Becoming an Equestrian in Your Golden Years
by Catherine Madera
He’s become a popular sight on the trail and at competitions across the Northwest: George Ehmer and his leopard Appaloosa gelding, PS No Joke. He looks comfortable in the saddle, so comfortable one assumes Ehmer is a seasoned cowboy. Not so. This 66-year-old retired mechanic didn’t start riding until he was 58.
It is not uncommon to reach retirement and dream about a riding life, perhaps the one never realized in youth. Too many older novice horse owners do not achieve their goals due to fear, lack of support and the wrong equine partner. Then there’s George. In the 8 years he’s been riding, George has shown at the Appaloosa World Show, competed in trail competitions, and traveled to Utah to round up bison, to name a few of his adventures. And he’s not slowing down. We caught up with George to find out what he’s up to and exactly how he has achieved the ride of his life.
Q: What was your horse experience prior to buying Joker?
A: I purchased my first horse in 2005 to fulfill a longtime goal to ride the Chief Joseph Commemorative Trail Ride. I’m a history buff and this ride required an Appaloosa, which is why I bought one. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. That horse bucked me off once, hard, and I decided I wanted to learn what to do and not do with horses so I could stay safe.
Q: Did you get lessons or professional experience/advice before buying Joker?
A: I was taking lessons at a local stable in 2008 when I heard about Joker. The horse I was riding at the time was a rough ride. Since I have a ruptured disc in my back, I couldn’t tolerate more than 15 minutes in the saddle. Joker has a very smooth, soft trot that sold me on him at the first ride. He’s a former show horse and I purchased him from the young lady who raised him. Since I was clueless, I didn’t realize what I was getting in Joker, what his experience meant.
Q: What activities do you and Joker enjoy together?
A: We’ve done a lot of things in the last five years: Extreme Cowboy Races, shows, America’s Favorite Trail Horse and equine scent detection. In 2012, Joker won the open division in Oregon in American Competitive Trail Competition and also won his first field trial for scent detection by finding the subject in two minutes and four seconds.
Q: What are Joker’s greatest skills/attributes?
A: He is a thinker and observer, which makes him a quick learner. I’ve been so blessed to have him for a partner; he’s really my trainer. The most important thing is the mutual trust and friendship we share.
Q: What are your future plans—any new goals?
A: I was in the Marine Corps from 1966-1975. Joker has helped me overcome PTSD and I am pursuing a program to learn how to help fellow vets struggling to return to civilian life. In addition, my goal is to ride the entire Chief Joseph Trail. It takes 13 years to complete the whole trail by riding a different 100 mile segment every year. I’m about halfway now.
Q: What is your advice for mature novices who want to take up riding for the first time?
A: If you’re going to start riding, find an old show horse. And find a trainer who truly understands how to listen to the horse. There are a lot of horse “trainers,” but very few who have learned to communicate well with horses. The encouragement of others is also important. My wife Jeanne has been a major support to me.
Originally Published February 2014 Issue
Catherine Madera served as editor of the Northwest Horse Source for five years. She has written for numerous regional and national publications and is a contributing writer for Guideposts Magazine and the author of four equine-related books. She has two grown children and lives with her husband and three horses in Northwest Washington.