I prefer to be called a “vintage” rider, but the fact remains, I am probably the oldest person riding at the barn where I keep my horse. (Huh. I almost wrote “who still rides” but I just don’t like the implication that it’s some kind of amazing accomplishment to “still” be riding at my age.)
I’m a member of a Facebook Group for women who ride. We have members from all over the world – Canada, the US, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, France – you get the picture. And as a rule, it is a wonderfully positive and supportive group.
But just yesterday there was a post from a woman who said she started riding later in life, and was enjoying it immensely – until she found out that some of the other riders at the barn were talking about her behind her back, making comments about her age, her weight, her riding ability, and in one case even wondering why she was even bothering.
Now, first of all, I’d like to know who told her about this – if they thought they were doing her a favour they most definitely were not. But I digress. What I really want to talk about were the responses she got in the thread.
As I read response after response telling her to ignore them, that they were assholes, that every barn had some like that, that it shouldn’t bother her, and even to change barns, I started to notice that these responses were coming from women an average 20+ years younger than she is ( judging by their profile pictures). Well, easy for them to say. They don’t know the experiences she has had in her life.
She is at a stage where in many areas of life there is discrimination on the basis of age or weight. It can be subtle, but it is there. And as we grow older there is less to do at home as our children leave, our social circle can get smaller, and we can start to feel isolated. For me, the barn is a big part of my social life – a place where I have real friends (that’s another post), where I know I am welcomed for me, not for what I look like or how old I am. The people there care about and encourage each other, helping one another in so many ways, big and small,
And even so, I know that I have had days when my confidence has been so low that I didn’t ride at all, even in the supportive environment at my barn.
While it may be easy to say “ignore them” when comments like this are made, that is not always possible – Denigrating and negative words can make a person question themselves and take the joy out of an activity that was previously fun.
Words can cause deep feelings, they can hurt but they can also help. I finally saw a couple of posts from riders of a similar age to the woman who originally posted. None told her to “get over it” or “ignore them”. These women were telling her about their own experiences – not telling her how to feel or what to do, but instead sharing with her and letting her know that she is not alone. Some mentioned coping techniques that they had found helpful to overcome the feelings and lack of confidence. Some just offered support and a willing ear.
I guess what I’m really trying to say here is that riders, indeed everyone, should be accepted for who they are, and leave outward appearances out of it. If they are a nasty person, of course steer clear. But if you can see a way to make an encouraging remark to a rider of any age, do it! It costs you nothing and can mean so much.
How do you feel about the culture at your barn? Let me know in the comments.