“Being able to bond and connect with a gigantic graceful creature is incredibly fulfilling,” says Meghan Larivee, a local equestrian enthusiast. “Being able to work on building a relationship with a different species and seeing an improvement over time is a wonderful thing. I love connecting with and being around animals so having one as my athletic partner is a dream come true. I love the idea of becoming one animal when I’m on a horse; of reaching that moment where the two of you think and move as one.”

Larivee trains at Northern Tempo Equestrian Centre in Whitehorse, although her experience with horses started before she could walk. “I’ve honestly been riding ever since I can remember,” she says. “Both my parents are horseback riders and I’m pretty sure I was popped on to a pony as soon as I was old enough to sit up,”

She adds, “I grew up in the eastern townships near Montreal and went to the local pony club for most of my early years. Eventually, I started competing in eventing.”

Eventing is a two- or three-day equestrian event where the rider and horse are tested in three different arenas. The first being dressage, the second is cross-country jumping, and the third is stadium jumping. It requires both athletes— horse and rider—to be in top shape.

Eventually, because of the cost of competing and the demand of practising, Larivee had to scale back her riding time so that she could concentrate on university.

“It was a hard decision to make, but there seemed to be no other way of managing my new busy life,” she says. “Rocky (Larivee’s horse at the time) was getting older and needed to be ridden more often than I could afford. Eventually we had to find him a new home. That was a pretty difficult time for me, but I know that the little girl who he ended up with was a great fit.”

Once she completed university, Larivee found a new home here in the Yukon, after falling in love with the territory during her master’s thesis research. When she’d had an opportunity to settle into her new environment, she sought out the Yukon Horse and Rider Association, and from there found Northern Tempo and her new dressage instructor, Inge Sumanik.

She explains that dressage is the foundation of everything you will ever do on horseback.

“It really means refining your ability to connect with your horse and ask for a particular movement in a way that is simple and results in a balanced, easy movement. As you improve your riding skills, commands for particular movements require more precision and skill, but at the core of it all, dressage is building your ability to connect with your equine partner.

“My dressage lessons are quite variable in structure,” she says. “My instructor tends to structure our lessons on what we are interested in working on at the time. Last week, for example, we worked on refining various commands, such that we had to quickly transition from one gate to another at precise moments and perform a tight manoeuvre, such as a 10 metre circle, while keeping our mounts balanced and well-paced.”

“My biggest goal at the moment is to improve my ability to keep my horse moving forward in a balanced manner with most of the pace being controlled by my seat and legs in a very subtle manner,’ she adds. “I would like to refine my aids so that large corrections are rarely needed. Actually, that is really the basis of all good riding. However, it is much more easily said than done. I think my current mount, Caesar, and I are on our way!”

Larivee recommends that anyone interested in getting involved in equestrian sports should check out the Yukon Horse and Rider Association (www.yhra.ca). She also highly recommends Northern Tempo, explaining, “Inge Sumanik is the main instructor and she is very skilled at coaching at all levels. The horses are happy and well-schooled and the people at the stable are friendly and supportive.”

Larivee would love to see her passion for horses shared by more people in the territory. She captures her thoughts thusly:

“Horses are absolutely wonderful animals. When you meet a well-balanced, happy horse and make a connection, there is something magical that happens and you will never look at a horse the same way again. Humans have a long history of being linked to horses in some way-—I like the idea of keeping that alive.”

Amber Church is a painter, writer and sports enthusiast. You can reach her at sports@whatsupyukon.com.