When Your Friend Stops Riding

“More than once I recalled feeling great sadness in learning that someone I knew, even a casual acquaintance, chose to hang up their spurs.” Horse Nation reader Mary Lynne Carpenter reflects on what happens when a friend stops riding. 

Canva/Sergey Nazarov/CC

It can happen to you at any age. One day you and your friend are relishing the glorious weather on a sun-soaked trail ride. Another time you are trailering together to a long-anticipated clinic. Or perhaps you are enjoying friendly competition with each other at the horse show. Your conversations, even when not at the barn, are heavily sprinkled with all things horse. You feel so grateful for sharing your horse-life with this person.

And then, well, things change. Whether suddenly or gradually, it becomes clear that your friend is no longer riding. Maybe your high-school buddy decides not to ride during college. Perhaps your 20-something friend decides to put riding on hold to pursue a career or start a family. Maybe your retirement-age companion loses her heart-horse and decides not to start over with another.

As a freelancer, I once wrote an essay about the grief associated with retiring the last of my four geldings. The topic was about mourning the loss of our riding adventures and how difficult it will be to say a final goodbye to him when he eventually passes. I wasn’t intending to communicate that I would stop riding entirely. But based on some of the reader comments, more than one person apparently interpreted my essay in that manner.

I was initially surprised at the emotion in some of the responses. It was as though writing about my supposed decision to stop riding was a negative commentary on their own choices to keep riding. And then I started contemplating my own past reactions to friends who have left riding behind.

More than once I recalled feeling great sadness in learning that someone I knew, even a casual acquaintance, chose to hang up their spurs. Our equestrian community often seems small. The loss of another rider amplifies that thought. Of course, there are plenty of people who chose to own horses and not ride them. They provide valuable and much needed homes to their equines. They are a part of the equestrian community whether they ever throw a saddle on a horse’s back or not. Still, I suspect that more often than not, someone saying goodbye to riding means saying goodbye to the horse industry entirely.

I also realized that my negative reactions stemmed from a much deeper fear. A fear that I would be next. I find so much identity and joy from being a rider. No matter that I am not even a particularly skilled rider, mind you. There is nothing more I would rather be doing at any one moment. I hate to think about not riding anymore. And yet, I know that all of us equestrians WILL eventually have a final ride. Whether we chose that final ride or whether circumstances dictate it, each of us will sadly see a day where we will ride no more.

Within all the feelings of loss that can be stirred up by a friend’s departure, we can hopefully use the gift of reflection that this change brings. We can’t always influence or direct our friend’s choices, but we have control over our own. We can take time to contemplate that someday we will be in our friend’s shoes.

This can help us chose to meet our friend’s decision with some empathy. Remember, your friend likely agonized over this transition and feels quite a bit of grief over it too. We can still nurture other shared interests that will maintain the friendship even without the glue of riding.

Hopefully that friend’s decision will bring home for us what an honor it is to sit on a horse’s back. That feeling of blending with the horse and borrowing the enormous equine spirit and physical power is like none other. We can show more gratitude for the privilege. Perhaps it will serve as motivation to get out there and ride more while we still have the health, the finances and other circumstances that provide the opportunity. Now, while you still can, go riding!

Mary Lynne loves to ride and write. Her essays have appeared in Equus Magazine, The Horse Magazine, Horse Network, The Plaid Horse Blog and Medium.com. She invites you to follow her blog “The Backyard Horse Blog: Living the Dream and the Reality of Keeping Horses at Home” at https://mallorcajunocom.wordpress.com/the-backyard-horse-blog/.