Relax partner, there will be no trotting, cantering or galloping. Banff Trail Riders’ 300-strong stable of horses and mules largely come from auctions, animals rescued and patiently trained for excursions that range from hour-long joy rides to epic adventures. Either way, the pace is gentle but steady, the horses responsive and sure-footed, and the views guaranteed. Meeting my fellow riders at the stable, I am also introduced to my gelding, Lakota, and our trusty, eccentric pack mule, Aardvark.
Over the next six days, I will get to know many unique personalities, both equine and human. Riding western style, our patient guide instructs us how to lean forward in the saddle when going uphill, how to lean back when going downhill, and the importance of standing on stirrups when our horses take a pee break. We get the hang of it real fast, and riding horses this calm and well-trained allows us to tune into our surroundings and truly immerse ourselves inside the beauty of Canada’s oldest and most iconic national park.
Out and back from the Banff townsite, we will visit two mountain lodges en route to our highlight destination, the 2440-metre-high Allenby Pass. After a four-hour ride and having stopped for a lunch of grilled steaks over firewood, I stiffly dismount Lakota at the Sundance Lodge. We’d long left behind cell service, and there’s no wifi, just a welcome party of fat, hoary marmots. The lodge has comfy beds, hot showers, flush toilets, sofas, wood stoves, and a tireless, talented chef. Yes, my knees and butt are on the verge of mutiny, but painkillers and Pinot Noir help, along with the support of fellow riders hailing from across Canada, the United States, Australia and the UK. When you disconnect from the news, email and social media, you instantly connect with the people, landscape and modest options around you. Suddenly there’s time to pick a book from the shelf, rope a wood steer, stargaze, learn a card game, and listen to the stories of your new companions.