Age of adventure: Oak Park seniors take to horseback for American Adventures Month
SALISBURY — Tom Foreman, now 89 years old, grew up around horses.
But, until Thursday, he said he hadn’t been on horseback since before he went to serve in World War II.
That all changed when he and fellow residents from the Oak Park Retirement Community in Salisbury arrived at Saving Grace Farm.
After donning a helmet, Foreman — with a little help from staff — got up in the saddle.
He sat tall while they took the reins and led his brown-and-white horse around the covered ring, while other horses grazed quietly outside the paddock.
By the fourth lap, Foreman had leaned back and put his hands in his pockets, grinning.
When he was finished, he got a round of applause.
“I feel like a celebrity,” Foreman said.
And being on horseback again felt great, he said. “I love horses, and I like the people who care for them,” he said.
In all, 11 residents of Oak Park, including some who had never ridden a horse before, took part in the trip.
Karen Leonard, activity director at Oak Park, said the residents she serves are “in an interesting part of their lives.”
When they first come to the retirement community, she said, “we ask them, ‘What’s something you’ve always wanted to do and never had a chance to do?’ ”
Foreman had grown up around horses. His family once ran Briar Patch Stables, he said, and he used to ride in the local Christmas parades.
But he hadn’t had a chance to ride since he was a boy, and Wednesday’s trip was a very special treat.
“A horse has a special meaning to me,” Foreman said. “They can be as much a pet as a dog. You treat them right, they treat you right.”
August is American Adventures Month, and it’s an appropriate time for trying something new.
This year, Oak Park residents have visited the National Whitewater Center near Charlotte where they rode a zip-line and took a trip down the rapids in a raft.
“It was an opportunity,” said Rita Espel, a native of New Jersey who’s now a resident of Oak Park.
After all, Espel quipped, you never know how long you’ll live. “When the opportunity comes, you take it,” she said.
Leonard said this was the first time residents had been to Saving Grace Farm for horseback riding.
Anne Hollifield, originally from Marion, has never lost her sense of adventure.
“On my birthday last year, I went up in a hot air balloon,” Hollifield said. “I just got braver as I got older.”
Only once in her life had Hollifield been on horseback, she said, and it only lasted a few moments.
She tried riding a horse bareback when she was young, on a visit to a friend’s farm.
“I fell off,” Hollifield said.
And for years after, she said, she hadn’t had another chance, until this week.
“Oh, it felt great! I would do it again,” Hollifield said of her time on horseback.
As for what’s next: “I’m somewhat thinking of going up in an airplane, or a helicopter, and jumping out,” Hollifield said.
“I always wanted a horse, all my life,” said Marilyn Pretty, a native of Michigan.
At 75, she said she’s glad to be able to ride, but she had to stop a little earlier than she wanted – horseback riding is hard on the legs, she said.
Still, she said, “to be able to ride now is just great. I’d love to be able to do it again,” Pretty said.
Stacey Carter, equine instructor at Saving Grace Farm, said this was the first time she had worked with a group of seniors who got up on horseback.
They started by grooming the horses, as Carter explained how they were both taking care of the horse and leading the horse.
Both Carter and Leonard said that residents at Oak Park aren’t used to being “taken care of,” but are used to caring for others.
“Personally, for me, I really feel like it’s a cultural deficiency, that we don’t respect our elders and they aren’t more engaged in teaching others,” Carter said.
And, she said, it was great to see seniors given the opportunity to have such an experience. “It was a chance for them to interact, to kind of share.”
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.