What I’ve Learned from Taking Horseback Riding Lessons with Ten-Year-Olds

Photo © Heather N. Photography

By Michelle Murray  

Sweat trickles down my back. It’s an early evening in June, but the oppressive Maryland humidity makes it feel like late August. I let out a long sigh and push back the strands of hair that have escaped my riding helmet. I give Hydi, my lesson horse for this evening’s class, a pat of appreciation as we quietly wait for our turn in the back corner of the arena.  

A boy named Mayer and a spirited Paint mare named Bess take center stage. Moving as one, they effortlessly canter the pattern our teacher outlined just minutes before. With quiet hands and a confident posture, Mayer is sure of his abilities. He is in his element. I marvel that he is only ten years old. 

While I was fortunate to grow up around my grandfather’s horses, my riding experience was limited. It wasn’t until decades later that I found myself in a beginner riding class at the age of thirty-eight. I am constantly impressed by my much younger classmates. Here are just a few of  the many lessons I’ve learned from them: 

Be Present 

As an adult, it can be difficult to shake off looming work deadlines and seemingly never-ending to-do lists and be fully present in class. My classmates remind me to live in the moment. Instead of mulling over what happened earlier in the day, they focus on enjoying the time with the horses and improving their riding abilities. Their positive energy is infectious, and they remind me to be grateful for the time I get to spend with horses. 

Be Fearless (Or, at least a little less fearful) 

Adults are often keenly aware of the risks involved in horseback riding. Injuries don’t seem to heal quite as quickly when you’re older. While I’m generally anxious when learning new skills,  my classmates are excited. They welcome the opportunity to push past their limitations. Instead of focusing on everything that could go wrong, they focus on the skills they are gaining. They’ve taught me that while learning can sometimes be scary, it is also fun. My classmates remind me not to let fear hold me back.  

Photo © Heather N. Photography

Be Persistent 

Adults often assume they should be able to learn new skills quickly. Riding alongside my classmates has been equal parts humbling and educational. For me, progress is slow, and it is often non-linear. One week my posture has improved, but I can’t keep my hands quiet. Another week I remember to keep my eyes up, but I can’t quite get my heels to stay down. My classmates don’t expect to be perfect. When they make mistakes, they don’t dwell on them. They remind me to have a good sense of humor and keep trying.  

Be Inclusive 

As the only adult student in class, I assumed the other students would think it was odd to be taking lessons alongside a grown-up. They could not care less about my age. At the barn, I’m simply another beginner riding student, and I love it. Before class, we chat about our favorite lesson horses and trade information about the newest horse at the barn. My classmates remind me of the importance of being inclusive and kind. 

Each week my classmates inspire me to push myself further despite my fears. They remind me to be fully present and appreciate the time I get to spend with horses. They encourage me to keep trying and remind me of the importance of kindness. They are wonderful teachers,  and I consider myself lucky to have the opportunity to learn from them.

Michelle Murray is a writer and equine advocate who credits a sweet chestnut mare named Lady for making her a horse girl at the age of five. She rediscovered her love of horses as an adult and enjoys being regularly bested by ten-year-olds during her weekly beginner riding lessons.