It’s Never Too Late to Learn to Ride Horseback
“It’s Never Too Late” is a new series that tells the story of people who decide to pursue their dreams on their own terms.
Rose Young has an amazing ability to adapt to demanding jobs and intense situations. She was an FBI agent focusing on white collar crimes; a lawyer practicing insurance litigation; and, after returning to North Carolina from Lafayette, Louisiana with her husband and daughter in 2003, a health care compliance officer.
But the only activity she feared, even if she desperately wanted to do it, even as a child, was horseback riding. “I grew up in Hamlet, a small railway town in North Carolina,” said Ms. Young, 65. “I was five when I saw my first horse and wanted a lesson. I was driven once or twice by a neighbor, who had a horse on his farm, but it was a rare pleasure. I never rode a horse again.
Several months before the pandemic, Ms Young, then 63, took her first riding lesson in English. (She ran into a woman at work who put her in touch with an instructor willing to take on an older student.) One class turned into two, which quickly became monthly. Then it became a one-year project. Then a life changing experience. (The following interview has been edited and condensed.)
Why didn’t you take lessons as a child?
I grew up in a modest home. My parents were blue collar workers and worked very hard. There was nothing for the extras. So I convinced myself that riding wasn’t for me, which is sad. When I grew up I could have taken the time to do one lesson a month but I was intimidated and uncomfortable. And there was fear.
What are you afraid of ?
Fall or hurt me. But in 2003, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a mastectomy. It changed things. It’s motivation. You have to follow your dreams when you have the chance because you don’t know how long you will have the opportunity.
How did you find the courage to take the first step?
I didn’t let breast cancer scare me, and I didn’t let it take the joy out of my life. It would have been a disaster. I decided I was going to have another life. To learn to ride was to find new joy. It was also a reward for surviving something very dark and coming out the other side.
How did you get started?
Even though I live in an area where a lot of people own horses, I had to find someone willing to put himself and his horse at the disposal of an older student. Lots of places train children. Finding someone to try their luck with an older student, who is at risk of injury or who might not be open to learning, is more difficult. It took me a month to find my first instructor. I have also read books and watched countless videos.
What were your biggest challenges?
Find the right instructor, then find the right horse. At the moment, I am on my fifth instructor and sixth horse. I finally think I’ve found the right one. Also overcome the fear of falling or hurting myself. I fell four times and had a concussion. I had doubts before continuing. I thought maybe I was crazy for doing this. I took a few weeks off. Then I tried another horse and another, until I found one that I wasn’t afraid of.
When was your light bulb moment?
I had a few friends who took up horseback riding later in life; it was inspiring. Then an older friend who had had a knee replacement and who thought she would never go back, decided to start competing again. It was also inspiring. I thought, ‘if she can do it, so can I.’
How does it feel to finally be on horseback?
At first it was more scary than impressive. I forced myself to breathe and disperse the anxiety. Horses are beautiful, intelligent and sensitive. Their eyes are moving. There is nothing better than being up there and feeling real synchrony and connection with another being. We are both moving towards the same goal. It’s a fleeting, fluid and effortless connection. You feel outside of yourself. And there is something very appealing and empowering about being able to control and influence the behavior of something bigger than you.
What did you learn about yourself during this time?
That I’m not afraid to fail. That in the interest of learning something new that is valuable to me, I am willing to look silly. That you cannot rush this process. It took me a long time to understand. I wanted to learn everything in a month. This does not happen. I keep learning. I still have a long way to go. I repressed my desire to ride for so long because it was inconvenient or expensive or took too long or was out of reach. These were excuses to justify my inaction. I realized it was stupid. I wanted to do it when I was a kid, I learned I had to give it to myself now.
How has your life changed since you started riding?
He was enriched by this process. Small wins add up to a bigger goal. I have learned to slow down and enjoy every moment that I am with the horse. I try to take pleasure in the feeling of accomplishment.
What are your future plans?
My next big step is to rent a horse in October, which would mean being able to ride outside of a lesson. I would be alone on horseback. You have to reach a certain skill level before you can do this.
What has horse riding brought you that you weren’t expecting?
It intensified all aspects of my life. It made everything more interesting, brighter, more alive. It rejuvenated my curiosity and interest in everything around me.
What would you say to people who feel stuck and are looking to make a difference?
Think back to what made you happy when you were young and see if that is something you can find inspiration or joy in. Then find the time and the capacity to do it.
What lessons can people learn from your experience?
Don’t be afraid of embarrassment or being open to criticism. You have to accept that you are not in control. And don’t let fear get in your way. It will become less scary each time you try.
We’re looking for people who decide it’s never too late to change course, change their life, and pursue their dreams. Should we talk to you or someone you know? Share your story here.
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