The trees and bushes become a steady blur of green stripes.
Maverick's giant shoulders power up the hill. The rhythmic thuds of his hooves beating the ground blend into the forest, returning to Michelle Synnot's ears as a constant, dull murmur.
This is where Maverick belongs, Synnot says: not in a paddock or show jumping ring, but out in the wild. It's one of the reason's Squamish is Maverick's new training ground.
Last weekend, Synnot, who works for the Helping Hands Society, brought the horse from the Sunshine Coast to Paradise Valley. The duo is gearing up for the endurance race season.
Enduro riding is based on controlled long-distance races, usually of 25-, 50- or 100-mile races. As with a marathon, the winning competitor is the first to cross the line. But horses must pass veterinary checks that determine the animal is in good health and fit to continue the competition. Synnot aims to complete up to three 100-mile races with Maverick next summer.
It took Synnot a few years, a damaged ego and some disastrous horse shows to figure out Maverick's niche. She thought she could coach Maverick to do what she'd bought him for — jumping. But Maverick had other ideas.
“If you miss a few fences at a course in a horse show, you are excused from the ring. Maverick was excused a few times,” Synnot says with a touch of cheekiness in her voice.
Once, he dragged her through a show. She held tightly onto the reins in the hope that Maverick would stop or at least not hurt himself, or worse, hurt somebody else. When she let go, he just stood there like nothing had happened.
Maverick's nerves are calm on mountain trails. The 11-year-old's ears prick forward as his massive ground-covering strides glide swiftly along the pathways. On magical days, Synnot and Maverick move in perfect time.
“It is awesome. It's the same reason people go ski touring and downhill mountain biking,” Synnot said.
It's taken six years for the duo to get to a point of unwavering trust. The team's passion for mountain riding was recently featured in a Telus commercial. Maverick is an unlikely candidate to be a film star, Synnot joked. He's a down-to-earth guy who shies away from the hustle and bustle of cameras and props. But Maverick made it though the shoot. And Synnot hopes the clip will introduce more people to a sport that takes riding back to its roots.
“It's total freedom,” she says. “It makes you get out of your head and into your spirit.”