Yes, we in Manitoba consider that a hill.

I went out to ride on Monday night — nothing unusual there. It was about seven thirty and the sun was just starting to slip towards the horizon. It had been HOT that day, upwards of thirty degrees Celsius, and humid too. The air was still warm, but the mugginess had worn off a bit, making conditions just about perfect.

I pasture-board my horse Haajes, in a fairly remote location, so when I go riding I am usually alone. I tie him up and groom him and tack him, all in solitude. Sometimes this makes me feel lonely, especially when I compare it to the feeling I used to have when boarding at a bustling competition barn – the excitement of catching up with friends, of watching them school their horses, of going on ill-advised group trail rides around the gravel pits. But on that night, it felt just perfect.

I worked Haajes in a neighbour’s field, which boasts some of the only rolling hills Manitoba has to offer. He was excellent, one of those black-letter rides that seem really elusive. I wonder if part of the reason he was so good was due to my attitude. I probably would have accepted every evasion in the book with a smile that night, but it just wasn’t in the cards. Walking back down the long road to our pasture usually brings out the impatience in me, but on that night I would have happily extended it an hour.

I am so lucky to have what I have. It’s something that not everyone is fortunate enough to have, and I’m not talking about the horse alone: I’m talking about the passion. When I’m riding, nothing else really exists; yet everything I do is a microcosm of my everyday life.

In the course of a one-hour ride I experience focus, frustration, acceptance, perseverance, joy and pride, often all in conjunction with one another. The physical exercise is an almost infallible stress-reducer. I don’t need to be constantly worrying about finances, grad school, relationships or work, because every day I get an hour and a half to think about something else instead. My horse and I were alone that night, but we were far from lonely.

The road back to the pasture.

A couple days after that ride, I invited my boyfriend and a couple of my friends out for a trail ride. The weather was a flawless reproduction of Monday night, with the added bonus of a breeze rustling the trees. My friends are very new (in fact, fledgling) to riding, so watching them canter up the hill after me, was probably in the top ten of most hilarious sights I have ever seen (probably in part due to their eclectic riding habit, which consisted of a ragtag mixture of bike helmets, rubber boots and my polo helmet with facemask.)

My friend Chris snapped these photos of us in action, and there’s one picture in particular of Haajes and I that I love. I showed it to my mother and she raised her eyebrows quizzically at me: “But he has his head in the air and your position is terrible…? But yes, honey, it’s lovely…” She’s right, of course (mothers.) But I love the picture anyway, despite my ludicrous grin and cringe-worthy equitation. Chris captioned it “Happiness is a horse. Clearly.”

And that just about sums it up. Riding is something I can enjoy completely alone, just taking in the experience of being with my horse, of working towards an athletic goal together, but it’s also something I can share with other people, so they can get a taste of the exhilaration and excitement that comes with riding. There is no place in the world I am happier than right where I am in that picture. Happiness truly is a horse.

(And just to temper the ultra-saccharine nature of this post, I will also admit that horses are not only happiness, but also frustration, exhaustion, exasperation and desperation. So it’s a bit of a trade-off!)