Holidays

It’s hard to believe that the Government of Canada would own a spectacular horse ranch adjacent to the Rocky Mountains, where trail riders are welcome to camp and ride. But it exists. Ya Ha Tinda Ranch — owned by Parks Canada and the only federally operated working horse ranch in the country — turned 100 years old in 2017.

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Click. Nothing. I pressed the button on top of my headlamp again. Click. Still nothing. Oh crap. My headlamp batteries had just died, and on the worst morning possible. Today was the day I would be riding Chocolate through 912-metre long Bulldog Tunnel as part of our 550 kilometre solo journey along the Trans Canada Trail (TCT).

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Spending all day with your horse, visiting with friends, and riding a variety of trails pretty much describes horse camping, so it’s no surprise that many riders consider horse camping to be the ultimate adventure. Although performance riders often haul to a different facility for a clinic or competition, put their horse in a stall, and camp out in their rig, trail rider-style horse camping is a bit different.

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Canada’s prairie country always seems barren to me, as though something is missing and the ecosystem is incomplete. Probably because it is. For tens of thousands of years, as many as 30 million bison formed the cornerstone of a complex ecosystem, which dominated the Great Plains. In 1890, bison were perilously close to extinction, with less than 1,000 animals scattered across the continent. Today, largely due to conservation efforts by Parks Canada, bison thrive in parks and private herds, worldwide.

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Arriving at the ranch with my husband, Joe, in complete darkness, we were greeted at the gate by Dave Leishman, ranch owner and manager, and led to the cabin which would be our home for the coming week. After unloading the car I sat on the deck admiring the stars and taking in the sound of horses grazing in a nearby field. The log cabin was brand new, featuring wooden furniture and an extremely comfy bed. Drifting off to sleep, I wondered what the ranch would look like in daylight.

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The words Finally a Horse Back Ride in Cuba jumped out at me when searching through the Unicorn Trails website. The Tabaqueros Ride going right through Valle Viñales, my favourite part of the island, sparked visions of oxen-powered carts, tobacco fields, and memories of watching the sun burn off the mist in the valley of limestone mounds. Having lived in Cuba for just over two years in the mid-1990s, I had a strong desire to revisit the country to see how it had changed.

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It’s a beautiful day to head out to the mountains for some playtime. You grab your horse and tack and head out in the afternoon for a quick ride to your favourite spot. It’s 28 degrees Celcius and you don’t see a cloud in the sky. You grab a light windbreaker for “just in case,” get on your horse, and soon you’re enjoying the peaceful sights, sounds, and smells of the forest.

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