By Steve MacNaull
Whether the outing is in fog or brilliant sunshine, this region of Alberta, Canada delivers a memorable experience.
Saturday dawns frosty and foggy. Initially, my daughter, Grace, and I fear our 8 a.m. horseback ride in Alberta’s Badlands will be cancelled.
But no, Rocking R Guest Ranch co-owner Marvin Kinsman assures us the conditions are perfect.
“It’s definitely different than riding in the sun,” he says with a laugh.
“But riding in the mist is beautiful in its own way. It’s moody and quiet and the horses don’t have to worry about swattin’ flies and working up a lather of sweat.”
So we mosey on out, with me on quarterhorse Dakota, Grace atop Doc and Marvin riding Scooter.
With the first bit of exertion, the horses snort and we see their breath.
Cutting through the fog is, indeed, trippy.
The click-clack of the horses hooves is quickly absorbed into the air, the atmosphere is surreal and the only sounds in the distance are a lowing cow and some honking Canada geese flying south in formation.
When we put the horses to a trot, it’s like we’re suspended in pillowy air.
Marvin regales us with stories of the horses’ prowess.
He rides Scooter regularly when he works at the Calgary Stampede two weeks every year on the bronco round up crew.
Doc is the former Stampede stock horse with one blue eye who was ridden by Miss Rodeo Canada 2009 Aaron Courchesne.
And Dakota was born and raised at the guest ranch and also does stints at the Stampede as a pick-up horse.
Grace and I found Rocking R on Booking.com by searching ‘Badlands guest ranches.’
The Badlands feature the kind of prairie-plus landscape ideal for horseback riding.
Instead of the traditional flat-as-a-pancake plains, the Badlands develop rolling hills, periodic outcroppings of trees and dramatic hoodoo rock formations.
In addition, Rocking R, just outside of Strathmore, is an easy 45-minute drive east from Calgary Airport.
Booking.com has also just launched Little Adventurers, a platform for children to review accommodations and experiences.
Grace, 14, writes: “Three horseback rides in 24 hours is awesome. And we had our own cabin. Dad had challenges getting the fire going (in the wood-burning fireplace).”
Full disclosure: I did have trouble sustaining a blaze.
But, Marvin’s wife, Terri, readied a fire for us the next day complete with crumpled newspaper, kindling and perfectly-tiered logs.
After a hot tub and some relaxing in the cabin, the sun has broken through and burnt off the morning fog.
By our 2 p.m. ride time the sky is cobalt blue and we get a completely different experience.
For starters, our guide is ranch hand Willow Brooks, an equine science student from nearby Olds College.
We set out to simply enjoy the weather and scenery.
However, there’s plenty of time to break into intermittent trots, lopes and canters.
We’ll also ride at dusk to work up an appetite for an Alberta beef dinner of tenderloin steak, baked beans and raspberry cheesecake at the ranch house.
That outing features a herd of Cannemara ponies at the neighbouring farm rushing to the fence to greet us as we trot by.
Rocking R offers guest ranch accommodations and horseback riding year-round and it’s also a wedding venue.
“Everyone wants a piece of our cowboy culture,” says Terri.
“Most of the people that stay here also want to ride, be it a beginner outing of one hour, an all-day ride in the Badlands or a multi-day trip into the Rocky Mountains.”
Bed-and-breakfast cabin accommodation starts at $249 a night and riding starts at $45 an hour.
Check out Booking.com, RockingRGuestRanch.com and CanadianBadlands.com.