If you thought the cowboy was dead then take a trip to Alberta in Canada.

I was lucky enough to do just that recently and stayed at Anchor D ranch, about an hour outside Calgary. It’s run by Dewy and Jan Matthews and Dewy looks every bit the sort of cowboy you’d see in a Hollywood movie.

The ranch has around a hundred horses and each morning the wranglers are up early bringing in the herd from the pastures and galloping them into the coral for the day.

Watching the different personalities of the horses is fascinating. There is a very clear hierarchy to the herd. Bug-eyed Pete (one of the least attractive horses I have ever seen!) is the head of the herd. He’s very laid back about it and you’d never guess he was boss – until someone gets out of line, then he’s on them with an iron hoof.

When all the horses arrive at the coral they queue up for water and depending on their position in the herd, depends on when they are allowed to drink.

We spent nearly an hour watching three horses hog the water butt, having had their fill they refused to move, and a long queue formed behind them. But no one dared to push them aside, they waited patiently while the three demonstrated their power.

Holly, a bubbly dynamo of a woman decided that this was unfair and strode into the coral to get the three bullies to move. After lots of shooing and pushing they moved aside, but those waiting in the queue refused to move forward; they knew they hadn’t been given permission yet, so they stayed put. In the end Holly gave up. Eventually the three got bored and moved on and the rest of the herd got their drink.

Being a wrangler is a long day with hard physical work, but according to Shona Duff a straight talking Glaswegian with a love and deep understanding of horses, she’s never had it so good. For Shona, now a Canadian resident with no plans to return home, the lifestyle in Canada and the rugged beauty give her a work-life balance that’s easy to envy.

Anchor D offers a variety of riding experiences, from a short two-hour ride into
Kananaskis Country to a longer week long trip into the Canadian Rockies with a covered wagon.

“Over the Edge” is ride that’s not for the faint hearted. It was a wet day and I was kitted out with cowboy hat and slickers (the big coats that keep both you and the horse’s bottom dry!) and with my camera fixed firmly in a saddle bag we set off in a small group, riding our sturdy quarter horses up into the foothills.

All I could see was rolling hills and greenery – not a building or road in site. After a couple of hours of climbing we were perched high above a rushing creek on a hill with such steep sides it looked as though getting down would be impossible. Now it was time to go “over the edge”.

The key on a trail that steep is to let the horse have its head, lean back in the saddle as far as you can go and pray. So that’s what I did. The horse, of course, doesn’t want to fall any more than you do, so with a surprising surefootedness it weaves its way down and out into the rushing water. Due to an unseasonably wet summer the water was deeper and faster than we had expected. Carefully we made our way up river, being sure to keep the horses side-on to the torrent so they wouldn’t get knocked off their feet. The water kept rising until it was half way up my calves and lapping at the horse’s belly.

It was a ride that I’ll never forget on a trip that will stay with me a long time.
I found spending time around horses and riding out into stunning countryside where I didn’t see another person all day was a truly reviving experience. I may only have spent four days at Anchor D but my mind felt as though it had spent a month on retreat.

Alberta is a stunning province and if you like fresh air, scenery and being close to nature then you can’t beat it. It’s also interesting economically as the Oil Sands in the north are bringing massive wealth (and unfortunately environmental damage too) to the area. House prices in Calgary have shot up as more and more people arrive for the oil rush. So if you like your creature comforts Calgary caters for that too.

You can hear interviews from the ranch in Alberta on this site. Type Canada into the search box at the top right of this site.

About the Author: Chantal Cooke is a professional journalist, author and co-founder of PASSION for the PLANET
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