Get other people hooked on riding? I’m game.
Anytime someone who hasn’t ridden horses before (or in a long time) suggests they’re interested in giving it a try, I’m more than happy to sign up a potential new enthusiast. Most of the time, they’re referring to trail riding Western-style rather than an introductory lesson in an English saddle, and that’s fine with me
Frankly, Western trail ride is a good place to start – especially if you have any trepidation about horses.
So, when a friend and her teenage daughter told me they wanted hit the trail a la equine, I booked us a one-hour starter ride at a Big Creek Stable in Brant County, Ontario where I’d ridden before. I was reasonably confident we’d have a calm relaxing first experience and that’s essentially what happened. Essentially.
Owner Lyn Hellyer runs a tight ship her way at Big Creek Stables, and I knew that before arriving at our 11:30 am time slot to watch the horses get tacked up.
About a dozen young workers scurrying about, saddling up mounts and getting riders organized. The introductory ‘class’ is advice about using reins, but these horses nose-to-tail ride so often they need little steering. Only around a mud pit do they veer a bit off course.
When I rode here before, I signed up for the two-hour ride that took us walking and trotting off the stable property, along the gravel road and into wooded trails used by a nearby Hunt Club.
This morning, we stick to Hellyer’s property and travel the well-worn trails edging the 40-acres of hay fields, used to feed the 25 horses here. Most are for trail riding, some are for Western and English lessons and other horses are pasture boarders because Big Creek Stables offers that service too.
This is the place where I rode my first Standardbred, Spartan, and experienced the bounciest trot of my riding life.
Today, it was my friend’s turn. Originally offered a quiet (they are all quiet) Quarter Horse, she traded with her 16-year-old daughter who thought the Standardbred was ‘too big.’ When we trotted for a very (very) short time, she regretted her decision to trade horses.
“I thought I was flying out of the saddle,” she said later, confessing she’d had reservations about the entire riding idea. Yet, she assures me she’d do it again … we’ll see.
(Note: bigger horses are usually the most calm. So say yes to the big one. Check out the time I rode a Belgian couch).
I told her daughter on the trail it’s ok to grab the horn the saddle of you need to. She said, “I haven’t let go of it since we left the barn.”
I rode Classy the thoroughbred and it was a first for me. Not the thoroughbred part, of course, but the fact she was fitted with a cross-country saddle that Hellyer suggested I try. A more substantial saddle than the all-purpose English one I’m accustom to in lessons, it had a deeper seat and knee rolls to keep your legs back (which I need).
The result? One of the most comfortable trail rides ever. No horn of the Western Saddle, which I can do without, yet it had more balance assistance than traditional English saddles.
Now I understand how English riders endure the cross-country all terrain long distance rides. I’m game for this again, even if my instructor says cross-country saddles are too heavy.
Classy proved to be worthy of her name, and had a smooth trot to boot – the grass reins keeping her head from reaching the ground might have helped her manners too.
Overall, it was a relaxing one-hour stroll along grassy fields, under electrical towers, briefly through the woods and past pastoral picture-perfect vignettes of other horses (including minis) grazing. One hour, plus tack up and after ride pics, was just long enough to work up a hankering for a cowboy-appropriate chili lunch in town (Caledonia, about 10 minutes away).
TRAVEL GUIDE: Technically in Brant County, Ontario, Big Creek Stables is near Caledonia a small town part of Haldimand County. (The stable had horses at the Caledonia Canada Day Festival – see dogtrotting.net).
The Grand River is the draw in the area, mostly for fishing but also boating and Harrison Landing along Highway 54 is a popular launch site. If you don’t have your own boat, Grand River Dinner Cruises (operating May to October), not far from Big Creek, takes people out for lunch or dinner tours. Really fun is the Creepy Caledonia Ghost Tour (see post on dogtrotting.net) walks about the town several weekends each year from August to October.