In my head I called my horse The Black Stallion, even though his name was Sisco and he was a gelding. Small details. He gamely followed the portly horse in front of him, who kept bending down to snatch mouthfuls of grass. Way up ahead in the line of mounted Girl Guides, Avery sat confidently astride Princess, beaming with pride when a ranch volunteer told her the
pony horse was one of the most difficult to control.
And so we hit the trail at Griffin Valley Ranch near Cochrane, Alta. during Avery’s final Girl Guide outing from a year that had her troop snow shoeing, knitting, roller skating, playing laser tag, camping in Dinosaur Provincial Park and selling those lesser sandwich cookies. In all, a great year, ending with what all the girls agreed was the best excursion yet: horseback riding.
The ranch is 4,500 acres of scenic meadows, rolling hills and forests. It’s also one of the only places in Canada where you can do unguided trail rides — that is, hire a horse and trot around the ranch on your own if you’re a decent rider. That was always my dream as an equine-obsessed child and, in fact, my home in Evergreen, Colo. had a stable that actually let kids gallop around trails on their own. My mom used to drop me off at Joe’s Stables with my friend Deirdre when we were 11 or 12. We’d run our horses (no helmets) until they lathered and then let them cool down by drinking giardia water from Cub Creek. Ah, the good old days.
I’m sure Avery would have loved to have galloped or even trotted, a la Costa Rica, but since many of the Girl Guides had never before been on a horse, our guided group stuck with a plodding, single-file walk for the duration of the one-hour ride. Also, about four volunteer riders (all teenage girls, naturally) escorted us and kept Sisco from kicking the newer, younger horses.
It was a great day that not only transported me back to the heady summer days of my free-range horseback-riding youth, but one that nurtured every Girl Guide’s dream of horseback riding A LOT more than once a year. In fact, it was the kind of day that’s a gateway to falling down the rabbit hole of horse lessons and, eventually, horse ownership. Because on the car ride home Avery and her two friends casually mentioned that Griffin Valley Ranch runs horse camps all summer. #Doh