by Caroline Corser
Cheerleader for Positive Lifestyles
Note: This article is from Caroline’s book Three Cheers for the Good Years: You’re Not an Antique, But That Rocking Chair Is. It will soon be available through the Cheerful Gift Shop. Or you can order it for $15 plus $3 S&H by phone at 661-871-9201 or via e-mail at caroline@AwesomeAging.com.
“It’s genetic. It’s either born in you or not—this being crazy about horses.” That’s the story of Geraldine Stewart’s life. Since childhood, she had always loved horses and as an adult owned several, but she became fascinated with the Olympic sport of dressage when she was about 45 years old. That’s when she started planning her second adulthood.
Dressage is a highly skilled sport in which the horse performs intricate maneuvers like a gymnast, responding to subtle body movements of the rider. It requires years of dedicated practice and a horse that is especially bred to follow the rider’s directions and execute precise movements. Geraldine’s fascination with the sport led her to commit her future to her dream of performing dressage on her own horse.
It took five years to save the money from her teaching salary, from the sale of calves that she had raised, and every penny she could scrape together to buy a European dressage horse. Then when she found that teaching sixth grade kept her too busy to devote enough time to her dream, she retired at age 57. Her husband supported them comfortably, so she didn’t have to wait for the usual retirement age. She wanted to spend the rest of her life learning the skills that others usually start developing in their twenties.
Now 64 years old, Geri, as her friends call her, spends the major portion of every day with her horses, feeding, watering, grooming, cleaning stalls…and riding her beloved horse, Verena. She gets emotional, even to shedding a few tears, when she talks about the thrill of performing the highly skilled movements with Verena. “You’re able to communicate with your horse so subtly. They’re reading your body, but it’s as if they can read your mind when you want them to do things. It’s like the two of you… becoming one.”
Geri doesn’t mind that this sport is dominated by people half her age, although there is a Vintage Cup competition for people over sixty. Even though Geraldine doesn’t expect to perform competitively, she says that by age 70, she hopes to have ridden grand prix, “…’cause it looks so beautiful, and I want to feel it. Just some of the things I have felt now make me so enthused!”
Geri has already completed the first levels of maneuvers and is now working on the second. She has finally mustered the courage to perform at this level, and plans are moving ahead for the next phase. She has bought a younger horse, Halli (short for Hallelujah), which she is training to take over when Verena gets too old to perform. Then when her age and her horse’s age total 100 or more, she plans to perform in the Century Club.
After years of less disciplined riding, Geraldine “had worked up to having somewhat of a fear” of falling. She thought she “might break,” but after three different falls that did nothing more than bruise her “soft spot,” she rides with complete confidence. She expects to keep riding for another twenty years, at least. Riding and caring for the animals give her daily exercise, so she is sure she will live an active life into her eighties.
When asked how she felt about being 63, she laughed and said, “I can’t believe it!” This independent horsewoman describes herself as “unconventional in many ways.” She wears her hair pulled back in a long ponytail because she doesn’t have time to curl it. She said, “I do try to do some social things, but I’m probably happier than most people with just my own company, my books, (she loves to read) and my animals.” Geraldine Stewart is living her life just as she had planned it, working toward a lifetime goal and enjoying every step along the way.
Caroline Corser, Cheerleader for Positive Lifestyles, speaks to baby boomers and seniors about filling your life with laughter and play. She can be reached at 661-871-9201 or caroline@AwesomeAging.com
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