Ask any horse owner how long they plan to ride for, and most will say “as long as I can.” Renee Beiles is living proof that time in the saddle can continue well into your golden years. At the age of 85, Beiles drives from her home in Toronto to a horse farm in Caledon to ride. And she does this trek three to four days per week, even in winter.

That’s commitment for sure, but it’s also passion and love for her 29-year-old registered American Quarter Horse gelding, Neejee, which means ‘friends’ in Ojibwe (spelled Niijii). The pair have been together for 25 years and counting.

Beiles, like many of us, rode when she was younger, but quit after she got married, had kids and a career. Retirement at age 60 from her job as a medical social worker gave her more time on her hands. But it wasn’t until her second husband commented after she watched The Horse Whisperer for the 14th time, “We should buy a horse.”

That comment, coupled with her youngest son requesting she take riding lessons with his wife, got Beiles back in the saddle decades after hanging up her spurs as a teen. But the riding school horses weren’t connecting with her the way she wanted. “They have so many people on them,” she explains sympathetically.

Beiles soon bought an Arabian gelding named Albert who proved too hot to handle, so she and her husband kept looking. They happened to drive by a sign that advertised horses ‘for sale or trade’ and that’s how they found Neejee. The four-year-old blood bay QH was gorgeous, but he was a stallion who had gone ring sour as a reining horse.

“I couldn’t ride in an arena because he was too sour. So, in the beginning all I could do was long hacks and trail rides,” she explains. “When I asked him to trot, he bucked, and so on. But I persisted, I loved him and wasn’t going to give up on him.”

It took a couple of years but eventually Neejee was rideable in an indoor arena. Beiles also explained that in his reining days he was forced to do a lot of sliding stops in mud, something that made an impact on the young equine. “To this day he won’t walk through mud or water,” she adds.

Throughout the next several years – during which the young stud was wisely gelded after he jumped a fence to get to a mare and injured himself – the horse-and-rider combo took lessons and continued to take long country rides. The two developed a close bond. And Neejee takes care of Beiles every bit as she takes care of him.

“There was one occasion where Neejee wouldn’t move forward on the trail, no matter what, he wouldn’t go,” she says. “We turned around and as we got back to the barn a hailstorm began pelting down. He knew it was coming.”

Where she currently keeps Neejee, who lives outside 24/7, there’s an outdoor track, riding ring and indoor arena. While she started riding western when she first bought Neejee, over the years she felt he needed more contact and tried a dressage saddle. “And the whole world changed,” she said.

Neejee turned 29 in April and the two seniors still enjoy their rides, with some minor adjustments for age. “He trots beautifully, he tries to canter but I don’t let him,” Beiles explains. “I’m not sure he’s strong enough to do it.”

Anyone seeing the pair together would be inspired. For Beiles, it’s perfection. “I’ve been in love with him forever,” she says. “Owning and riding him has been the most amazing influence in my life. The people I’ve met through riding, the many friendships, too.”

Neejee is also calm enough for her two-year-old granddaughter to walk into his stall, and quiet enough for a child to sit on. He also does tricks. “I ask him ‘are you a handsome boy?’ and he nods his head,” she says. “But only after a ride, never before.”

As far as longevity goes, both have good genetics in their favour. Neejee is descended from the Doc Bar line, a famous QH whose offspring have been known to live into their 40s. Indeed, Neejee’s vet gave him a glowing report at a recent checkup. Beiles says her mother lived until 99, and her father was 97. All told, it seems they are destined to spend many more years together.

When it comes to giving life advice, Beiles has this to say: “My recommendation to any girl [or boy] is ‘ride a horse.’”