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//Gill Sherry//

I can’t remember the last time I was on a horse. It was certainly a long time ago, decades, in fact. As a child, I was obsessed with the graceful creatures and dreamt of owning my own faithful pony. But horses were an expensive hobby, as my parents were fond of telling me, so having one of my own was out of the question.

To compensate, I would often visit the horses in the field beyond our house. I fed them apples, stroked their soft, velvety noses and ran my fingers through their long, silky manes.

On family holidays, I would jump up and down with excitement at the prospect of horse riding or pony trekking and, during one memorable trip to Scotland, fell in love with the native, pint-sized Shetland pony.

Inevitably, perhaps, my obsession diminished with age and I eventually grew out of my equine infatuation. Just recently, however, I’ve found myself drawn, once again, to these spirited animals. Perhaps it’s because my home is surrounded by fields and I’m able to watch them graze on a daily basis. I see them roll on the ground, groom each other and bat away flies with the swish of a tail.

Last weekend, I decided to reacquaint myself with these wonderful creatures and arranged to ride a beautiful, white Percheron named Tilly. I was surprisingly nervous and needed a helping hand to mount the gentle giant. Thankfully, however, my anxieties didn’t last long and I was soon enjoying a leisurely ride through the countryside, courtesy of my four-legged companion.

It was a treat to appreciate the landscape from a different perspective and to hear the gentle clopping of the horse’s hooves. It was extremely therapeutic and, coupled with the distinctive stable smell, conjured magical memories from my childhood.

After a gentle, hour-long ride, I was reluctant for the experience to end. The thrill of being back on a horse was intoxicating and I enjoyed every minute of my journey with Tilly. That said, my legs were decidedly shaky when I dismounted (somewhat clumsily) and stood back on solid ground. It felt a little like getting off a boat, my balance temporarily deserting me.

Back at home and reflecting on my long-overdue ride, I couldn’t keep the smile off my face. It wasn’t what you would call exhilarating – I never progressed to a canter or, indeed, a trot – but it was an enchanting adventure that combined the charm of the past with the joy of the present, not to mention the pure delight at simply being back in the saddle.

Based on the feeling of well-being induced by my one single horse ride, it’s no wonder the activity is considered invaluable when it comes to mental health. Being in contact with horses is proven to improve confidence and reduce stress and riding hoses benefits both physical and psychological health, regardless of age or gender. That said, never venture out on a horse without a back protector and a riding hat.

Now, more than ever, I’m determined to live life to the full and to embrace every opportunity. With this in mind, I followed my short horse ride with a jaunt in a horse and carriage. My miniature dachshund, Maverick, also came along for the ride (what a spoiled little pooch he is!). It was absolutely delightful and an experience I will never forget.

What shall I do next, I wonder?

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