Competing and participating in many different sports is primarily for those under the age of 40. Not so for equestrians. Equestrian activities provide venues for participants to ride up through the decades. Two local riders demonstrated they are not too old to ride a horse through completing a “Century Club Ride” at the San Luis Obispo CDS Chapter Wine Country Dressage Show held at Twin Rivers Ranch in San Miguel.
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Not Too Old to Ride
“Middle aged and older women are the biggest demographic in the horse world,” says Mary Jane Alumbaugh, one of the local Century Club riders. Barbi Breen Gurley, the other Century Club rider, also coaches riders and trains horses. Barbi comments, “I have lots of students who are ladies in their 60’s plus.” These two SLO County ladies came from different perspectives to ride a Century Club ride while inspiring other riders to realize they are not too old to ride a horse AND compete.
The Century Club. Horse and Riders Teams Demonstrating They Are Not Too Old to Ride
The Century Club, sponsored by the Dressage Foundation, recognizes riders and horses whose combined ages equal 100 or more years. Horse and rider teams compete at any level where the test is judged and scored. Horse and rider teams can complete either a Classical Dressage or a Western Dressage test (rumor has it that Cowboy Dressage will add a Century Club to their shows). The Century Club encourages the older riders and horses to keep riding. The primary goal is to have fun.
The Century Club Horse and Rider Teams
Mary Jane, who resides in Arroyo Grande, rode her own horse Cisco Kidd, a 20-year-old Holstiener gelding. “We made 100 years easily,” laughs Mary Jane. Barbie rode her student’s horse, Almar’s Touch of Magic, a 28-year-old Welsh Cob mare. Magic is owned by Deb Hirons and boards at Barbi’s Sea Horse Ranch in Los Osos.
Two Century Club Riders Come from Different Perspectives
These two SLO County Century Club riders come from different perspectives, but share a similar goal: To inspire others to keep riding. Mary Jane rode an Intro Level Walk/Trot test. “We did a simple test,” explained Mary Jane, “because I just didn’t want to make any mistakes.”
Barbi on the other hand rode a Third Level test and explains her choice, “Magic has been semi-retired from upper level riding for 10 years, providing two lower level riders a safe school horse for training level work. Therefore, I rode a third level test which was safe and attainable for her.”
Mary Jane and Cisco Kidd
Cisco Kidd entered Mary Jane’s life as a six-year-old 14 years ago. At the time, she was riding her very first horse, Scoot, a Quarter Horse, and working at the beginning dressage levels. Mary Jane was the horse crazy little girl who got her first horse at age 50. She found Cisco and they started learning dressage together.
“We started learning Dressage from scratch. He ended up being a lot bigger than I expected, but he is a gentle giant.” Mary Jane worked with Ellen Corob, a local dressage rider and instructor who was actually the inspiration for her to consider doing a Century ride. “She wouldn’t let me back out of doing the ride”. In 2014 Mary Jane and her Scoot completed their first Century Club ride. They were the 175th team to do so. In 2021 she and Cisco Kidd are team number 497. In addition to riding Classical Dressage and trail riding, Mary Jane is enjoying a fun new focus of Cowboy Dressage.
Barbi and Almar’s Touch of Magic
Even though Barbi is quite the accomplished dressage rider and trainer – she is currently bringing up her 10th and 11th horses to Grand Prix – Barbi saw the value of completing a Century Club Ride. “My young horses were not old enough for the Century Club ride. So, I rode Almar’s Touch of Magic, a horse I have coached to Intermediare with her owner Deb Hirons.”
Since the mare knew the movements, Barbi spent the training time leading up to the Century Ride preparing the horse for the third level test. “I simply wanted an obedient, quiet ride with a little collection.” That’s exactly what she got. “I was so proud of her. She gave me what I asked for. I did not want to stress her.” The team of Barbi and Almar’s Touch of Magic are number 498 in the Century Club record books.
Celebrating Being Not Too Old to Ride – Pulls the Horse Community Together
Many of Barbi’s students and of course Deb, the proud owner, gathered to watch her Century Club ride. “They were more excited to watch my Century Ride than my Prix St. George ride on my horse Happy M,” exclaimed Barbi. She then realized she inspired others by demonstrating there is no such thing as being too old – for the horse or rider – to compete and keep riding. People want to celebrate not being too old to ride for both the horse and rider. “I want to see people keep riding,” says Barbi as she talks about why she did the Century Club Ride.
That’s the thing about the Century Club ride. It pulls the local horse community together. “We have a wonderful horse community here,” says Mary Jane. “There are so many amazing and talented trainers who are willing to work with older riders.” Both Barbi and Mary Jane felt the encouragement of so many who got behind them in their pursuit of the Century Club ride.
Century Club Riders Inspire Others to Keep Riding
There are now over 500 Century Club members in the US. All have demonstrated they are not too old to ride a horse AND compete in any level of Dressage. The beauty of the honor is that it encourages riders at all levels to set achievable goals. The camaraderie inspires others to set a bar to their own level of comfort in order to keep riding. Watching an experienced horse continue to be happy working and competing brings a smile to all who witness the Century Club rides.
The Century Club is just one way to inspire riders to ride and compete well into their 7th, 8th and 9th decades, while keeping the school master horses going. The objective of the Century Club is to just have fun while providing a platform for riders to feel accomplished at any level. Mary Jane and Barbi together say, “You don’t have to ride at the top. Just keep riding. Don’t let limitations stop you.”
So, can you be too old to ride a horse? Nope. Mary Jane and Barbi set the goal at different levels, but with the same purpose: To inspire other riders to just keep riding.
Photos courtesy of Mary Jane Alumbaugh and Barbi Breen-Gurley
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