Age no barrier for Olympic – and other – equestrians

Ian Millar
Ian Millar

Think you’re too old to take up a sport? Think again – at least when it comes to equestrian sport.

New Zealand eventer Mark Todd made headlines last week when he won a team bronze medal at the London 2012 Olympic Games. But at 56, he’s just a pup compared to two other Olympic horsemen in action this week.

Japanese dressage rider Hiroshi Hoketsu, at 71, is the oldest sportsman at the London Games. He went to his first Games in 1964.

And then there’s Canadian showjumper Ian Millar, who is competing in a record 10th Olympic Games. At the age of 65, he’s collecting his state pension – as well as High Performance Funding. (For the record, the youngest equestrian at the Games is also a showjumper, 18-year-old Reed Kessler from the USA).

These “older” riders must be an inspiration for those who are keen to get back in the saddle, and that’s the focus of a new British project called Take Up The Reins, run by the British Equestrian Federation.

The project is providing former riders – no matter what age or experience – with the opportunity to rediscover the fun, freedom and fascination of riding.

Mother of five Mary Morris from Stoke Newington took up riding three years ago, aged 63. “Riding has given me an instant social life, an excuse to travel and improved my core strength and balance,” she said. “It is good for mental health, too: if I had ridden before I had my five kids, I’d have been a better mother – riding teaches you patience and understanding.”

Take Back the Reins is an extension of Hoof, the Equestrian Legacy brand of the British Equestrian Federation which has been made possible with funding from Sport England.

A nationwide a tour called Take up the Reins, which is being organised by the British Equestrian Trade Association (BETA) is taking place at various venues throughout the country this summer. A team of three mechanical horses, RoboCob, Trigger and Queenie, set off on a journey around the country to spread the word that no matter what age or experience riding is a healthy activity accessible and enjoyable to all.

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