Hayden horsewoman, 80, enters first competition

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Courtesy photo. Sheila Richards, 80, is joined by her husband, Tom, and nieces Nicolle and Kirste at the Post Falls Equestrian Center Dressage and Hunter/Jumper Series. Richards was the first rider to qualify for the Centurion Division at the competition.

She’s in a class of her own.

At 80 years of age, lifelong horsewoman Sheila Richards of Hayden competed for the first time at the Post Falls Equestrian Center Dressage and Hunter/Jumper Series.

Riding her 25-year-old horse, an Arabian mare named Shannie, Richards earned the championship for the Centurion Division. To quality for this rarely-entered devision, the combined ages of horse and rider must be at least 100 years.

“It was a first time for us,” Richards said. “I just did it for fun.”

Though she hasn’t showed a horse in 30 years, Richards has continued trail riding. After taking dressage lessons for fun, she decided to enter her first competition.

“I don’t get nervous because I’m concentrating just on my horse,” she said.

Richardson’s achievement was special for more than just her. The Post Falls Equestrian Center Dressage and Hunter/Jumper Series has been held biannually for 15 years and this is the first time someone has qualified for the Centurion Division.

“I can’t think of a better person,” Post Falls Equestrian Center owner Gena Loper said. “I was thrilled when I saw her entry come in for the show.”

Dressage, a French term, is the art of riding and training a horse in a manner that develops obedience, flexibility and balance. In competition, riders display their horsemanship by performing specific maneuvers.

Loper said the goal of dressage is to develop a horse physically as well as mentally. Communication between horse and rider is key.

“It’s a beautiful thing to see a horse and rider dance together around the ring,” she said. “That’s really what dressage is.”

Richards said one of the things she likes best about dressage is the individual attention and feedback that riders receive from the judge. She said she got helpful critique during the competition.

“You’re really only competing against yourself,” she said. “It makes it more fun than nerve-wracking.”

Richards is an inspiration to other equestrians, Loper said, especially those who are older.

“Equestrians these days are living longer and riding until their last day,” she said. “It’s awesome to be able to celebrate that.”

In fact, Richards said she plans to compete again in the fall.

“It’s amazing that somebody at her age, rather than sitting in a rocking chair knitting, is grooming her horse, practicing and competing,” Loper said. “At 80 years old, she’s still willing to grow.”

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