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December 2017
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Rockies pt 4 – Three Bars Ranch

What can I say…it was simply awesome. Never before have we all come away from a holiday with tears in our eyes. It was simply magical and an experience we shall never forget.

The Balmer Posse

To give some context, the idea was first mooted about a year ago, when I was talking with Max about ideal holidays. One suggestion was cattle ranching mixed with white water rafting – I know it was City Slickers all over again but what’s wrong with that. It was not helped by the fact that City Slickers was rerun a number of times on TV throughout the year. Slowly the idea evolved and when Jo hurt her knee curling back in January, it seemed that a 3 or 4 day trip on horses through the Rockies might be a way of getting us off the beaten track, into the mountains, and closer to big nature! So the idea festered and grew, and a few options were looked at. One involved camping, complete with electric fence around the campsite to stop the grizzlies! And then we found Three Bars Ranch on the web, and it looked idyllic.

After the long drive from Banff, we arrived and weren’t disappointed. We felt like we were quickly welcomed into a family, and relaxation could begin. Now it is fair to say that four days on a horse was not Jo’s idea of a good holiday, but she went with the flow for a while and… you’ll have to read on.

A river crossing on the Candy Trail

The food was awesome, homely and tasty, just want you needed after a day in the saddle. It was a wonderful break from hotel/restaurant food, and even better that Esther cooked it for all the guests and staff. Each day she went through the menu with Jo, so she knew what she could and couldn’t eat, even preparing special meals for Jo when there was no other real option. Thank you Esther!

 The first morning, we met our horses for the week: Sophie had Trigger, Millie – 402, Jo – Casper, and Doug – Thumper. Now Trigger and 402 were famous movie stars, having starred with Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven, how cool is that! But Trigger had another talent as well.

The first day we rode in both the morning and afternoon, visiting the Point and the St Mary’s river. Each ride was a couple of hours long with a break in the middle. The rides were guided by one or two of the Wranglers, along narrow paths through the woods, or along trails in the ranch. The girls had a lot of fun with Don – the oldest, most handsome Wrangler at the Ranch. Jo was pleasantly surprised that she enjoyed the riding, but decided that two rides a day might be a bit hard on her knee. A friendly game of volleyball, rounded off a great day.

Rafting at 3 Bars

We quickly learnt that Trigger could be known by another name – ‘Farty’. Everytime he went uphill or downhill, he released a huge fart, much to the amusement of the girls and Don. The internal workings of a horse proved a source of hilarity for the whole of our time at the Ranch. 

Tuesday saw us ride in the morning before the girls and I went white water rafting in the afternoon, or perhaps white water soaking. The river was quite low and so it was really just a big water fight all the way down, interspersed with some easy rapids – awesome!

In the evening, Jess gave a demonstration of ‘reining’, which we learnt was the western version of dressage (English style). With apparently no effort, he performed wonders with the horse he was riding. He explained how he could effectively split the horse into three parts, the head and neck, the rib cage, and the back legs – and then control each of them independently. One of the trademark reining skills was putting the horse into reverse – the back legs sliding to a stop and backpeddling and then turning through 180 degrees, almost in one movement, in a cloud of dust. Even with our limited knowledge of horses, it was fascinating to listen to and learn about.

Jess giving a Reining Demo

One of the truely magical times, was the chance to go for a run through the woods early in the morning, or to get up and watch the sun rise. Seeing the sun rise over the distant mountains, the dusts rise in the corral as the horses were brought in, seeing the deer grazing behind our cabin – with only the sounds of nature as a backdrop. It is as close to heaven as you’ll find on earth in my opinion.

Wednesday, we rode out to our breakfast, all set out in the woods for us to enjoy, before we went bushwacking with Don and Anna. Jo and the girls had a lazy afternoon, whilst I rode again in the afternoon, made all the more enjoyable by the fantastic weather we were having. That evening, the girls enjoyed ‘Fire Engine Games’. The ranch had its own fire engine, and so after a fun relay, getting dressed up in oversized waterproofs, they then tried to knock down some chairs with the fire hose. Then the big fire hose was connected, and all the kids enjoyed a huge soaking by Tyler. How cool is it to have you’re own fire engine?!

Fire Engine Games

Our time was coming to an end far too quickly, as we set off for our ride on Thursday morning. We all trotted and the girls enjoyed their last ride before going tubing in the afternoon. I took the opportunity to ride again in the afternoon, going out for a longer ride with some of the others. I’m glad I did, because it was a wonderful ride, where I loped (cantered) for the first time – “just hold on” so I did – lots of fun. Thursday ended with a campfire. I tried to introduce a few songs the girls knew like  “Tarzan, went swinging on a rubber band”, but the really magical part to the evening was listening to some old cowboy campfire songs. Mark sang a wonderful version of Coyotes by Don Edwards amongst many other songs.

Friday arrived, and none of us wanted to leave, all of us had tears in our eyes, the thought of heading back to the real world was all too painful. Jo was missing the horses and the riding as much as the rest of us. So after breakfast, we went to see the horses for one last time, before loading the car and heading back to the rest of our lives…and whatever that might bring.

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