Look Mommy, That Horse Is Walking on Its Hind Legs!

It has been a long time since dancing horses were a rave at circuses and fairs. When was the last time you saw one? A long time or not, I remember my utter amazement at seeing them when I was younger.

  • This is new! I didn’t expect that!
  • They are beautiful!
  • What will they think of next?

These days you don’t see dancing horses.

I have my substitutes, though.

Today, I’m astounded by pictures of centenarians exercising, a 79 year-old grandmother becoming a weightlifting champion or an octogenarian running her 24th marathon since retirement. I think they’re great!


We are admonished from some corners to stop making a big deal over these efforts or the result: “These folks are not special. They are doing what they are supposed to be doing—exercising.” This level of activity should be expected and not treated as exceptional. Seeing the result should not be exciting; it should be commonplace, according to some. We should not treat these people as if they were circus oddities. Look Mommy, that horse is walking on its hind legs! Sideshow freaks.

I did not see these horses in the sideshow. I saw them center stage where they belonged. They were beautiful. They were athletes! Yes, you heard that right. Do you know how much effort it takes for a horse to stay up and perform on its hind legs? Among other things, the horse has to develop muscle in new places and a balancing skill using only half its legs. Add endurance to that as well if the horse has to perform two or three times a day.

I think of these athletic seniors in the same way. I don’t put them in the sideshow. I put them center stage. They may not be athletes per se, but they often do things I cannot. That is enough for me.

So I say, “Phooey on the naysayers.” I’ll watch. I’ll post the results. I’ll brag on the efforts. Why?

Because I, personally, need encouragement. All the time. Sometimes I need encouragement just to get the gym shoes on. Sometimes I need a boost to lift the next weight or to walk the next mile. So I look for support where I can.

One role model for me is 79-year-old Ernestine. “Ernestine “Ernie” Shepherd, at age 79, is a personal trainer, a professional model, a competitive bodybuilder and happier and more fulfilled than she’s ever been in her life.” (

She inspires me. While I do some work in the weight room, I am definitely not a weightlifter. What inspires me though is not her muscles; what inspires me is her commitment to a regimen. It is an encouragement for being better disciplined. I need more dedication in my effort.

Allow me to paraphrase Lois McMaster Bujold: Ordinary people need extraordinary examples so they can say, “If she can do that, I can do this.” If Ernestine can do that, I can get my gym shoes on and head on out the door! And I can tackle those weights. Again. Thank you, Ernestine.

Go, extraordinary people! Clamor through my life. Make me sit up and take notice. Slap me into compliance. I want to have discipline and persistence and not just read about them.

But I don’t just honor people like Ernestine because they are athletes. Truthfully, I also am encouraged by Ernestine because of her age. Barring unfortunate circumstance, I want to keep at this exercise thing when I’m 79. If she can, there may be hope for me. She reminds me that this is not just a one-day, get-it-over-with effort. It is a lifetime commitment.

I need encouragement in that too. She would be the first one to tell you

that winning a weightlifting trophy was not an exception. She works out the same way every day. Like the center-ring attraction, the show must go on. And on. And on. With a matinee on Sunday. Isn’t it time you headed out to the circus and be amazed?

Ed Zinkiewicz

…the retired guy

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