Two years ago, a friend of mine celebrated turning 50 by taking up horse riding, something she’d always dreamt of during a childhood that apparently rated only slightly lower for grimness than one of those coal-in-the-bathtub sorts featured in Barbara Taylor Bradford novels. She enjoyed her new-found hobby so much that she ended up buying a gentlemanly bay gelding, which she adores and keeps at livery at a stables ten miles away from her house.
The financial outlay is fairly eye-watering but the benefits are tremendous. “It’s like taking a lover, but without the lies,” she says.
You don’t have to go the whole hog, of course. Just learning to ride is nice, and why shouldn’t you, just because you’re of mature years and it’s something you’ve never done before?
A group lesson, with around seven riders, costs around £25 per hour, though as a novice you might be better off with the individual attention of a one-to-one session at £35-45 per hour (about what you’d pay for a personal trainer). You can find a riding school at BHS: Find a riding centre or Find Riding Schools, which, despite some rather alarming grammar, contains useful customer reviews from horsey enthusiasts.
That said, getting on a horse in middle age is not only a matter of learning basics such as how to hold the reins properly and do a rising trot. In maturity you tend to be more aware of your own mortality. What if I fall off? What if I break something or worse?
In fact, being unseated at 50 is no more or less dangerous than at 10, which is to say that it’s potentially risky at any age. Bruises will fade and collarbones will mend but head injuries can be fatal, so protective headgear (such as Derby House riding hats) is a must.
The kit: boots, jackets and jodhpurs
Proper riding boots are another essential. Not only do they look good but they’re designed with a heel to stop your foot sliding through a stirrup and getting caught in it if you fall off. We’ve all heard horror stories about riders being dragged hundreds of yards by a bolting horse.
As for other gear, you will obviously aspire to one of those fabulous nipped-in-at-the-waist jackets as seen on Zara Phillips , and jodhpurs have definitely evolved since my childhood, when all that was available was a pair of scratchy beige things.
One thing to remember is that you will feel terribly stiff for a few days after your first lesson and people will laugh as you try to walk down the stairs. But it will wear off and if you carry on with this thrilling new hobby you will develop fabulous nutcracker thighs.
There are a couple of things to bear in mind. One is that if you don’t have a paddock and stabling of your own, keeping a horse at livery works out at something like paying for your offspring’s university accommodation, with a good chunk of tuition fees thrown in if you want to show or hunt.
The other thing is that a relationship with a horse is far more time-consuming than taking a lover. There is no cinq à sept in which to fit your activities. On the other hand, the relationship will probably be far deeper and longer-lasting. And horses never leave compromising texts on your mobile.