I started riding horses seriously in May of 2012, that is, about six months ago. Oh, I had been on and off horses a few times, most of us have, and once, about eight years ago, I was thrown from one and broke my arm. (Snapped my humerus, technically.) (Largely because I didn't have a clue what I was doing and had no business being up there in the first place.) After I broke my arm I swore I'd never get up on a horse again. Turns out I lied.
I am 67 years old. That's an important fact here. Starting to ride at 10, even at 20 - that's when one really ought to begin to ride. Even at an age like 40, most people still have the flexibility and the strength to master riding for the first time. And there are certainly plenty of people who ride horses in their 60's, their 70's and even into their 80's: but these people usually started riding as children or teenagers. Very few people begin riding in their late 60's. For me, the developmental window during which one can easily acquire the necessary muscle memories closed long ago; I'll never be any good at it.
Furthermore, relatively few people over 65 are in any kind of physical condition to ride. Horseback riding, particularly the way I'm doing it (that is, lessons twice a week and when I get the chance, long rides driving stock across the desert), is very strenuous. There are a number of factors which take even devoted riders out of the saddle at my age: joint issues, back issues, arthritis, osteoporosis, heart disease... the list goes on. (And then there's always death!) (I've actually had a knee replacement myself.) Most of my friends and relatives my age are in no condition to get up on a horse, let alone begin to learn to ride. Even less would they be physically able to participate in driving 50 loose horses 100 miles and down 6500 feet in elevation in four days.
What makes this activity look even more foolish is that I have never been particularly athletic, I have engaged in no sport, and my job (attorney) is quite sedentary. My conditioning was marginal at best, though as you can imagine it is improving!
Because when I relax, sit back, place my heel in the flank of my favorite mare and make a kissing noise, the great head immediately goes down, and then up, and she springs into a canter, a lovely rocking-horse gait just short of a gallop, and when she does that I think I am going to live forever, and forever I will do this. It is like flying, only better.
They are going to have to shoot me out of the saddle to get me to stop.
So this is about life, but it is also about death. I probably will be able to do this for only a few years, even under the best of circumstances. Andrew Marvell said it best:
But at my back I always hear
Time's wingèd chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song: then worms shall try
That long preserved virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust:
The grave's a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace.
They don't ride horses there either. If I am to ride this wingèd horse, I must do it now.