As we clear the last obstacle – a scary-looking, flower-festooned panel that she takes as though it were a crossrail – my coach runs up and shouts, “Did you go clear?” I nod, and my little cheering section waiting for me at the finish flags lets out a whoop. With difficulty, I pull Lady up. She is still looking for the next fence. She isn’t even breathing hard. She is 28 years old.
And I, dear reader, am 73. I am also pretty much a novice. I’ve been working towards this goal for years, having inherited this experienced and freakishly athletic little mare from my daughter. I’ve had to overcome both my own fears and those of my family and friends – that I must be nuts to be jumping at my age, never mind the time and the expense.
But in the back of my mind, ever since my first pony ride, I’ve wanted this. And now there’s another reward: US Eventing has just established a special award for fools like me. It’s called the Century Award, and it’s given to a horse and rider combination who compete successfully at a USEA-sanctioned event with a combined age of at least 100. Lady and I have just qualified.
It’s been a long road.
I was one of those horse-crazy kids with non-horsey parents. Riding lessons were a sometime thing, and by the time I reached adulthood I’d pretty much put those dreams away. Then my fourth child came along, and she had the horse bug. Dammit, I thought, maybe I couldn’t live out those dreams, but Ruby would. She joined Pony Club at seven and it quickly took over our lives.
Over the years, watching Ruby brought it all back. I lived vicariously through her, observing her lessons, drinking it all in. She turned into an avid eventer, and in the back of my mind I started to dream again. Was it too late to learn?
When Ruby outgrew her wonderful pony at the age of 12, I bought her a little off-the-track thoroughbred mare. Just a plain little brown horse, green but kind. She turned out to be quite the athlete, though, one of those clever, catlike little horses who loved her job and got Ruby out of many a hairy situation on their cross-country adventures. They competed all over the US East Coast, from New Hampshire to Virginia to Kentucky.
Then Ruby went off to uni, and I inherited Lady. I started taking lessons and I moved us both to California to be near my oldest daughter and her family. By that time I was in my 60s, and I didn’t know anyone my age who still wanted to event. But I loved jumping, and Lady and I both adored the adrenaline rush of cross-country.