The rider on the spirited gray Arabian whirls around the arena in a canter, leaving slower equestrians in the dust. Nothing unusual for such a seasoned rider as Kathryn Griswold--except that she is 90.
The horse she is riding, Rifsong, is also a senior citizen. Close to 20 years old, the horse has remained an active mount many years longer than most.
Griswold and Rifsong are among kindred spirits at Leisure World Stables. The Laguna Hills facility caters to a large clientele of older equestrians and their mounts, as well as providing rental horses for those who are "horseless."
Griswold, who sold her last horse several years ago, rides stable mounts and those of friends. Rifsong (whose barn name is Riffy) is among her favorites. The 14.2-hand gelding belongs to Vi Shelton, 67, another Leisure World rider.
"Kathryn is the only person I allow to ride Riffy," Shelton said. "I wish I could ride as well as she does."
Griswold developed her equine expertise when she was an art student at the University of Washington. There she took English riding lessons--and met her husband, Harlan, another avid equestrian. They've been married 67 years.
Harlan stopped riding a few years ago. "Age has been kinder to Kathryn than it has to me," he said with a smile, watching his wife hop off Riffy and lead the horse into the stable.
A visitor 50 years her junior had trouble keeping up with Griswold. "You have to walk faster than that, honey," Griswold chided. "Riffy wants to get back to his stall."
On the days she doesn't come to the stable, Griswold keeps in shape by riding what she calls her "iron horse"--a 10-speed bicycle.
Griswold was 32 when she bought her first mount, a former racehorse she owned for 10 years. One day, she was riding the horse when he stopped and gently folded down onto his knees so his rider could dismount. "He let me off and then died immediately of a heart attack," she recalled. "He had a heart of gold."
Since that time, Griswold has owned about 10 horses, most of them Arabians. She and her husband raised and bred prize-winning horses in Fallbrook on a 138-acre avocado ranch, which they owned for 30 years. Their leisure time was devoted to competing in horse shows, riding in equine parade units and testing their stamina in five-day endurance trail rides.
"We both rode 20 miles that day," recalls Griswold, holding a memento of the 1956 Tenaja Ride near Camp Pendleton. She won the best horsemanship senior category in that ride more than three decades ago. Her husband also participated for many years in the club's rigorous 50-mile trail rides.
The couple's home attests to their horsey heritage. The walls of what Kathryn Griswold calls their "horse room" (otherwise known as a den) display numerous photographs and trophies. Among them are a striking portrait of her husband in full costume as an Arabian knight mounted on one of their steeds. Another depicts the couple driving a horse from a carriage. A recent addition is the plaque presented to Kathryn Griswold this month by the Leisure World Riding Club for horsemanship in the 90-and-over category.
Griswold had had her sights set on riding to the age of 90 for some time. Three years ago, she was featured on a televised segment of the "700 Club" that focused on recreational activities for senior citizens. The show filmed her cantering around the Leisure World riding arena. When she dismounted, she told the camera, "I want to ride until I'm 90."
And so she has. Griswold plans to celebrate her birthday Nov. 9 by riding an extra time that week.