“I thought I better not wait until I was 80.”

By Cecilia LaFrance

3.20.2019

Vivian Kiene of Westminster finishes a riding lesson in Golden; Kiene took up horseback lessons at the age of 70.
Vivian Kiene of Westminster finishes a riding lesson in Golden; Kiene took up horseback lessons at the age of 70.

“As soon as I knew what a horse was I became horse crazy,” Vivian Kiene rhythmically strokes the side of the training horse she just dismounted.  The retired Westminster mother and wife defines her affliction as being fascinated with every aspect about horses. Yet, even though she always wanted to learn how to ride, it took turning 70 years old before she began her formal training. Life kept her busy, she says. “I thought I better not wait until I was 80.” Her smile dimples her right cheek.

Vivian’s riding experience previously consisted of a rare guided trail ride over the years, but she always felt like a passenger, she says. Her goal now is to be a “decent and adequate rider.”  She pats Duke, a 30-year-old Arabian, who patiently absorbs the attention.  “I want to learn as much as I can about horses.” Despite Duke’s smaller profile, Vivian’s head barely clears the height of his back.

Last year, Vivian looked into formal lessons, and landed with M&L Horsemanship, a local outfit run by two sisters.  “I like their philosophy. They’re willing to work with people at all different levels–competitive equestrians . . .” Vivian’s voice lifts with her shrug, “and me.” For the past 8 months, Vivian spent most Wednesday afternoons in the saddle at the Pleasant View Equestrian Arena in Golden.

This rural pocket of land is part of the eclectic makeup of Colfax Avenue.  Traffic noise to the south is buffered by the thoroughfare’s prominence on a hill; just past the last of Lakewood’s multi-story office complexes, the area of the small community park reflects what remains of the area’s rich equestrian heritage. The mesas and foothills to the west, still etched white from last week’s snowstorm, stand mostly unobstructed as a backdrop to the ranches and horse properties not yet subdivided and developed in urban sprawl.

Today, Vivian rides Duke closely beside Michelle Fleishman, her trainer, and her feistier steed.  They practice posting and cantering, Vivian’s first time. During their laps around the arena, her mentor imparts more tips and knowledge, and Vivian soaks up everything new.

A lone member in the stand, Al Kiene, watches patiently.  “She lets me watch, but won’t let me ride,” Vivian’s husband’s voice sports a tease. “I think she thinks I may learn faster.” Soaking in the March sun, Al recounts details from his and Vivian’s 47-year marriage—meeting as undergraduates at the University of Iowa, moving to Colorado in the 1980s, two sons, and retirements five and eight years ago, respectively. He thinks Vivian’s choice to take up riding is great. “She always has a smile on her face.”

“I love every minute of it.  You’re just learning all the time,” she says, her smile springing back into place. Plus, Vivian’s connection with her son and his girlfriend, both in veterinarian school at CSU, has grown due to a common topic of conversation.  “I don’t think realistically I’ll ever own a horse,” Vivian says, but she doesn’t plan on quitting any time soon.  “It depends on how long I can keep climbing up there.” When asked how long she envisions riding, Vivian cites Queen Elizabeth riding at age 92. Sure, the Queen’s been riding her whole life, but Vivian is adjusting to the saddle.  “I’m using muscles I don’t think I’ve ever used before.” Adding stretching exercises is helping, she says. 

Michelle says clients Vivian’s age aren’t uncommon. “But, I don’t remember my own grandma being this healthy at this age.” Vivian’s lessons don’t have an end date. “It’s a ‘the more you know the less you know’ type of thing,” Michelle says of the equestrian field.

Vivian holds the reigns of Michelle’s horse for her while they prepare to wrap up the session. “Maybe I inherited it,” she says of being drawn to horses. She recounts family who have owned or loved horses and is pleased to have found out that her great grandfather was a horse person, too.  She can’t pinpoint a preference to any part of the new venture. “I think I like all of it.”

Al Kiene brings carrots for the horses and treats for the dogs at the stables each week while his wife, Vivian, learns to ride horseback
Al Kiene brings carrots for the horses and treats for the dogs at the stables each week while his wife, Vivian, learns to ride horseback

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