Unpredictable animals, sharp turns, the thrill of performance: this is not your grandmother’s dressage. Two women who performed in Sunday morning’s Century Ride, however, are not your average grandmas.
The sole condition of the horse-riding exhibition was that the equestrian’s and their horse’s ages add up to at least 100 years.
Jane Worrall, 74, and Elaine Thomas, 69, don’t let age bother them — the ladies still held their own at Inside Track Training’s ride in Black Forest.
“You’d be surprised,” Worrall said. “As long as you stay fit and you can keep the horse fit, you can keep going.”
Worrall rode Solo, her 26-year-old thoroughbred gelding, for the event.
Dressage is a competitive performance in which the rider and horse are expected to execute a predetermined routine. Participants are judged on various movements, from how well they handle their animal to the preciseness of each turn.
Sunday’s ride was judged by Colorado Springs native, Janet Foy. A longtime rider, Foy was named Girl of the West for the Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo in 1973. She was recently appointed to the International Federation for Equestrian Sports Dressage ground jury for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
The art requires animal and equestrian fitness, a condition neither Worrall nor Thomas see as an obstacle.
“It’s like a person,” Thomas said. “If you can stay physically fit, you’re going to do better as you get older. It’s the same with the horses, you know, keep them in some kind of fit condition.”
Thomas participated astride Forest, a 33-year-old bay grade gelding.
“I go to the gym, I do CrossFit and I’ve been weightlifting,” she said. “Riding takes a lot of core strength, so anything you can do to strengthen that is going to help your riding.”
“Cleaning up after (my) horses keeps you pretty fit,” Worrall offered.
The women said a common belief among nonriders is that their only job is sit on top of the horse.
“‘The horse does all the work,’” Worrall said with a laugh. “You hear that a lot.”
I think I’m more careful than I used to be. You know, I don’t go galloping across snow-covered fields like I used to.”
Worrall began riding as a child and hasn’t stopped since.
“I just love it,” she said. “I mean it’s fun. I don’t jump real high but I do lower stuff and it’s just still so fun.”
Thomas has been riding for more than 35 years, since her early 30s. She began competing in hunter and jumper rides, clearing obstacles several feet high. She has since taken up dressage.
“I haven’t competed for a few years because I didn’t have a horse ready to compete,” Thomas said. “I still ride (my horse) every week.”
Both women said riders their age aren’t as uncommon as one would think. Since retirement, Worrall and Thomas find they have more free time to ride.
Any horse-riding activity can be gritty. However, despite their age, the women said the risk of injury doesn’t bother them.
“(There’s) no more than the inherent risk of the sport itself,” shrugged Thomas.
“No more (risk) than walking across the street,” Worrall laughed.
Neither rider has the intention of quitting any time soon. In exchange for the joy horse riding brings both women, falling off is a risk they’re willing to take.
“If you’re gonna ride, you’re gonna fall off,” Worrall said. “We all fall, but we get back on and go because it’s fun.”
“I’ve fallen off a lot more than I’ve been hurt,” agreed Thomas.
Horses typically retire after their 20s, making Sunday’s ride a special accomplishment for riders and animals. Worrall and Thomas actually prefer older horses over younger, less experienced ones.
“A lot of these older horses like the two we rode today, they enjoy coming out and doing this stuff,” Thomas said.
“Yeah, they can’t do what they did in their younger years, but they’re still useful doing something and they actually enjoy it. They have the education from other (competitions), so you’re not constantly teaching them new things.”
Perhaps the most rewarding part of their sport, said the women, is the opportunity to compete.
“I can be in a clinic and there will be a 10-year-old and a 60-year-old,” Worrall said. “Everybody’s equal when you’re riding.”
“The horses are equal too despite their age,” Thomas chimed in.
“Male horses, female horses, men, women, we all compete on the same level. There’s not a separation like there is in other sports where the women have these classes, the men have these classes. In this, out there, we’re all together.”