Horseback Riding – For the very first time

Riding a horse has been on my life list for quite a while.

Actually, initially it was “Ride a hose” but obviously that was simply a misspelling. Horse was what I meant and when I arrived in Calgary, it seemed like a perfect place to have such an experience!  Riding a horse that is, not a hose. Just to clarify.

And it was awesome!!!

Sarah and I spent some time looking for a good place to book a ride and eventually we came across Moose Mountain Horseback Riding, a place where we could book an hour and a half ride into the foothills of the Rockies.  Not only was their website easy to navigate, but when I called, the woman who answered was incredibly friendly and helpful. After a number of annoying websites and unhelpful contacts, she was exactly what we were looking for and I booked our riding adventure on the spot!

Bragg Creek is a beautiful location! It was raining and quite wet when we arrived but rather than let it bring us down, we decided to embrace the rain!

The main cabin

We were grouped with two other people, a mother and daughter team, whose skill level matched mine pretty well. The mother had ridden before but was a beginner and her daughter was on par with me, the two of us having no previous experience.

Well, except for my ability to point and confidently say “THAT is a horse.” I could do that pretty well.

First thing we had to do? Pick our helmets!  We were already so excited that even helmet picking was fun! Otherwise, we’d come dressed appropriately. I think I reread their list of TO-WEAR a dozen times to ensure that I would be comfortable and ready to ride.

Once we were helmeted up, it was time to meet the horses.   Our guide, Justine, was awesome.  Very open to questions and understanding when we hesitated and needed an extra minute or two to work up our courage.

She introduce me to Emile, while Sarah got to meet Fury.

When we heard the names of our partnered horses, I think Sarah said something like, “Um, pardon? Fury?”

I would have said the same thing! Justine was very encouraging, however, and told us that Fury was a very understanding, experienced and docile horse.

Sarah and Fury became fast friends…had some good times, some laughs….

Sarah and Fury, two peas in a pod!

My partner, Emile, was laid back and cool.

Emile, just chilling 🙂

Unlike me.
I found myself much more hesitant than I expected.
When I tried taking a “Whee! About to ride a horse!” picture…I got this instead….

Um..yaay horseback riding?

Lucky for me, Emile was very experienced dealing with newbies such as myself and didn’t seem to mind my awkwardness as I fumbled with the saddle and tried to tell my feet where to go.

I’m sure at this point Emile was thinking, “Just get up there already!”

 

He also obviously was used to dealing with silly laugh-out-loud Fury!

 

I love how Emile is just standing there, practically rolling his eyes! Hehe!

We headed out into the foothills after a short introduction to riding: how to direct our horse, how to sit, how to speed up, slow down…the usual stuff.
Of course, our horses were very much used to following each other in a line, as this is pretty much what they do all the time, so hard braking wasn’t really needed.

Emile and I were last in the line-up.  I found my groove soon after we set out…relaxing my body, loosening my hips as I had been instructed and allowing myself to move with the horse. It was the most amazing feeling to be moving in tandem with such a large animal who seemed to respect that I was on his back and didn’t necessarily know what the hell I was doing.

He also took advantage of that fact, stopping to eat….often. 😉
Justine would look back to see us and instruct me to “Let him know who’s boss.” “Don’t let him eat…hold the reins and be in control.” I tried. I really did. I’d prep myself for his next snack and grasp the reins well. Then Emile would see a nice patch of greens, lean down to eat and practically pull me up on to his neck as I tried to stop him.

I was the boss? Suuuuuure. Tell Emile that. 😉

Riding a horse through the woods was one of the most amazing experiences. I felt at one with the rolling hills and meadows.  Rather than traipsing through the trees, cracking branches and making typical obnoxious human noises, we practically glided through the woods. We belonged there. The forest  welcomed us.

I really began to feel this way when we walked across a meadow and passed three young bucks and a doe. They watched us, we watched them, and then we both went about our business.

A blurry picture of the deer in question.

The most amazing experience for me, however, was when Emile spotted something in the woods and stopped in his tracks. He pricked his ears forward and gazed intently to the left. Everyone else continued on, unaware that we had paused.

I followed Emile’s gaze and saw a large brown, hairy butt half hidden behind some undergrowth . It moved. I immediately thought “Bear!” Or it might have been “Bear butt!”
I lightly tried calling Sarah, who was a little ways ahead and at that moment, the animal turned and looked at us. A young moose, as curious as Emile, stared at us for a moment, decided that our presence was acceptable and headed off into the bush.

Wow. Amazing. Mind-blowing. Holy shit! What do you say when you meet an inhabitant in whose world you are the trespasser? I gave him a silent nod of respect and we continued on our way.

 

It was an amazing ride that was over much too soon! It whet my appetite for riding , however, and I look forward to going again.  Now I just have to find some place close to Toronto where I can gain experience points.
Moose Mountain offers all sorts of riding adventures, including an 8-day ride that I would LOVE to do one day! When we arrived, there was a group of about 8 people heading out with a guide. They had necessities with them and a vehicle with camping equipment etc was going to meet them at each stopping point during their week-long adventure. So jealous!

Upon arrival back at the ranch, we were given as much time as we wanted to say goodbye to our horses, so Sarah and I spent some time just hanging out with them and taking pictures.

Emile and I saying goodbye

Then we changed out of our wet clothes and ran through the rain to the car!

Asshats!

So, how do you finish off a lovely afternoon of horseback riding? You go to a pub in Bragg Creek that has swinging saloon doors!

I’ll be back Bragg Creek. Count on it!

 

 

 

 

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Proof that Pink is my nemesis! (Otherwise known as “Bouldering in Calgary”)

A shot of the bouldering area in Stronghold, Calgary.

While I was in Calgary, I experienced a lot of firsts! Bouldering was one of them!

One morning, Sarah suggested we get some exercise by going bouldering. Both her and her husband had the shoes and the chalk, and luckily my big feet fit into his shoes 😉 so we decided to try it and headed off to Stronghold.

I admit the name “Bouldering” had me imagining us crawling over huge rocks, as though on a rocky beach…goat-like jumping from one to other…which suited this Capricorn! Until we arrived, I had no idea that bouldering was effectively rock-climbing without the height or the harness.  Not sure I would ever attempt it out-of-doors without a crash mat, but indoors, it was a lot of fun!

Sarah explained the wall layout, which made me go “huh?” So she had to actually climb a bit and show me how to “boulder” it up! 🙂

Sarah on our first wall showing me how it’s done!

And then, it was my turn!

Oh yeah, I’m so excited!

Like this?

Wheee! Getting my groove on!

The ultimate let-down…where do I go from here?

The first wall I conquered was about 12 to 15 feet across.  Took me a number of tries but I finally figured out the steps and my muscles finally stopped being stubborn and started doing what I was telling them to do.

Conquering my first wall!

The first wall was monumental.  Not only was it a strange thing to try to do, climb a wall and keep your body close to it, but you also have to figure out where to put your feet while predicting  your next step or two ahead. It was challenging. Mentally and physically. But I LOVED it!

That’s right! That wall can bite me! I win!

Feeling pretty good about myself, we moved on to the next wall.

FYI….Um, when you add a bit of an outward angle to a climbing wall, it makes the whole thing HARDER!

Angle Shm-angle! I can do this!

Getting harder as the angle gets a little steeper

Fail.

 

Nope…tried a few more times and the angled wall was beyond me!

I was surprised at how much sweating I did in the first half hour of climbing.  It’s a great workout!  Legs, arms and core…the angled walls kicked my ass but I still loved the challenge!

Sarah also attempted the angled wall….

Woot! Getting there!

And as with me…the angle won.  Stupid angle!

But, also like me, Sarah loved the challenge of attempting to conquer it!

Aaaaand, we identified the actual stone causing all the problems!  (Yes, you can blame failure on a stone.  It works…makes you feel much better…trust me. 😉 )

After we each attempted the wall a few times, we realized that as soon as we were in line with the ying-yang stone below, we would fall.  Evil, I say!  And it’s pink too!

The EVIL stone of EVIL

Any time we got close to passing by this stone, it would use its negative pink energy to send up flying!  Okay, so we’d just sort of *floomp* to the floor…but still!

Sarah just before a burst of ying-yang-pink-stone-negative-floomp-energy!

So to all of you who laugh at me due to my pink allergy…pay attention!  Pink.is.evil.  Pink!  You are my nemesis!  And when I return to Calgary, I will clamber past you and laugh the entire way!  Thus, the gauntlet has been thrown down!

Next time I will beat you! Next time!

I was sore the next day, it’s true. But it was a good sore!  My body telling me that climbing was a great workout and that I should consider doing more of it!  I took that time to research climbing gyms near our new apartment in Toronto and found a bouldering-focused gym only two subway stops away: Boulderz Climbing Centre!  Will definitely be checking that out when I return!

Overall? Bouldering….loved it! Recommend it!

Just don’t plan on doing much with your arms the next day! 😉

 

 

Visiting the Royal Winter Agricultural Fair

One of the common responses I’ve been hearing each time I tell someone that I recently went to Toronto’s Royal Winter Agricultural Fair is “Wow,  I haven’t been to that since I was a kid!”  I can see why families would go and take their children…these days, in the big city, that’s pretty much the only way to expose them to farm animals and agriculture…but there’s something for everyone and I had a really good time wandering around the site.

There were huge sections dedicated solely to sheep, cows and horses. In the cow portion of the fair, we watched as people did their best to catch waste from the bovines in buckets  as it appeared. Lesson learned.  Next time you feel the need to complain about your job, just remember that it could be worse.  Somewhere, there’s a person whose job is to catch cow pee in a big white bucket.

We passed by some two-month-old calves and I expressed to desire to pat one.  Ben suggested I scratch a little one behind its ears and the calf loved it!  So cute…bunting my hand just like my cats at home.

I unfortunately didn’t get pictures of everything….but I managed to capture some highlights of the experience 🙂

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There were many, many more vendors and craft booths than I expected, and not all of them were focused on farming, animal care and riding (although many were serving those demographics).   There were dozens of food booths including yummy cheese companies, cultural foods such as Thai and Indian cuisine, and the notorious Apple Dumpling booth that I didn’t get to visit.  I tried my very first bison burger and I have to say it was yummy and filling!

Other interesting notable food related booths that I feel the need to mention are the Boreal Birch Syrup booth and the Muskoka Lakes Winery booth.

The birch syrup was an interesting product.  Not as thick as maple syrup and not very sweet at all, it was described as having a sort of prune taste.  I know, doesn’t sound all that appetizing, but that really doesn’t do justice to the complexity of the flavour.  The man behind the counter said it worked well as a glaze on vegetables etc and as soon as he said that, I had to agree.  It would be delicious on steamed veg.  They have some recipes on their site and now I wish I had bought a bottle.  There is a store in Toronto that carried it and as well, they apparently deliver! 😀

The Muskoka Lakes Winery I mention because I absolutely love their wines!  They carry a large variety of cranberry wines and among my favourites are their Cranberry-Blueberry and their White Cranberry wines.  I also presently own a bottle of both their Raspberry-Cranberry and their Maple-Cranberry dessert wines that are just waiting for the right moment to be opened.  Some friends and I discovered the winery by chance when we were spending the weekend in Bala almost two years ago, it’s an awesome place to visit, not only for good wine, but also for lovely hiking trails and an interesting/educational view of the cranberry fields.  Sadly, I’m finding it harder and harder to find their wines at the LCBOs that I pass on a daily basis.  Trip to Bala anyone? 🙂

Lastly, I want to mention the lovely woman I met at the Gateway Fibreworks yarn booth.  We had an interesting discussion about wool.  Unlike alpaca wool that is generally lanolin and chemical free, sheep wool naturally contains lanolin and goes through a number of chemical treatments.  It was suggested that most reactions are due to the chemicals, not necessarily the wool.  We had the chance to truly test this as a friend who was on site with me is extremely allergic to wool.  Just a touch causes her to break out.  After this conversation, she purposely rubbed the back of her hand on a few different alpaca wool samples and as far as I know, she hasn’t noticed a reaction.

I too am sensitive to wool, although it pretty much just makes me itchy, and I found alpaca wool to be softer to the touch that sheep wool.  Perhaps that will be my next crocheting yarn purchase! 😀

Anyway, the Winter Fair was fun and isn’t only for kids.  At one point, Ben took the time to sit with an employee who was surveying people on site about their experience.  She commented that the 25-35 age group, our age group, seems to be the least represented in their attendance and asked us for suggestions to draw in those individuals.  We both responded that an 18yrs+ day could work 😛 but also helpful is reading a blog entry about a great experience…and so I have done.

Snowshoer Extraordinaire!

One more item scratched off my Life List!

This past weekend, I finally got to try snowshoeing!  Sort of.

We went to Crawford Lake, which is north of Burlington, Ontario.  It’s a lovely place to go hiking, summer or winter and contains a lot of history.  The remains of 10 Iroquois Longhouses were discovered on the site (among thousands of other artifacts) and, as a result, there is now a reconstructed 15th century Iroquois village on site for visitors to explore.  Definitely worth the trip!

I admit, I was hoping for traditional snowshoes…the kind that I imagined would cause me to walk bowl-legged the next day. *grin*

Instead, we rented these:

They were easy to get used to, not as wide as I had expected, and a good introduction to snowshoeing…but I tested them in snow drifts and they didn’t allow me to walk on the snow.  The woman behind the counter had told us that proper snowshoes would be fitted to a person dependent on weight and that our rentals were more of an ‘all-purpose’ snowshoe.

So, I admit I was a little disappointed, but it was still a great experience.  And once we started walking down unbroken trails and carving our own paths, we really started to feel the burn.  Good exercise and a good time was had!  Not to mention we got to take some pics and practice our snowshoe ballet!

As a last reason to go to Crawford Lake (and really, like you need more of a reason!), it’s definitely worth mentioning that the snowshoe rentals were only $12!

  • Conservation Halton’s Website on Crawford Lake – Click Here
  • Wikipedia’s Crawford Lake entry – Click here

For more pics, click here!