Reutlinger Community resident seizes life by the reins

If you hear "Hi ho, Silver" echoing over the Livermore hills, don't expect to see the Lone Ranger. It could be Betty Poplack, sitting high in the saddle these days on her lesson horse, Silver. Poplack is a resident of the Reutlinger Community for Jewish Living and the star pupil of the Danville senior home's equestrian program.

The Reutlinger Community's equestrian program began in November 1999 when Bobbie Penarelli, an administrative assistant, brought some residents out to her ranch, Arabian Acres, in the Danville-Pleasanton area. Eleven horses live on the ranch and she introduced these animals to the group, gave riding demonstrations and made the horses available for everyone to touch, pet and brush.

"Most have never lived on a ranch," she said. "They remember horses when they were young, but they didn't have a chance to be close to them. This is a different kind of activity where they can enjoy the fresh air and get out."

Poplack came to the Reutlinger Community last winter, visiting the ranch on an outing in November. She had ridden a little bit in high school, although "not seriously." When she found out riding opportunities were available, she decided to seize life by the reins, so to speak, and sign up for lessons.

"Nothing ventured, nothing gained and you never know what you can do until you try," says Poplack. "I knew I could stay on a horse and I wasn't fearful."

She takes her lessons at Vlieks' Canyon Ranch in Livermore, right in the middle of horse country. The ranch belongs to Ute Vlieks, a riding instructor who also teaches basic horsemanship at Los Positas College in Livermore.

Before each lesson, Poplack goes out to the pasture, slips the halter over Silver's head and walks her back to the barn. She grooms and brushes the mane and tail, puts the saddle pad on and holds the bridle up to the horse's mouth. For Poplack, one of the highlights of the riding program is simply working alongside such a strong, powerful animal.

"It's thrilling being accepted by another creature that outweighs you by 1,500 to 2,000 pounds," says Poplack who marvels that "this magnificent animal will allow you on her back."

Poplack feels safe with Silver and shares a bond with the Arabian because "we're both seniors." Poplack is discreet about her age because in her words, "A woman who will tell you her age will tell you anything."

Once in the ring, Vlieks leads Poplack in upper-body exercises, so that she can balance herself and relax her body into the saddle. After the lesson, Poplack leads her horse back to the barn and brushes her. She's learning about cleaning hooves as well.

Thus far, Poplack hasn't experienced any soreness, "knock on wood." She does a lot of walking, which strengthens her muscles for sitting on the horse.

Her go-for-it attitude has inspired another resident to take a lesson.

"Unfortunately, as we grow older we become more cloistered and fearful of trying new things," says Poplack, whose own philosophy is just the opposite. "Whenever an opportunity presents itself, open the door. If it doesn't work, you can always close it."

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