It's Never Too Late to Learn Dressage

This dressage rider learned how riding lessons at any age could help her achieve her goals.
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I owe my late-life pleasure to two dressage instructors: Summer McEwan and Megan Lane. At 55, I had a family, a house and a job; life was great, but I missed the horses from my youth. As a child, I dreamed of horses. I went to horse camp when I was too young to be away from home. I missed my family to the point of distraction, but I loved the horses more, so I stayed. When I got a little older, I found a stable near my house where I could clean stalls on the weekends and be rewarded with a one-hour, uninstructed ride before the stable closed.

Credit: Courtesy, Linda Book

Credit: Courtesy, Linda Book

My sister and I rode through our adolescence. The summer before I started university, my parents bought us our first horse. Sulin was a large Standardbred-cross with a sour temperament, but we loved her. An unfortunate accident retired her to a farm, and she was replaced with several other horses that were increasingly better, even if my riding still failed to improve.

My first job after graduation enabled me to continue to keep my horse, although the stable was far from my office. I rode regularly, but had no time for a social life. Reality told me something had to change, and I sold my horse.

Now, years later, I began to take riding lessons for the first time in my life. The stable was close to home and the horses were good, but my classmates were all 12 years old and rode better than I did. I decided I needed private lessons. I was invited to ride with a friend who had a large farm outside the city. That’s where I met Summer McEwan, and she became my first dressage coach.

I rode Jazz, a 16-year-old Canadian Sport Horse with attitude who had shown successfully at Third Level. Summer tackled all my self-taught errors one at a time and patiently showed me the basics of proper riding and horse care. She taught me that staying on was the result of balance and patience, and she convinced me that I needed to learn both. For a while I thought I would never canter again, but I learned to love the walk and the trot. We did lots of transitions and practiced the halt. My hands got steadier, my legs got longer and I learned how to cue my horse properly. I was on my way.

When Summer moved on to another farm, I started riding with a new instructor named Megan Lane. She was, and still is, one-third my age. She is a gifted rider and, as I was soon to find out, a gifted trainer of both people and horses. Seamlessly, she picked up where Summer left off and systematically built on to my foundation. She added skills and fostered confidence. For every step forward, there were a few back. She taught me to get used to that.

Today, when my old habits resurface, Megan laughs and tells me there’s more work to do. That’s the plan: more work. There is always more work. I think there is a life lesson in there somewhere.

Now my plan is to be the first 70-year-old to win her first show at First Level. Jazz and I have the next three years to prepare for that. And then there will be 10 more years for us to prepare for the Grand Prix. After all, a girl’s gotta have a plan.

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