Twenty-two years ago, I rode a horse named Bear at the Irwin Inn in Lakefield, Ontario. Imagine my surprise when I discovered he was still there.
I was in my late 20’s, working my first real job at an urban weekly magazine writing about the good things in life: art, theatre, film, books, and editing around the clock. It was the best time of my working career (though I didn’t know it), yet I had to get away.
I’d been riding during high school but gave it up to go to university, so I was rusty. I missed it. The first solo trip was to The Irwin Inn, a quiet family resort on the shores of Stoney Lake, because it had something I still look for to this day: horses.
Trail riding is an option here and I took full advantage, hopping on a Paint named Bear, joining the guide for what turned out to be a private tour of the trail around the property. We trotted a little more than usual because I had ‘riding experience.’
I remember hurting more than I should have the next day and can proudly say that doesn’t happen anymore even though I’m now in my 40s. With age, I’ve learned the value of regular workouts, lessons and getting away – as much as possible.
A few weekends ago, I was back in the Peterborough area and on a bus headed to a surprise dinner. “You’ll love this place,” the person organizing the group told me. It’s right on the lake in the Kawarthas. The dining room overlooks the water.
Sure I loved it, as I did 22 years ago. I’ve only eaten in one place in Lakefield, and two decades later, I’ve still only eaten at one place in Lakefield: The Irwin Inn.
I didn’t get to meet the horses that night – they were done for the day – but the manager proudly told me about Bear, a 40-year-old former trail horse that happily spends his days at the barn and short stints in the paddock – a now completely white face keeps him from spending too much time in the sun.
“I think I rode Bear,” I say remembering the strange name for a horse. “Twenty-two years ago.”
“You likely did,” she says. “He was our most popular trail horse.”
After my visit, I received this information from Jennifer Craig, Irwin Inn Manager:
“I was telling Mr Irwin your story – and he remembers many guests first learning to ride on Bear. Dennis looked up his records and Bear will officially be 44-years-old this fall, quite an amazing accomplishment for a horse (or any animal). Bear gets to enjoy the paddocks on his own for a few hours each day – and Dennis took this picture of him today for me to send along to you. Although a little slower, and of course a little whiter around the face, his gentle spirit still delights our guests when they visit the farm.”
I’m going back to the Irwin Inn soon to say hello to Bear one more time (hopefully) then spend the weekend on a deck overlooking a lake, reflecting on how beautiful horses – and animals – make such a simple yet meaningful impact in our worlds.
Travel Guide: The Peterborough and Kawarthas area is primarily an outdoorsy destination boasting excellent birding, paddling, fishing and camping. Also, it claims to have the best butter tarts in Ontario.
Read more about the Peterborough Market at www.dogtrotting.net.
Love this area and want a coffee table book to remember it? Check out Kawarthas Nature. (And just to celebrate the Paint, I have to admit I love this car sticker. It beats stick figure families any day.)