Fit to ride: Empty nests, riding goals and weight loss

We've recruited a new blogger on the block – meet Alyson. The birds have flown the nest and she's now in a position to buy her own horse – there's just one thing getting in her way...


You may not yet be at an age where you recognise this, but I’m sure it happens to us all at some point.

It’s almost as though you go to bed one evening as a 20-something and you wake in the morning to the stark realisation that somehow or other (without warning) you're now rapidly approaching the big 5, 0. Yes fifty!  

Just to add to this, where once there was the busy, noisy, bustling, chaos of family life, there's now silence and time. 

This is me. My name is Alyson Willis. I’m a 48-year-old wife and mother of two grown-up sons.

Horsey goals 

You’re probably wondering by now what all this has to do with horses. Well actually I haven’t been on (or even near) a horse for almost 22 years – I stopped riding two weeks before my wedding (to appease my mum in case I had an accident and spoilt the big day).

I always intended to pick it back up straight after our honeymoon, and then after Christmas, then after, after, after... until in the end life just got in the way, including the birth of our two sons and a career as a teacher.

From the day I walked up the aisle, I don’t seem to have paused for breath. Until here I am – my eldest is at uni, the youngest is heading off to begin an exciting career and me semi-retired.

So, what now? Where do I go from here? 

What is the one thing I wish more than anything I had done over these last 20 or so years? Yes, to cut a long story short, I’ve decided to learn to ride again and I’m finally in the fortunate position to have my own horse!

Ah now the catch.

I’m not only middle aged, but also overweight and rather unfit. Just to clarify - I’m not just a few pounds overweight – oh no. 

I hadn’t been near a set of scales in years and when I finally plucked up the courage to step on, I nearly collapsed – I knew the pounds had been creeping on (my creaking knees and the ever-increasing clothes size told me that) but I certainly wasn’t expecting this.

I was shocked, embarrassed and so, so ashamed. There's no way I would ever tell anyone the actual number – far too humiliating!

In an instant, my lifelong dream of owning my own horse was shattered. In my head I had envisioned riding out in the early morning sun on a beautiful, fit, sports horse, almost like something out of a Jilly Cooper novel.

This was replaced instead by an image I’ve had since childhood – that of a VERY rotund, old lady, atop a poor tormented Shetland pony, buckling at the knees. A picture, I’m sure, from one of the many horsey stories I read as a child.

An action plan

Therefore, I immediately did what we all seem to do these days – I looked to the internet for advice.

I googled ‘how much weight can a horse carry?’ (don’t panic – I’m not expecting one to take me yet!) and spent a whole evening following discussions on different websites with answers ranging from ‘anything more than 11 stone is cruel’ to some that said ‘18 stone is fine’ (for the right breed).

However, the most shocking was the debate around whether it's ok for a male rider to weigh 16 stone but not a female.

One contributor even commented that ‘no woman should ever let themselves get that fat’. Well it does happen, here I am to prove it.

Nonetheless I’m not prepared to write off the rest of my life and give up on my dream for the sake of a few pounds in extra weight.

My local riding school has a weight limit of 14 and a half stone so that's my starting point.

I’ve begun a major get-fit campaign. I’m now living on meagre rations – gone is my beloved G&T, crisps, cheese, Haribo and chocolate.

I’ve even gone as far as to find myself a personal trainer. I’m sure I’ve an old pair of trainers under the stairs somewhere...

Inspirational reading 

One of the things I remembered from my younger days was how much I loved my horse magazines.


So, I treated myself to a subscription to Your Horse Magazine and my free grooming kit arrived this week.

It’s on proud display on the kitchen island to help keep me focused on my diet and my new mission.

Everyone who comes into our house looks at it quizzically before asking what on earth it is.

When I explain they just look puzzled and then conclude I must be having some sort of midlife crisis.

Well now it’s out there, there’s no turning back!

I know this is only the beginning, but in this blog I hope to share my journey back to riding through all the ups and downs of dieting, getting fit and finally (hopefully) buying and owning my own four-legged friend.

I will at times be brutally honest, I’m sure there will be tears but equally but I know we will have our share of laughs along the way.

I’m aware that some of you will be shocked, even a little disgusted by my revelation about my weight (obesity is gaining a lot of press at the moment) but have faith, my aim is twofold.

First, purely selfishly, I hope that by going public with this there can be no turning back. I must succeed.

But secondly, and in some ways more importantly, if there is just one person out there in a similar situation, reading their horsey magazines and secretly longing to learn to ride, that my journey may (hopefully) be of some inspiration to them.

I seem to have spent my life on diets, but this is the first time that it’s really been about doing it for me.

I can’t think of any better motivation than to be able to enjoy life with an amazing equine companion of my own. I already feel like a changed person. I’m soooo excited!

Wish me luck!

Hopefully by next time there will be considerably less of me and I’ll be one step closer to buying my horse.

Alyson x

(Oh, by the way, can you keep a secret? The number on the scales was 20st 7lb but please don’t tell anyone)