How old is a woman of ‘a certain age’? According to a 1995 column in the New York Times, “only a Nosy Parker would try and find out.” A joke, of course, but one from a (hopefully) bygone era when women felt pressured to be coy about their age. One thing is for certain — older women have considerable presence in the horse world today.

According to Fran Severn, author of the recently published Riders of a Certain Age: Your Go-To Guide for Loving Horses Mid-life and Beyond, riders over 40 are the fastest growing segment of the equestrian world, with those 65-plus seeing the biggest jump. True, there may be men included in those stats, but surveys — and a visit to your local barn — confirm that the majority of riders are women.

Riders of a Certain Age is pitched at “re-riders,” women returning to horses later in life, as well as new riders finally realizing childhood horse dreams. Mature riders may not need tips about things like barn drama (by a certain age hopefully you know how to deal with gossips), but I suspect many will have their curiosity piqued by chapters with alluring titles such as “Bouncing, Chafing, Leaking, and Arthritis.” For the record, chafing solutions include better undergarments, better saddle fit and better rider position, not necessarily in that order.

Arguably the biggest issue facing older riders is a concern for safety, and underlying that issue is one thing: fear and how to face it. As a re-rider myself I see the following as the big four in the fear department.

1. Fear of Spooky Horses: Learning how to sit a spooky horse (and acquiring an “oh-crap-strap”) are good ideas, but so is increasing one’s understanding of how horses see, hear, think and react. Doing so provides new strategies, some of which are as much mental as physical. Recommended: Horse Brain, Human Brain: The Neuroscience of Horsemanship by Janet L. Jones – a fun and informative read for any horseperson.

2. Fear of Fear Itself: There are logical reasons to be cautious when riding big-hooved animals, but if some older rider Facebook groups are to be believed, riding is mostly nasty falls and subsequent failures of nerve. If you can stop staring at the car crashes long enough, you may well find useful tips in these groups. However, it’s buyer beware — you can’t necessarily know what level of knowledge the tip-sharers have. Recommended: Seek guidance from an in-person riding instructor who has A) verifiable equine expertise, and B) verifiable equitation expertise.

3. Fear of Breaking: Not “breaking,” as in an outmoded way of starting a horse, but as in your own bones. It’s a legitimate fear for older riders, particularly those with health issues such as osteopenia or osteoporosis causing loss of bone density, or for those whose balance isn’t terrific. Aging riders would do well to take measures such as wearing a safety vest and a Multi-directional Impact Protection System (MIPS) helmet. Also important: improve security in the saddle through exercises aimed at core strength, balance, and proprioception — the ability to sense your own body movement, hopefully in tandem with the horse’s. Not Recommended: Hacking alone. Even with cellphones loaded with emergency apps like what3words (or wearing a medical alert device), poor reception or injuries could foil you.

4. Fear of Failure: As an older woman you aren’t supposed to give a damn about what anyone else thinks of you. Good luck with that. Regardless, no one likes to feel inept, and horses do have a way of facilitating that emotion. For instance, the horse who says “nope, not picking up my feet today” or views the mounting block as the equivalent of a traffic signal’s green light. Recommended: Groundwork. It’s confidence-building and helps establish a better relationship with the horse. But again, probably best learned via an instructor or mentor rather than through Internet “hive mind.”

Writer Li Robbins aboard the handsome and trusty Hugo. (photo courtesy Susan Erwin)

Fears and all, if you are riding later in life, count yourself lucky. In fact, in a recent blog post called Are You Having A Midlife Horse Crisis? by ‘horse advocate’ Anna Blake, she referred to it as “wildly lucky” given the potential limitations: fears, physical issues, lack of supportive friends.

And yet, what about that burgeoning group of 40 and 65-plus riders? It seems there are a whole lot of wildly lucky (possibly fearful) women of a certain age riding. Maybe we have the horses to thank for that, though. After all, they’re a constant reminder that life is unpredictable and can never entirely be controlled. So, as long as we can saddle up, we do.

Are you a new rider or re-rider of a certain age? We’d love to hear your experiences! Send your stories to