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Are Horses the Ferraris of the Female Midlife Crisis?


horses have become the must-have accessory for middle-aged women

They’re beautiful to look at, they’re the stuff of childhood dreams and they can go from 0 to 40mph in six strides – no wonder horses are fast becoming the must-have accessory for middle-aged women.


According to the British Horse Society, 73% of horse owners are female. An online survey for Petplan Equine further found that their average horse owner was not only a woman, but a woman aged 40 to 49. None of which comes as any surprise to psychotherapist and horse-owner Sarah Urwin.


“Women, towards the end of their time bringing up children, reach the point where they have

done their job, so to speak, and they’re looking for new challenges.

“We’re still young and fit, we’re not on the scrap heap, we’re not going to die as we might have

done one hundred years ago, and we want something meaningful to do. For many women, horses fill that void – we need a new challenge, a new relationship and being on top of a horse is quite a big challenge, actually.”

Until recently, the midlife crisis was an affliction more commonly associated with men and their

fears about aging, loss of attractiveness, illness and death. However, the general consensus

nowadays is that middle-aged men don’t walk this transition of self-identity alone. Women can

also struggle during this period of their lives, though they tend to be fighting different demons.

For women, the midlife crisis is often triggered by a sudden sense of isolation as their children

grow up, coupled with the biological and psychological changes triggered by menopause.

However, there is one fundamental difference between the male and female midlife crisis and

that is freedom. By their mid-forties, women tend to have more time, money and liberty to chase

their long-forgotten goals and dreams.

Amanda Stocks, 49, is one such woman. Having started riding at age of five, her hobby was cut

short by a road accident that almost severed her leg when she was nine. Though she rode again at 14 and took lessons as an adult, it wasn’t until she was 43 that she bought her first horse. Last week, Amanda and her palomino Connemara cross, Caramac, qualified for The Sunshine Tour at Hickstead.

Amanda, who has her own PR company, said: “Caramac costs me a fortune each month in livery

and lessons. I drive a clapped-out car and all my money goes on the horse, but he is the

childhood dream realised. I’ve always wanted a horse and following the early deaths of a couple

of friends over the last few years it has made me understand even more that you need to live for

now. Of course, there’s more to having a horse than realising childhood dreams. I’ve learned so

much from Caramac and if I’m having a bad day, I work with my horse and I feel so much

better. Horses can bring out emotions in people, help you realise things and come to decisions.”

Like Amanda, I too bought my first horse in my early forties. It was another childhood dream

come true that quickly became an obsession, turning me from a financially-comfortable career

woman into a stony-broke horse bore. And I’ve never been happier.

For me, horses are addictive and I now have two – an off-the-track thoroughbred named Lucky

and a PRE Andalusian called Mina. I often tell people my horses are the best therapy money can

buy because during the hours that I’m with them there is nothing else cluttering my mind.

Psychotherapist Sarah says this is the great gift of horses and it’s exactly what makes them so

attractive to women my age.

“It’s about being in the here and now,” she explains. “All animals model that for us, but

particularly horses. Being prey animals, they have to model being in the here and now because

that’s how they survive so when you’re with horses you have to go to that place. You can’t be in

the past and you can’t really be in the future because if you are that’s usually when mistakes

happen.”

While many women form an undeniably strong emotional bond with their horses, Sarah says that science actually supports this collective midlife madness.

“The human animal bond has been well researched and it’s known that being around animals

decreases our heart rate, eases our blood pressure and helps us to relax. But plenty of research

also shows a link with the production of oxytocin, which is the bonding chemical, and the

production of serotonin and dopamine, which are feel good chemicals, all of which come from

the movement associated with exercising horses. In the States, hippotherapy is widely used and

it’s growing in popularity here. The thinking is, apart from all the musculature things going on,

that the movement that comes with exercising a horse opens up neural pathways allowing for

new ways of thinking about stuff.”

While many middle-aged women will confess to being terrified at times by the horses they ride,

they also revel in the challenge of overcoming these fears and the exhilaration that comes with

each small victory. For some, horse ownership has also thrown them a much-needed lifeline

during the very worst moments of their lives – as well as opening up a new support system of

like-minded friends.

Caroline Barker, aged 54, has set up a Facebook page to document her journey with her horse

Pudding, a Highland cross she bought two years ago. She now has close to 300 followers, many

of whom also own a ‘Midlife Crisis Horse’.

Caroline, an IAPT support advisor from Cheshire, said: “I know so many ladies who have started

riding in their 50s and it usually comes with realising life is too short. In my case, I faced the

death of my father and redundancy, which triggered the menopause. It made me depressed, tired

and introverted, which was very unlike me. So, I decided to get myself together.

“I had been taking riding lessons with a friend which I found both exhilarating and terrifying in

equal measure. But one think was for sure, I was 100% alive and in the moment. There was no

time to think about anything else, and for that hour that was all I needed.

“It was an emotional, rather than a sensible decision to buy a horse after only taking lessons for

six months, but Pudding has opened up a whole new world to me. Thanks to him, I pulled myself

out of the emotional pit and got back on my feet.”

According to researchers in Montreal, men who engage in conspicuous consumption – like

buying a Ferrari – experience a surge of testosterone that makes them feel masculine and

relevant at a time in their lives when they perhaps perceive their power to be waning. While the

emotional bond formed between a woman and her horse cannot be compared to the relationship

between man and machine, there is an element of staying relevant.

“I’m 66 and I still go jumping, do cross country and I ride endurance,” said Sarah, who has four

horses at her home near Exeter. “While I’m now conscious of having to push myself, once I’ve

done it, it feels good and that creates a feedback loop for self-esteem, which is why we feel better about ourselves.

“Horses command respect by virtue of their size so there’s an ongoing risk and a challenge and

that requires us to be in the present moment. That’s what makes it so vibrant. I think a lot of us

have lost the ability to be in the present moment, which is why we can feel quite miserable

sometimes, but horses bring us into this joyful space. It is like no other experience.”

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