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Photo by Keith Ilavsky
As I carry the western saddle out of the barn, the first memory I have of horseback riding comes back to haunt me. It’s 1994 and I’m at summer camp, bouncing up and down on the saddle of a horse, when suddenly I find myself flying into the air and landing in a pile of cow dung. The horse behind bit my horse’s rear and I was bucked from the saddle like a pebble from a slingshot.
A few years later I find myself horseback riding with some friends for a birthday party. I only remember being afraid that the first experience would occur again.
And so Lindsay Snea of Alpine Enthusiasts—a Fernie trail riding business—has paired me with a horse that works with ‘nervous riders’. Keeta is 22 and Lindsay assures me she does not buck. As I saddle up and pull myself onto her back, I realize that I’m about to face a deep and unacknowledged fear.
For the first few moments, as Lindsay teaches me the proper way to hold the reigns, the nerves fizzle inside my chest, but I take some deep breathes. And then, as we meander into protected forest just north of Hosmer, the nerves sort of disappear.
Lindsay and her guide, Keith Ilavsky, are leading us on a two-hour excursion through the Beaver Pond trail, which meanders through forest and across mellow streams. Keeta is third in line behind Tucson and Apache and in front of Rocky. Soon we stop for a few minutes when Apache—who carries my friend on his back—lifts his tail and lets out a rather substantial and pungent fart. Keeta, whose head is directly behind Apache’s rear, leans to one side in disgust.
I soon share that disgust with her.
“The kids in the summer do nothing but laugh,” says Lindsay, referring to the recent bout of flatulence.
We continue on through streams and between thick bushes before we reach the beaver pond. A mighty dam has pooled the water and in the centre of the pond is a beaver lodge.
A bald eagle sits and watches us in a tree above. The horses relax and eat the fresh shoots of grass as we take some photographs and I realize that I had no idea any of this existed beyond the highway.
Not long after we reach the Elk River and the horses begin to trot in excitement. I’m not sure what to do as I bounce high and low on Keeta’s back and so I hold the reigns and enjoy. The horses seem delighted to trot in unison, and despite the slight pain in my tailbone, trotting reminds me of being young and bouncing on my father’s knee, pretending to ride a horse (this memory does not haunt me).
Proctor and Hosmer Mountains tower above us across the river as we continue on, heading back towards the trailhead. Alpine Enthusiasts have a range of clients from young to old, and some return on a yearly basis. It’s no wonder they do; the surrounding mountains are incredible—still snow-covered and towering—the air is fresh, the horses are strong and the company is exceptional.
After learning that the horses eat 20 pounds of hay and grass a day (half a bale), Lindsay tells me that sometimes even she can’t believe this is her job.
“I get to work around horses every day,” she says. “I love the happiness and smiles I get to experience with my clients after a ride.” Lindsay worked for Alpine Enthusiasts for seven years with Rick and Shari Gris before taking over the business in October 2010. She credits the Gris’ for being supportive and helpful, and says that they are like parents away from home.
We arrive back and I dismount from Keeta. There’s no ignoring the stiffness in my body, but I can’t help but feel like Keeta—a sassy but patient character—and I have bonded in the last two hours. I’m not afraid of her, but more disappointed that our trail riding has come to an end.
She neighs apathetically and eats some grass. I go home and realize I’m no longer afraid to horseback ride.