We’re trotting up hill and I’m bouncing out of this Western saddle like popcorn on Nashville summer asphalt. Good thing it’s for a short time, just long enough for the horses to gain momentum up the inclines along this local hunt club trail.
I didn’t know either were here – this trail-riding operator or these trails – and they’re practically in my backyard.
I’m riding at Big Creek Stables at the end of Big Creek gravel road only 15-minutes from my house in Caledonia, Ontario, Canada. Sometimes there’s no place like home.
Now back to that bounce.
The young girls who helped saddle me up (yes, youngins I need a mounting block) didn’t really know what I was riding. “Spartan isn’t an Appaloosa as I was told, is he?” I ask my guide Ashley, sporting shorts and Birkenstock sandals.
“No,” she said, “he’s a Standard-bred.” A dapple-grey Standard-bred.
Ah, that explains the bounce. If you don’t know (and I had to ask earlier this year), Standardbreds who usually harness race have a unique gait – legs on each side move forward together. Most other breeds trot right front/left back forward at the same time. Some, like Ashley, love this speed and motion at a trot. Others, like me, find it rocky especially at a slow trot.
So now, I’ve ridden my first Standardbred.
Add that to a growing list – a Norwegian, a Tennessee Walking Horse, and a Paso Fino – and it’s been an awesome year. I’m gradually working my way through my bucket list of horse rides (which includes all breeds all over the world, so I can’t kick it until I’m done).
Admittedly, Spartan is not my favourite horse of all time and not because of his gait. He looks good lined up and saddled when we arrive at the stable. He walks well and keeps up with the other horses easily without any obnoxious nose-to-tail behavior. In fact, on this trail the horses space nicely walking easily along the farm property, gravel road and hunt trails … with dapple grey Norm (likely a real Appaloosa, slowly bringing up the rear).
No, Spartan rode well but ate constantly …. constantly. He ripped the reigns out of my hands frequently, grasping at bunches of soy and anything – anything – else green in his path. After bending down and yanking branches out of his mouth several times (a bit can cause food to ball up and choke a horse), I gave up mid-ride. (Yes, he won).
It wasn’t my most relaxing ride ever, but I’d do it again. We’d signed up for the two-hour version (and for once, it wasn’t just me.) Five of us (a good number) headed off the Big Creek 80-acre property, down Big Creek Road, along adjacent farm fields (of soy this year) and through the wooded hunt path – so you get a bit of everything – then back down the gravel road giving us a good look at the well-groom cottage estates that line this road. (Who knew I lived close to properties this nice?)
Owner Lyn Hellyer has a good thing going here at Big Creek Stables, albeit a busy thing. Half of the property (40 acres) grows hay, yet that’s not enough to feed all 25 horses she houses here. Most are for trail riding, others are for both Western and English lessons and others are pasture boarding because she offers that service too.
Also, and what might be fun for families is the fenced-in front area with a covered picnic table area, BBQ, above ground pool, jungle gym and trampoline for groups to rent by the hour or afternoon. Today, a kid’s birthday party is happening, but you can also arrange group trail riding and BBQ area rental for eight or more people.
Plus, the youngest Lynn allows kids to ride is six-years-old. Yes, six. “I have good horse,” she tells me.
For the most part, I agree. But I’d put a kid on Norm and a more experienced, Standardbred-loving Western rider on Spartan.
TRAVEL GUIDE: Although technically in Brant County, Ontario, Big Creek Stables is near Caledonia a small town part of Haldimand County. The Grand River is the draw, primarily for fishing but also boating and Harrison Landing along Highway 54 is a popular launch site.
Grand River Dinner Cruises (operating May to October), not far from Big Creek, takes people out for lunch or dinner tours.