I think a year or so ago if anyone ever told me I'd ride a horse, I'd have said you were mistaken. I don't know if being a city girl it just didn't appeal to me or if it was just that I was too nervous to trust an animal to carry me. Plus, I was never one of those little girls who grew up fantasizing about having a pony, though I had friends with pictures of horses plastered on their bedroom walls and never quite understood. My only real exposure to horses was as a counselor-in-training at a youth camp where my rotation in the horse barn never consisted of riding, like I thought, but cleaning up manure while everyone else went off trail riding. Maybe I resented the horses for having to clean up their bowel movements.
Nonetheless, I now realize that I never really gave these animals or their sport much of a chance, which seems a little unfair (not just to the horses, but also family and an ex-boyfriend I can recall trying to get me on one, as well.)
So this morning with a group of some of the Front Desk agents at Waterton Lakes Lodge, Geoff, Raelene, Adrianna and Tamara, we all drove out to Mountain Meadows Trail Rides, just outside the park, in Mountain View. They graciously invited some of the local staff in the park to come out and take a trail ride to see what they're all about. Located just off the main highway, with a beautiful log cabin and mountain scenery all around, the Nelson Ranch has existed there since 1898. Dan and Terri Nelson and their family oversee this homestead, sharing Western hospitality with their guests. They made us feel really welcome and told us a little bit about their Ranch until a few more people coming on the trail ride and our guides showed up. Then we all went outside to saddle up on our horses.
I was a bit nervous at first, looking off in the distance at where we'd be riding and that I'd be trusting a horse to take me there. Thankfully, I wasn't the only one...about 14 of us total went on the ride together and only one or two girls had ever ridden before, and others were nervous too. I started out on a chocolate coloured horse, named Joe. He was standing off in the distance looking very calm and aloof. I secretly hoped to get him when I first laid eyes on him, hoping I would get a mellowed-out horse. It was just my luck, he turned out to be the horse picked out for me. When I climbed on, he even fell asleep and dozed off as we waited for others to be assigned horses.
So as we left on the trail, it took a minute or two to relax and just let Joe do his thing. The guides we had were really great. They showed us all how to steer and stop our horses and were by your side the moment you felt like you needed help. Joe was pretty slow and we kept to the back of the line as we went out on the trail, but he was even slower behind Geoff on his horse Tucson. Tucson was nibbling away all along the start of the ride, stopping to eat plants and then go to the bathroom and then walking and stopping to eat. I didn't mind at first because it gave me a chance to feel comfortable. I got a bit nervous when suddenly Joe wanted to pick up the pace and got into a fast trot, sprinting after his friends. One of the guides helped to gain control and explained to me that the sudden trotting was normal. Horses are really social animals. They don't like to be left behind of their pack, so they will do whatever they can to stay with the group. "He's not going to suddenly run away with me strapped to him, is he?" I asked feeling a little embarassed. I was assured that was almost a non-occurance and that Joe just wanted to catch up with his friends. Once I got a better balance of myself in the saddle I started to feel a little more comfortable letting him trot with me and didn't try to control things so much.
Half way through, at the lookout point where we stopped, you got an amazing view of Waterton in the distance. One of the other guides said that my horse could at times be difficult with people and wasn't the most obedient. He did have a mind of his own, I'd noticed a few times when I tried to steer away from trees and he still led me to graze the branches just a little. So she let me trade horses with her, and I rode the last half on Dixie. She was supposedly the fastest horse and I was warned that she would want to keep at the front of the pack, so I'd be in for an adventurous ride. However, she can take direction very well and keeps a steady trot, rather than going slow and then picking up a surprisingly fast pace like Joe had.
The rest of the trail, I was surprised how comfortable I felt with Dixie and confident in her. I had a lot of fun, but I was also a little bit glad to see the ranch by the time we got to the end. It was an incredible ride! I would definitely recommend this experience to anyone who wants to explore the Waterton area in a really unique way. I will never forget this trail ride! If you've never done horseback riding before, you can expect to be a bit achy in the bum and the knees after, but it was definitely worth it. -Marie
Mountain Meadows is online: www.mountainmeadowtrailrides.com
If you're in the Waterton area, check it out- -you will have a truly unforgettable experience! We went on an hour and a half ride, but they also offer trail rides for longer periods of time, overnight wilderness horseback adventures, and a western cookout ride that includes a steak dinner at various prices you can check out on their website. Also, if you're a guest at the Waterton Lakes Lodge, Crandell Mountain Lodge or Aspen Village Inn and are thinking of booking a trail ride, talk to a Front Desk agent, they are able to give you a referral that entitles you to a discount.
*Some of these photos were taken by myself and some were taken by Geoff Hodson.*