren and a full time government job. And I had some financial concerns, such as being the sole supporter of the six horses I owned, paying for lessons, buying gear, etc. And while the challenges caused me some concern, I decided I would give it a try.

I talked to my friends and one of them pointed me to a facility near my home. I called and set up a series of lessons. I did not want to use school horses, I wanted to use my own horses. I had recently purchased my first horse trailer and on the day of my lesson I packed up my big bay gelding and drove up to Centaur Rising just like I knew what I was doing.

As I took lessons I realized how much I did not know. I did not know how to post a trot, and as a heavyset 50-year-old it wasn’t easy either. I remember thinking the first time the trainer told me to try a posting trot I was only able to make it a quarter of the way around the arena before I had to stop to catch my breath. I had the hardest time making contact with the horse’s mouth because I had only ridden with very loose reins and my muscle tone was poor and using my legs adequately was difficult. When I was asked if I wanted to ride with a group of women I cringed and thought “no,” because I couldn’t imagine anyone looking as poor in riding breeches as I did.

I continued to take lessons even though it was hard and sometimes far from rewarding, especially when I looked at my big self on my skinny horse on the wall of mirrors in the riding arena. But I did notice that riding was increasing my physical strength and reducing the stress I brought home from the office.

The sense of freedom and power I’d felt riding as a teenager returned as I worked out with my very average bay gelding. Then I started to notice that riding was helping me overcome my physical ailments. I started to feel in better shape and became more interested in higher levels of activity away from the barn. I actually was taking walks, and people were noticing that my color and overall demeanor was improving. I felt fulfilled and happier than I had been in years. Even my horse looked better. He had gone from a skinny undeveloped Dutch Thoroughbred cross to a more muscular, elegant-looking working animal. His long sleek neck was beginning to have a natural arch.

It’s been two years since I started lessons. I now ride 3-4 times a week. Riding with the group of women wasn’t so bad and it gave me friends to talk to (who never did say anything about my breeches), and I am almost ready to start showing at training level. I am a much better rider now, and it makes me proud to know I have come so far since the first day in the arena.

The art of dressage saved my life, built my self esteem, helped me feel younger, gave me better overall stamina and balance and gave me something to be passionate about. I have trained my horse myself under the guidance of experts and have developed a partnership with my gelding like I have never had with any other horse. I have a goal of winning a bronze medal riding Mr. D. And you know? I think I might just get it.






horse week
The Art of Freestyle Dancing with Horses
The Many Talents of Matt McLaughlin
Unlock Your Riding Potential with Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement®
Keeping Up with Steffen Peters


Robyn Nunnally Podcast Cover
Interview with Robyn Nunnally
Tips from the 2023 USDF Trainers Conference
Are lumps or swellings under the jaw reason for concern?
The Half Halt Simplified