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Cornelius dressage rider Joan Smith and her mount Marley have more than 100 years of combined experience.

Earlier this month, the pair was inducted into the Dressage Foundation’s Century Club after their ride at Devon Wood Equestrian Center in Sherwood. The club, founded in 1996, has grown to include 159 members nationwide. It’s designed to encourage older riders to stay active in the sport.

“Our ages add up to 104, so we’re overachievers,” said Smith, 77, who rides Marley, a 27-year-old Hanoverian who stands five and a half feet tall at the COURTESY PHOTO: MARY CORNELIUS - Riding in a competition is required to be inducted into the Century Club, but the score is not factored into the honor. Roger Smith, Joan Smith on Marley, trainer Katie Twombly, Crescendo owner, trainer and instructor, Joan Foley and Katey McLean all came out for the festivities.

“Dressage is a very exciting thing to be a part of,” Smith said.

Dressage is a method of training horses as well as a competitive sport, and is designed to develop correct movement in the horse. At the highest level, dressage pairs work for years to accomplish complicated movements.

While watching her daughter ride as a teen, Smith knew it was something she wanted to do. Smith rode for four or five years, but took a mid-life hiatus when her professional life got hectic. Smith retired in 2001 as the executive director of the Washington County Museum and started her equestrian training while she was in her 60s.

Smith said her lessons with Marley at Crescendo Farms in Beaverton — they meet twice a week — are invigorating, and Smith added that she hopes Marley enjoys his time with her just as much.

“He comes to me when I go to the pasture,” Smith said.

When they’re working in the arena, “he’s relating to what I want him to do. We have these really pleasant moments, and he’s happy to be with me and I can tell he’s relaxed.”

Smith doesn’t own Marley — a horse she described as a gentle giant — but thinks of herself as his mother, she joked.

“He’s totally cool,” Smith said. “He does not have a mean bone in his body. He gets out there in the arena and gets the job done.”

That’s important for riders of any age when they’re working with 1,300 pound animals, but especially Smith, who’s nearing 80 years old and had a knee replaced along with two hip replacements last year. Smith feels taken care of when she’s on Marley, a horse she’s been riding since the fall.

The sport centers on the connection between horse and rider.

“You work in very close partnership with your horse,” Smith explained. “Everything you do is judged [in competition]. Every moment you have to be thinking about what your body is doing and what your horse’s body is doing.”

Smith trains with Katie Twombly at Crescendo, which she describes as “truly valued as a place people enjoy being.”

“When you’re riding another living, breathing thing, even making small changes in your body and how your ride affects how your horse does their job,” Twombly said.

Smith is a very dedicated rider, Twombly added.

“It’s completely engrossing; there’s always lots to work on,” Smith said. “Working with horses requires you to be totally focused and there. When I’m working with horses, I’m not thinking of other things.”

Riding contributes to physical and mental well-being, helping Marley and Smith stay strong and fit in their golden years.

“Riding is something you can do forever,” Twombly said.

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