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Published: Saturday November 23, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Saturday November 23, 2013 MYT 8:04:41 AM

Horseback riding across the Canadian countryside

Lovely morning ride: Horseback riding across the Canadian countryside during autumn can be a truly amazing experience.

Lovely morning ride: Horseback riding across the Canadian countryside during autumn can be a truly amazing experience.

A Malaysian girl shares her horseback riding experiences: when she was a teenager, and also more recently, in Canada.

GIDDY Up!” The ranch hand yelled, and we set off across the trails. I was 13. It was my first time freeform horseback riding, ie: without someone else holding the reins, and after just five minutes of intructions on how to handle the horse.

This was during a school trip and my teacher had brought about 10 of us students to a farm on the outskirts of Hamilton, Ontario, in Canada, where I was in high school. Most of us teenagers (at that time) had never ever ridden a horse before. A school bus brought us and our teacher to the farm early in the morning and we were asked to form a line while waiting for the horses to be brought out. Slightly apprehensive and not knowing what to expect, I was at the back of the line ... trying to hide.

The ranch hand brought out the first horse, and it was a huge black stallion. He called out, “Now, who’ll take this boy? He’ll only take a girl rider.” My classmates in front of me shuffled their feet and looked at one another uneasily. No one was keen to take the first horse. We could all see that he was a feisty one, his nostrils were flaring.

All saddled up: The writer on her horse, Billy-Ray, all ready for her ride.
The writer on her horse, Billy-Ray, all ready for her ride.

Seeing as there were no volunteers, the ranch hand pointed at me and said, “You! You’ll take this one!” Everyone turned and looked at me. My feet felt heavy as I walked to the front. Being Asian, I was the tiniest amongst my classmates. And the horse appeared gigantic to me!

When all of us had gotten on our horses, the ranch hand told us that the British style of horseback riding uses two hands to hold and control the horse’s reins, while the American style uses only one hand.

That day, we used the American style. With the reins in your right (or left, if you’re lefthanded) hand, to make the horse turn right, pull the reins to the left, clockwise, away from the body, so that its head would turn right, and rest of the horse would follow suit.

Likewise, to make the horse turn left, pull the reins to the right, anti-clockwise, away from the body, to make its head turn left. To make the horse stop, pull back on the reins. But, pull them back too hard, and it would make the horse move backwards, in reverse! We were then riding off into the open countryside. There were no manmade trails through the countryside, although through time, the horses’ hooves had hewn some semblance of a trail, which we followed. Our teacher was on the horse in front, and the ranch hand was at the back.

Horses at the ranch.
Horses at the ranch in Oakville, in Ontario, Canada.

My best friend had gotten an extremely greedy mare that kept stopping to feed on wild grass and almost got left behind. As for my own feisty stallion, he kept running ahead of everyone else, and though I tried hard to pull back on the reins, he kept on going. He started to gallop and picked up speed. Next to the open countryside, there was a highway, and he headed straight for it!

The ranch hand galloped after me, yelling, “Pull back! Pull back!” But, no matter how hard I pulled on his reins, the feisty fellow kept running ... until he almost reached the highway. And then, he swerved and headed inwards, back into the open countryside, and slowed down to a trot. When the ranch hand caught up with us, I got an earful! Fortunately, my teacher saw the funny side of things and said that the horse was only “teasing” me.

Since then, I’d gone horseback riding a few times, twice in Canada, once in Australia, and once in Indonesia, across the lava plains of Mount Bromo. Although horseback riding is available in Malaysia, I’d never thought to try it here, mainly because it’s done in a more controlled environment, like paddocks or equestrian clubs. But for me, a great part of riding a horse has to do with being in the great wide outdoors in a cooler climate.

Fast forward to the year 2013, and here I was, back in Hamilton again, this time, for a short holiday while attending my cousin’s wedding. My cousin had graciously brought my husband and I to a ranch in Oakville, which is a suburban town on the outskirts of Toronto.

An earlier batch of horses and their riders returning from the trails.
An earlier batch of horses and their riders returning from the trails.

We made reservations via the Internet for our session and arrived at the stables early in the morning, where we were greeted by a female ranch hand, Lorissa. While waiting for our horses to be saddled up and prepared, we took a tour of the ranch and were also given indemnity forms to sign. We then selected our helmets from the helmet cabinet, which was constructed like a wooden shed outside the barn where the horses resided.

After Lorissa brought out the horses, we discovered that each horse was specially selected to suit the height and build of the rider, for an optimum experience. OK, so I finally got a horse that was suited to my vertically-challenged frame.

My horse was more like a pony, not as tall as the first horse that I had ridden when I was a teen, nor any of the other horses I’d ridden subsequently. His name was Billy-Ray. He had the markings of a piebald, in white and brown. My husband got a rather cheeky black stallion, appropriately called Salem, who would stop repeatedly to munch on wild grass and flowers. And after that, run to catch up with the rest of the group. My 183-cm-tall cousin got a huge, handsome dark brown stallion called Eddie. We were joined by a young couple from the city.

We set off on the ride, using the British style of riding. I found it simpler to control the horse’s reins using both hands than just one. In fact, it felt a bit like using a steering wheel, to make the horse turn right or left!

So, Billy-Ray and I set off with the rest on the trail across the Canadian countryside. We started off with Lorissa, the ranch hand leading the way. This was followed by my husband on Salem, me on Billy-Ray, my cousin on Eddie, and finally, the young couple, first the guy, then the girl. Shortly into the ride though, Lorissa went to the back to keep an eye on the girl as it was her first time horseback riding.

With grassflowers growing in the countryside, as seen from the back of a horse.
Grassflowers growing in the countryside, as seen from the back of a horse.

Horseback riding during this time of the year was great as it was autumn and trees were being gilded in glorious shades of red, orange and yellow.

A rough trail wound ahead of us. The ground was slightly damp as it had rained the night before, and a colourful carpet of fallen leaves spread out before us. It was a lovely autumn morning with the sun shining overhead and clear blue skies speckled with wispy white clouds. The air was fresh and crisp. A canopy of various hues formed above us as the branches of trees intersected overhead, blocking out the sunlight at some parts of the trail, making it slightly chilly, and we were thankful for our light jackets. Fortunately, it soon warmed up as we rode along. During our ride across the countryside, the trail led both up-and-downhill. Lorissa told us we could gallop our horses at certain flat parts of the trail. It was still quite a bumpy experience, though it was a lot smoother than when I did it at age 13!

Time flew, and soon, we were back at the farm. We dismounted and were given the opportunity to feed our horses with hay and water them at the trough. What did I learn from my horseback riding experience across the Canadian countryside? That though you never forget your first time horseback riding, it really does get better with experience.

For more information on horseback riding in Oakville in Ontario, Canada, check out www.ridetheranch.com/.


Tags / Keywords: Travel, horseback riding, Canada, outdoors, lifestyle

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