The last time I went horseback riding, I was in British Columbia at 100 Mile House, a small community known for fishing, hunting and horses. It must have been seven or eight years ago, and it was one of those rides, where the trails were marked, you couldn’t venture outside of them and the instructors were very instructor-ish. Not really my idea of a natural adventure.
It shouldn’t be a surprise then that I was anxiously looking forward to getting on a horse today and riding in the open fields of the Saskatchewan River Valley. Our ranch, the La Reata, is a working cattle guest ranch run by George Gaber and offers unrivaled experiences when it comes to the cowboy way-of-life.
At first glance, George is a deadpan for the Marlborough Man: Tall and lean, his Wrangler jeans are just loose enough so he can tuck his red-and-white checkered cowboy shirt into it, and his large crème coloured cowboy hat frames his angular cheeks, a picture-postcard image. (It’s so funny, but without a cue, he’ll burst into some country song that plays on the radio and sing at full-throttle.)
Not only that, but once you get talking to him, you know he’s something else: he’s a real cowboy, the real-meal-deal. Originally from Germany, George has always worked on a farm. When he came to Saskatchewan 13-years ago for a vacation, he forgot to leave.
Inspired by the rolling hills of Saskatchewan, the valley life and the glistening waters of Lake Diefenbaker, he decided to build the ranch–one cabin, one cookhouse and one stall at a time¬. He found his paradise and I can’t blame him for settling here.
Watching the sunrise today from the top of the camp was breathtaking. Once I reached the peak of the hill, the entire sky opened up in caramel-and-red coloured blocks, while the vistas of the lake and pale green hills seemed to have no boundaries. A few horses were grazing nearby, some of them running wild.
Our slow-paced breakfast in the cookhouse was followed by an even slower process of selecting and saddling up the horses: George thought young Guss and I made a good match, and frankly, I was smitten the first time I saw his big brown eyes and his white coat. (His fly-swatting skills also made an impression.)
Guss and I studiously followed Trigger, Barney, JC and Spike– the other horses– through a terrain lined with sage bushes. Lake to one side, and desert-like rocky hills powdered with dusty sand patches on the other, the dry heat was unbearable at times.
The real battle though was herding the cattle, and it began at the pelican meeting spot. A nightly staging area for the pelicans before they go fishing, the flat land is where the cattle graze close to the shores. We galloped through the cattle and whistled at them so they would cross the muddy waters to the other side of the shore. I couldn’t believe how untamed the entire experience was.
What was the real signal that my future as a rancherista was sealed? On our way back to the camp, two white tail deer surprised Guss and I. Both a bit spooked, we stayed collected (and I didn’t even loose my cowboy hat in the process) and handled the situation well. Victoria the rancherista..has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?