The answer to the question, “What can I gain from this?” can easily be answered by the Aging Eventer. “Pain.” Pretty much that is the state of most of my days, and most of the days of my Aging Eventer friends.
As you fossilize, yet continue to ride, you do gain all sorts of great experiences — and injuries, big and little, that follow you along the way. You body reminds you that you have done this before, and it usually hurts — as you slam painfully on the ground, and your intrepid mount scuttles away with empty stirrups flying in the breeze.
Do we muscle through these times? Yes. Do we pay for it later? Yes. But is it worth it? Yes, always yes. At least for me. Even though I have suffered through some very sore Mondays and Tuesdays at work after not-so-great weekends at events.
Often, the pain is a reminder that I should have done something differently. Made sure the stirrup pads were cleaned out before mounting with gummy mud on my boot soles. Changed to the rubber reins. Forgot to put the “Equitation In A Can” on my saddle. Walked the course more than once. Paid attention. Rode better. Been more fit. Jumped more at home. Took more lessons. Checked the dressage test one more time. Clinched the front shoes. Paid for the hock injections. Bought the nicer breeches. Gone to the bathroom before cross country. You get the picture.
Jimmy Wofford says pretty regularly that experience is what you get just after you need it. I’m a living and breathing Eventer Example of that rule. I am often wondering how on earth I’ve competed this long without knowing what I should be doing, or been eliminated more times for forgetting my armband. I wonder at my ability to keep liking this sport many times (and my family shares this wonder, trust me, I constantly am reminded of their skepticism).
You’d think, with age and experience (and treachery) you could make a case for being satisfied with what I have done. But no. There are more courses I want to ride. There are better dressage tests and show jump rounds out there and I want to see if I can do them. I don’t want to wait a minute longer to see if I can get to the Promised Land. Yes, I still — after many years of failure, many years of denial, many years of Not Quite There Yet — still want to event successfully.
The deep need to continually test oneself in this sport isn’t something we in eventing own alone. Although we laughingly refer to ourselves as routinely crazy, I think all horse sports do attract people for life. The goals are good ones. Most of the time they make us better horsepeople, better riders, and yes, better people for the dreaming and achieving.
Do you think you will event past age 60? Me neither. At least I never thought about it. I just thought I would ride until I couldn’t. And now that I am over that hill (way over it) and starting down the slope, I wonder every time I put foot in stirrup how is it I still do this. Riding now is as natural as breathing, as it should be for being well over 50 years of my life. Should I give it up? Should I let go? How much of a hindrance am I to my horses now? Because now it gets harder to get up from the falls, and it gets tougher to shake the fear of the subsequent pain if I do lose proper vertical order.
Pain is a great fear, but it is also a great incentive. I do a lot of two point, ride without stirrups, sit the trot practice and continue to really work on timing and fitness of both me and the horses. But the best thing to just keep doing is to RIDE. As much as I can. One of the problems is there isn’t much help in the way of what to do and how to do it correctly at this state of existence, since most of the people I know (who have more experience than I) are way younger than I am, still in flexible and functional bodies, and can’t relate to my creakiness.
Will I be able to hold my own against riders who are way less than half my age — more like one third? Maybe not. Yet, I don’t compete or want to compete for those reasons. I really just like to try to complete all three phases without penalties and believe me, that is tough enough in this sport!
So if you are not sure you can still keep going — or if you are young and seeing us Fossil Eventers still trying out there — know that it’s because we are just not quite done yet dreaming the dreams and reaching the goals. We may, or may not, get there. Just don’t let the ibuprofen bottle be empty.