When self-identified “aging horsewoman” Sharon Roberts made her first social media post detailing how arthritis, balance loss, and weight gain affected her retirement riding plans, she was amazed when the online community jumped in to commiserate and support her. Vulnerably sharing her thoughts led her to find the support she needed and pushed her into a leadership role for Aging Horsewomen Intl., a group of fellow horse lovers.
The Arkansas horsewoman says that in her frustration with aging, she decided to make a Facebook group just for horsewomen. She knew that only others with a passion for horses could understand why it was important for her to keep horses in her life. In her original post, she shared her worries and stated, I don’t bounce anymore.
“That post on my personal Facebook page and the new group I created really resonated,” says Roberts. “I was 65 and ready to live my retirement dream. But instead, I had two knee replacements and I slowed down my activity. I found myself vulnerable. I don’t think that many people had put that idea out there—that I’m older and I’m afraid of my 1,200-pound horse. I wondered, ‘Am I alone in feeling like this?’ I needed a tribe of women who understood.”
Formation of Horse-Loving Group
Roberts quickly found her cohorts. She shared her post with horse owners who were already on her friend list in January of 2017. By September 2017, her group grew to 10,000 members. The booming Facebook group for Aging Horsewomen Intl. now boasts 57,700 members—from the United States and Canada to New Zealand, Australia, all over Europe, and more.
The group has no strict minimum age requirements but is open to all women craving a supportive community—and who aren’t turned off by the name. The oldest riders are in their 90s.
“We’re a close-knit group, and people post concerns in there that they might not share on other social media,” Roberts says. “I’ve had people join and then complain that there are posts about people and not just about horses. I tell them to look at the name—it’s about aging horsewomen. I am open to anything that supports women in their horse lives. It’s authentic, and our members open up. We have posts about deaths in the family or members who are facing surgeries, who share their fears about getting on their horses, or about which bra is best to stop bouncing—all kinds of topics.”
The group works to support its members—and keep them safe. The diverse group includes women with horse training experience and even some who are or were professionals in the industry. The women freely share their expertise, often offering lengthy replies to requests for help.
Roberts says that in addition to the active Facebook group, she’s formed a website to help connect riders to friends in their areas. There’s a special section on the website offering women a place to check in if they’re going out with their horses. A group friend from far away may be their best support and safety contact.
“We have a lot of women who have outlived their husbands who are going out to take care of their horses in the snow and ice,” Roberts says. “I didn’t like that they were not feeling safe and no one knew where they were and if they got back. [Now] they can connect and have someone to tell that they’re going out and to check in with when they get back, too.”
Roberts, who admits she isn’t tech-savvy, was initially alarmed when Facebook officials messaged her about her group and requested a phone call. After checking that the request wasn’t a scam, she took a deep breath and called the Facebook offices.
“Facebook folks really wanted to talk to me,” she says. “They asked for my group to be part of their #moretogether ad campaign.”
Roberts and seven of her group’s members traveled to Los Angeles, Calif.—then out into the desert—for their official Facebook photo shoot. The women rode through the rocky California backdrop while a professional photographer and crew directed their every maneuver.
“They had us ride again and again,” she continues. “When the dust got kicked up, the photographer was especially excited, and that was the photo that got used. It was shocking to see myself and other Aging Horsewomen on the Times Square Billboards in New York City. Our photos were also on billboards across the nation.”
Roberts says horses have been a part of her life since she was 3 years old. She doesn’t see an end to that equine connection anytime soon. Now 70, Roberts focuses her online time on “making sure group members stay kind.” Her best time is spent with her own horse.
“I am now riding [my horse] Levi on my land,” Roberts says. “Glamorous and fast he is not. He comes whenever he sees me, and he is quickly becoming my heart equine. For me, it’s the relationship with the horse and time spent in nature that matters. These two things fill my heart and give me peace.”
With the help of a team of admins from around the world who keep an eye on the Facebook group day and night, Roberts now has the support of a group. She’s found she is most certainly not alone.
“Aging women can feel overlooked by society,” she says. “With our horses, we are needed, loved, and appreciated. We have a reason to get up and out every single day. This is important for physical and emotional health. The need to be near a horse seems an innate need. Our hearts need to join with the heart of a horse.”
Being part of a horse group has helped her heart and many others, too.