Historically, the horse and I, for whatever unknown reason, have been unable to enjoy and appreciate a productive, symbiotic relationship.
The last experience riding a horse was many years ago during one of those impromptu initiatives which seemed like a good idea at the time. Passing a stable offering horseback rides prompted a spontaneous decision to enjoy a short ride. Common sense, evidenced by upscale business attire and dress shoes, had little to do with the decision.
It was immediately apparent the horse did not like me. Perhaps it was my cologne. In spite of instructions on how to steer the horse with the reins, the horse repeatedly wandered off trail into tall shrubbery with thinly-veiled intent to dislodge me from the saddle.
Resolve was consistent until the horse wandered out into the shallow water of pristine beaches along the shore of Lake Ontario near Picton east of Toronto. In 60 cm (2 feet) of water the horse laid down, dumping me in the lake, and then ran away.
Immediately the remainder of the entourage found this to be hysterical entertainment. It took me longer to recognize and appreciate the humor of the event and that was the final horseback ride before today's pending experience. The experience is being approached with eager but guarded anticipation and expectation.
The short walk from the room at David Thompson Resort crosses the highway and follows the road past the stagecoach sign to the main office of McKenzie's stables. Whitegoat Lakes is off to the right and the border of lush forest is punctuated by privately owned horses with their truck and trailer accompaniment. Owners are busy preparing for the day's expedition. At McKenzie's Trails West the buildings, corrals and surrounding grounds are pristine and well-maintained.
The main office is a rustic, wooden building with western flair and a nearby tipi to remind of the roots of this land. Beyond are stables and maintenance buildings with exercise corrals for the horses. There are inexpensive pony rides for children.
Following efficient arrival procedure, I am introduced to my horse whose name is Jack. Jack is very large but seems calm and friendly. With assistance from a small set of stairs, I manage to mount the horse without flinging myself into a humiliating heap on the ground adjacent to the starboard side of Jack.
The guide is a lovely young lady who takes the lead. Mercifully, I am the only rider on this particular morning's tour. Normally there would be several riders. It is against my nature to kick an animal but, with a gentle nudge, Jack takes the initiative to follow the lead horse.
The initial trepidation departs more quickly than expected and within a kilometer or so, the relaxing comfort of the rhythm begins to work it's charm. The body movement dynamics between the horse and myself begin to merge on the ride south over trail through forest.
Leaving the forest provides sweeping views to mountains on the far side of Abraham Lake. A turn right on trail along steep, rocky terrain above the Cline River Valley, heads past spectacular views of 2,865 m (9,400 ft) Sentinel Mountain, accompanied by Elliott Peak, on the far side. The vistas are simply breathtaking. In spite of the steep angles over rocky terrain, Jack is sure footed. Although being substantially higher above the ground, instead of hiking on it, my confidence is good. It is a trust thing.
A short distance west above the valley exposure, the guide leads us back through magnificent forest adjacent to the sheer rock face of Mount Stelfox towering above. There is little opportunity to take photographs and plenty of opportunity to focus on the magnificence of the experience.
The trail north loops around to swing by Whitegoat Lakes. The guide, who has no knowledge of my experience along the shores of Lake Ontario, suggests we take the horses into the lake so they can enjoy a drink. There is a silent moment of indecision but Jack has been solid so in we go. I learn quickly to lean well back to prevent tumbling forward into the water. Jack drinks lake water and munches on marshland grass. It is another good experience before we head back the short distance to the stables.
It is a long distance from the top of Jack to standing on the ground and leg muscles are stretched to maximum but the less-than-graceful dismount is completed without incident. It has been an exhilarating and confidence-building experience.
This experience on horseback is preparation for a future third and possibly final hiking mission into Bighorn Backcountry. There are several trails which can only be achieved by multiple day backpacking missions or on horseback. My days of sleeping on the ground are over.
Horseback will allow me access along the Cline River to Coral Canyon, and the spectacular beauty of Landslide Lake and Lake of the Falls to name only a couple of the virtually endless opportunities.
Today's successful venture will open a litany of future opportunities. Due to planned hiking missions in Kootenay National Park, Jasper National Park and Zion National Park, it may not be possible to return to hiking in David Thompson Country until 2019.
The short hike back to David Thompson Resort is leisurely and joyful on alternate trail. The horseback ride has been a perfect setup for the afternoon's aggressive hiking itinerary which will include Windy Point Ridge and Hoodoo Creek.
Just to clarify, Jack is the one with the longer neck and the pointy ears. Sometimes it is difficult to tell one horse's ass from another.
Until we meet again.
Photographs for this short horse riding excursion at McKenzie's Trails West across the David Thompson Highway (Hwy 11) from David Thompson Resort in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada were taken on Sunday, July 26, 2015.