Riding Vacation at Warner Guiding and Outfitting Ltd.
Cowboy for a week By Cheyenne Steffen
ROCKY MOUNTAINS, BANFF, CANADA
A rush of adrenaline surged through me as I felt the power of the horse beneath me easily overcome the
steep incline up Rainbow Ridge. The drop of several hundred feet to the right of our narrow pathway was clearly visible and though it made my own heart pound
with exhilaration, it did nothing to deter my well-trained mount.
At the top, our group of Holiday on Horseback trail riders were rewarded with a breathtaking view from
7,000 feet up of the Rocky Mountains deep within Banff National Park. This kind of spectacular scenery is a photographer’s paradise and was
typical day on our week-long adventure horseback trip.
When we rode into our camp late that afternoon our group of 20 tourists was buzzing with exited
voices, all ready to regale each other with stories of individual experiences on the trail. We’d only
been together a couple of days and already we looked forward to trying to impress one another with stories of how scared we were, how much fun we had, or what new mastery of
horsemanship we’d managed to pick up that day. Not bad for a group that started as strangers only a short time before.
My Dad and I had been planning the trip for a few months. He’s an experienced horseman and
me… well, I’m a city girl who’s often been described as just a bit “prissy”. This horseback and
tenting trip would be the most roughing-it experience of my life so far. I’d only been on horseback
a couple of times before but I loved it. I figured that what I lacked in experience I made up for with enthusiasm. I wasn’t alone in that.
Within our overall group was an eclectic mixture of trained and experienced horseback riders and campers and complete greenhorns. We were from all walks of life - Canadian, American,
ranchers, businesspeople, university students, couples, singles, and families – all come together for an adventure holiday. One thing we had in common was knowledge that Warner Guiding and
Outfitting Holiday on Horseback has an unbeatable reputation for hosting these trips.
For 70-year-old Mary Johns from Wyoming, it was her fifth
trip with Warner’s in the past two decades. She’s been riding all her life and is a part of a women’s group of experienced horseback riders, some of whom accompanied
her on this trip.
“I’ve been on the tenting trips and the lodge trips,” Johns proudly informed me. “I keep coming back and I bring
groups of people with me because this is the most beautiful country I’ve ever seen. Warner’s is an outstanding outfitter and they really cater to their guests.”
Johns was the matriarch of our group, being the most senior in age and in horseback experience. Her patient smile and skill on the trail was a sharp contrast to the exuberance of one of the
youngest in the group, Brendon Stoner. The 11-year-old from Boston was thoroughly entertained each day by an experience he describes as “way out there” compared to his regular life.
“I was a little psyched-out at first when I had to pack-up my own gear and get it in and out of the
tent! I’ve never done that before, but now it’s no big deal,” he said.
“I recommend this trip to any kid who wants to be raw and get a little dirty. I think it builds character. It made me realize how much my parents do for me because out here you have to do
things for yourself a lot more than at home. Riding the horse is amazing! It’s fun and challenging. I think I’ve learned a lot out here.”
Stoner’s parents and older sister were with him on the trip. According to dad, Harold, they’d planned the holiday as a way to have an authentic old west experience.
“Our grandparents were original homesteaders in Saskatchewan and Montana,” says Harold.
“This holiday is as close as we can get to experiencing what our ancestors really lived.”
That old west atmosphere is exactly what you’ll get on one of Warner’s trail ride trips. This
particular trip, the 6-day Wilderness Tenting Ride, starts out with guests being shuttled to Banff’s
Mount Norquay were they meet their guides and their horses. The trip begins with an 11-mile ride to Elk Lake Summit and then down into Stoney Creek Camp, the first of three different camps
visited. The ride covers most of the geography in the park from old growth forests to lakes,
valleys, and river bottoms. Visitors will see a tremendous variety of the National Park during their visit.
Camps are outfitted with canvas tents already set up and strategically placed in various areas within the site so as to give campers some privacy. A large dining tent, complete with tables and a
wood stove offers a place for tourists to gather for visiting as well as for meals. Spectacular bonfire pits at each camp are the nighttime gathering spots for telling stories, jokes and singing
Each camp has its own cook. At the end of a full day ride you can look forward to a piping hot, hearty country meal.
The staff with Warner’s is just one part of the holiday that makes the trip truly memorable. Three guides accompanied us on this trip, including trail foreman Barry Ferguson.
Ferguson is a true-grit cowboy who started with Warner’s in 1979 as a guide and packer. He knows the area so well that when he refers to the mountain expanse as his backyard, you’ll
“I’ve met people from all over the world doing this job,” said Ferguson. “I’ve kept in touch with a
lot of them and have made long friendships. What could be better than doing a job where you can ride every day and see bears digging up roots and hear the elk bugle in the fall?”
Ferguson impressed our group with his knowledge of every
nook and cranny of mountain space on the trail. Each day our group rode out to various locations, stopping frequently to take photos and so Ferguson could explain the terrain. A
bear sighting on one day delighted us. The Grizzly popped its head up from some bushes where it was apparently digging for something. Uninterested in us, it went back to its
rooting. Spotting wildlife is just one delight possible on a Holiday on Horseback trip.
Another, according to Marylin Patterson from Ontario, is the sheer rush of adrenaline gained from
the ride itself. Patterson and her two close friends Marva and Nancy, planned the trip as a “girls’ getaway”. It became even more of an adventure than she anticipated.
“I’ve never done anything like this before,” said Patterson. “I’m normally afraid of my own
shadow, but I’m so proud of myself for doing this trip. I always saw these kinds of things in
movies, but never thought I would do it myself. It’s such an exciting trip because you don’t know
what will happen next or what you’ll see next, and you can prove to yourself that you can handle being a cowboy – at least for a week!”
Patterson and her friends had planned the trip for a few months beforehand. She said they wanted to do something different than sitting on a beach at a resort. They wanted a real adventure.
“We got ourselves so hyped-up about this trip that I was worried I’d feel let down when I actually
got here,” said Patterson. “Well there’s no way I can feel let down. This trip made me feel like a kid again!”
According to owner, Ron Warner, experience is not necessary to for a holiday on horseback.
“You should be someone who enjoys the outdoors and be comfortable around horses,” Warner
said. “You can be a beginner in riding and still have a great trip.”
The horses are trained so well that they easily respond to commands. The animals are experts on
these trails and handle themselves in a way that you know they’re in familiar territory.
Warner himself has been in this business since 1962, working at another outfitting company. By 1974 he started Warner Guiding and Outfitting and the business has grown to become one of the
largest in North America. The Holiday on Horseback trips offer everything from carriage rides through Banff township, and short one to three-hour local rides to overnight and week-long
excursions. Tourists have a choice from cowboy-style campsites to two different custom-built, fully equipped lodges for a more luxurious stay.
All trips available have been planned with tremendous care to attention.
“People want to feel they’ve done something worthwhile and adventurous
,” said Warner. “This isn’t just a pony ride in the paddock. That wouldn’t be challenging enough for people to return. We plan trips that have
adventure to the rides and scenery that takes their breath away.”
The rides are challenging enough to make it fun for experienced riders and
beginners alike. They’re not so rigorous though as to make tourists sore at the end of the day. Even a “prissy” city girl like me thoroughly enjoyed each day.
It felt almost like meditating to saunter through the old forest trails hearing nothing but sounds from the surrounding wilderness and whinnying of the trail horses. One hour on
the trail could be as peaceful as the next hour was exhilarating as we would climb up and down
incredibly steep paths and cliffs that featured spectacular sights one could only get by traveling on horseback.
Each day includes a leisurely lunch break by a creek, where visitors can enjoy a barbequed meal and a rest in the fresh mountain air.
By the end of our trip 20 strangers had become friends, sharing in the camaraderie of our journey. We laughed hysterically one evening while inventing cowboy nicknames for each other, based on
our experiences on the trail. Our common adventure had dozens of different interpretations.
The sixth day ended with feelings of pride and exuberance at our success in being cowboys for a
week, mingled with happiness knowing we’d have constant memories and stories about the trip of a lifetime.
WHERE IT IS AND WHAT IT COSTS:
Warner Guiding and Outfitting is located in the Banff Township in Banff National Park in Alberta,
Canada. Information and bookings for any ride can be obtained at the Trail Rider store on Banff Avenue near the Mount Royal Hotel. Overnight trips should be reserved in advance with as much
notice as possible in order to secure space. All overnight trips include meals.
3 – 6 days long
Trips run from end of June to end of September
Cost varies from $475 Canadian ($365 USD) to $1,105 Canadian ($850 USD) depending on the trip and time of year
1 – 6 days long
Trips run from May to October
Cost varies from $354 Canadian ($272 USD) to $1,202 Canadian ($925 USD), depending on the trip and time of year
1 hour – full day rides
Trips from May to October
Cost varies from $30 Canadian ($23 USD) to $140 Canadian ($108 USD) depending on trip
and time of year
Specialty Overnight Excursions in 2004
2.Year of the Grizzly
3.Paws in the Wilderness
4.Comes a Horseman
5.Wildlife Monitoring Adventure Expeditions (several to choose from)
For complete information visit the Holiday on Horseback Web site at www.horseback.com ,
or e-mail them at email@example.com.
RIDING TIPS FOR BEGINNERS
1.Relax. Find a comfortable position and remember to sit up straight.
2.Only the ball of your foot should be in the stirrup, not to your heel.
3.You should be able to stand in the stirrup and have about a three-finger width between you and
the saddle. This positioning will ensure maximum comfort.
4.If your knees get sore it means the stirrups are too high and should be adjusted.
5.Hold onto the horn with one hand and the reins with the other. Don’t hold the horn with both hands. This gives you control directing your horse.
6.Put one foot in the stirrup and then do a couple of bounces on the ground to leverage yourself before swinging into the saddle.
7.Lean forward when going uphill. This makes it easier on your horse and on you.
8.Lean backward when going downhill.
9.Gently kick the sides of your horse to make him go forward.
10.To make your horse stop, pull back on the reins and then slacken them.
11.To make your horse go backward, pull back on the reins WITHOUT slackening them but not
too hard, until your horse has backed into the desired position.
12.Pull reins left to go left and right to go right.
13.Keep the horses one behind the other and don’t try to pass each other.
Warner Guiding and Outfitting Ltd.
Contact: Our Friendly Staff
Box 2280 Banff, Alberta, Canada T1L 1C1
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