A visit to Ottawa, the capital of Canada, doesn’t usually include horses, unless you’re headed to the RCMP stables where the musical ride practices (though in the summer it’s on tour). Yet, there are a number of riding outlets not far from the city and that’s primarily because Ottawa, situated along the Rideau Canal and Ottawa River is scenic, surrounded by miles of rural land and prime outdoor country. Overlook the winters and you’ve got the Portland, Oregon of Canada … sort of.
Spend the evenings at a downtown Ottawa pub (there are plenty), then watch the weekend fireworks and/or light show on the Parliament Buildings (during the summer). But in the afternoon, drive 30 to 45 minutes to experience a view of the lush summer or fall landscape – hills, streams, farmland and forest – from the back of a five-year-old Arab thoroughbred cross … which is exactly what I did.
Captiva Riding Farms, located in Wakefield, Quebec, 30-minutes outside of Ottawa, recently underwent an ownership change, but only after 32-years of steady operation. Fifty horses have made these 400-plus acres their home, until last year when the farm bought ten more horses from a nearby stable, closed due to retirement.
Many of the Captiva horses, including Freya (the second time I’ve ridden a horse with that name), have been born here sired by any of the thoroughbred stallions on the farm. Originally, this was a thoroughbred breeding farm before it became a trail riding facility more than three decades ago, according to our young guide Isabella, who’s taking us on an ‘advanced’ ride that includes trotting through the hills and fields that make up this expansive property. (I passed on cantering based on the energy of my green mount).
The land around here is largely undeveloped – homes are built on the side of the hills under dense canopies of leaves. In the distance, we can see small ski hills; around us are fields and rock trails (some a little steep) cutting through the forest. Rich foliage covers the rolling hills of Wakefield, thanks the Gatineau River that meanders through the valley providing lakefront for homes and cottages and a passageway for recreational water vehicles.
Wakefield is a picturesque hamlet, anchored by the Wakefield Mill and Spa Inn. It’s the kind of town that makes an ideal backdrop for romantic rural weddings. Gift stores (including one dedicated to cats and dogs) line about three blocks of the road along the water, sharing space with many independent restaurants once serviced by a private steam train transporting people from Hull and Ottawa to the door of lakeside restaurants, only a few years ago. (There are plans to resurrect the train if the funding can be found to repair the washed out rail line or turn it into a bike path; however, the drive to Wakefield mainly along Highway 5 is easy).
Back on the farm, after a breakfast of homemade potato latkes, smoked salmon and fruit, at Wakefields’ Pot Au Feu along the river, I’m waiting for our afternoon trail ride to start so I visit the small ‘petting zoo’ of a couple of alpacas, a goat and some bunnies that participate in children’s birthday parties hosted here. To the public, one- or two-hour trail rides are offered. The property is big enough that on the two-hour ride you never see the same view twice, according to Isabella, who is now working here full-time after three summers of volunteering. The staff members are young, but well-managed. The horses are friendly with each other, a benefit of being part of a life-long herd.
A half-hour lesson is available, and recommended, before a ride. In fact, it’s mandatory for those less than 17 years old. Summer weekends are the busiest time, yet the farm accommodated our ride of two taking us away from the nose to tail experience and making it just a little more spunky. Winter rides are also available, though sleigh rides at that time are more popular. Colour changes of fall would be spectacular, so maybe I’ll make this my three-season destination … or dream of it anyway.