Horse riding: Interview with Michele Rossetto (Sydney, Australia)

Michele Rossetto
Michele has been involved with horses on and off throughout the years. They have always beckoned her and, in the last decade and a half, horse riding has been very much on her agenda. Connecting and communicating with such majestic animals is both stimulating and rewarding. Michele worked in cytology for many years, and studied law. She lives with her husband and two grown children, as well as two beautiful rescue dogs - Rocky the whippet and Shay the greyhound.
How did you get involved in horse riding?

I've always loved horses. I've been riding since I was a child. When I grew up, work got in the way and I didn't ride for 20 years. I got back into it in my early 40s as I thought it would be nice for my children. The lure was too strong and I haven't stopped since! It's been about 15 years now.

What qualities has it called upon in you or have you developed?

If you're going to ride a horse, you need perseverance and patience. You need to be able to 'listen' to signals you're receiving through your body and act on them. Empathy and calmness are also important. If you're trail riding, your horse might get nervous when it sees, for example, a goanna. Horses are flight animals and tend to startle. You have to be sensitive to how they behave and consider what could be happening from their perspective. You also need physical and mental courage. Finally, you need to have a sense of humour. I've been humiliated by dressage tests and competitions! You have to leave your ego home as horses just don't get it!

What do you like about it?

I love horses! There's nothing quite like hugging a fluffy horse on a cold winter's morning. I love how they smell. I like spending time one-to-one with a horse, grooming it and having a chat while tacking up. Trail riding is wonderful in the bush - all the sights, sounds and smells - kangaroos, wallabies, goannas, snakes, birds, creeks, trees... You're a team with your horse and you chat to them as you go along. Connecting with nature and another living being is exciting. You have to learn how to speak 'horse' and read their body language.

What challenges do you face in horse riding?

There are plenty of challenges! Sometimes your body doesn't do what your brain thinks it's doing. When you're facing difficulties, you have to trust your coach that things will work out - just as an athlete does.

When a coach asks me what I want to get out of a session, I always say "to get the best out of the horse I'm riding." Like humans, not all horses are athletic. They have to be shown how to supple up their body and to be injury free so that they can work a lot better. Dressage is like pilates for horses. You can always end on a better note than how you started.

What have been the personal and health benefits you've gained?

Horse riding has both physical and mental health benefits. You'll always feel better when you're doing something you really love. If I'm stressed when I go riding, I find I decompress, de-stress and can feel the tension melting out of my body.

Horse riding has helped me with my general creakiness! It is a whole body activity - when you're sitting on a horse you use your hands, legs, feet, core, arms... you develop muscle memory. It is very good for your physical balance and learning to control your body in certain ways - by riding bareback, without stirrups or reins. By making small adjustments in your own body, you can make the horse do different things. Next day you might feel it it bit! As you get older, your body isn't quite as supple.

You manage to get quite fit. Throwing on saddles and rugs, carrying tack, grooming your horse and general riding require you to use different muscles. You have to work quite hard.

It's also really good mentally. The psychological benefits have been very worthwhile - it's wonderful connecting with a horse. A horse will always teach you something new, which is rewarding. No-one can say they know everything about horses!

What's a funny story from along the way?

I have heaps, though one that comes to mind is the last time I was thrown off, about six years ago. We were cantering up a trail in the bush and my horse decided to bolt. I tried to pull him up and he bucked. I went flying, full pelt and landed heavily on the ground. It was a big fall and I was certain I'd be seriously injured. I wriggled my toes, breathed and thankfully found I wasn't even winded. My horse had galloped three strides on after I fell and them stopped to calmly eat grass. It was scary at the time, but I managed to brush myself off. Then my friend and I had the problem of how to get back on our horses - two middle-aged ladies in the middle of the bush! We finally managed to climb onto a log to help us mount.

Who do you think would enjoy horse riding and how can they get started?

Anyone who loves animals, fresh air, and doesn't mind a bit of horse manure or getting a bit of hay down their bra would love horse riding! You can always ask for recommendations for riding schools and how to approach it from people who know or from the local community on Facebook, for example. Horsey people are very happy to help not-yet-horsey people.