Off the Beaten Trail - Cowboy Style!
By Terri Mason
What makes a western vacation complete is swinging into the saddle and riding down the trail - and then attending an event where the folks competing make their living in the saddle. Here are a few suggestions on how to celebrate the West:
Guest Ranch Vacations
Perhaps the most relaxing vacation of all is a stay on one of the many guest ranches here in western Canada. Plenty of fresh air, plenty of sunshine and plenty to eat, these modern throwbacks to a kinder, gentler time will slow your frantic pace down to that of a walking horse and give you something real to focus on; like learning the art of moving cattle - and believe me, it's an art.
If you time your stay right, often guests can accompany the ranchers as they trail their cattle to the high country for summer grazing; a trip that is as beautiful as it is relaxing. Any number of side trips to historic sites and events can also be arranged. Accommodations are as varied as the ranches themselves, but I guarantee they are all comfy and clean - and you'll want to stay forever.
Back Country Adventures
Imagine yourself on top of the world - and that's where an outfitter can take you. The most spectacular country can only be reached on horseback and the licenced guides and outfitters of the West know exactly where it is.
Ride into the mountains and share the skyline with wheeling eagles; camp in the valleys and share stories and laughter around a toasty fire before bedding down in your warm and cozy tent. Meals are plentiful and often surprising - fresh baked pies, roast turkey and hot chocolate around the campfire - those cooks sure know how to make a camp welcome!
This is truly the best way to see the wild Rocky Mountains.
Never been on a horse before? Well, don't let that stop you! The good folks that will take you on a one-hour trail ride are conscious of not only your enjoyment of the experience but your safety as well.
If the closest you've ever been to a horse was watching a western movie, no problem; be sure to tell the guide and they'll match you up with a horse that will carry you on an enjoyable trip. It's important that you give an honest assessment of your riding skills. After all, if you've never skied, you don't strap on the boards, declare yourself an expert and hit the black diamond runs, right?
Amateur and professional rodeos are found in nearly every dusty cow town and major city in the West. Bone-jarring broncs and bulls match their strength and skill against some of the top professional cowboys in the world. If you love a good horse race then barrel racing is the sport to watch! Fast horses careen around barrels and winners are declared by mere 100ths of a second.
Intermissions often feature dazzling entertainment ranging from musical ride drill teams to flashy trick riders. Rodeo clowns egg on announcers and contestants alike and the fleet-of-foot bullfighters steal the show as they risk their lives to bring a bull rider to safety. It's thrilling and great fun for the family.
For a listing of rodeos near you, check provincial tourism sites such as albertatourism.com, helloBC.com and sasktourism.com and our online western events at canadiancowboy.ca.
Think all rodeos are the same? Think again! The modern high speed rodeos of today evolved from this classic match up, and now the ranchers and cowboys are getting back to their roots. Once again, working cowboys from cattle ranches across the Canadian West come together to compete in events that mirror life on a ranch.
If you love the finesse of a smooth working cowhorse, a dead-eye, slick fork roper and pure cowboy skills, then ranch rodeo is for you! For more information, please check our online western events at http://www.canadiancowboy.ca/.
Grounded in the roots of cowboy culture and the skill of the vaquero, ranch roping is enjoying a surge of popularity not only as a low stress sport, but as a practical way to handle livestock, whether the intent is to catch a stray animal, brand cattle, or treat sick stock.
Moreover, ranch roping skills are beautiful to watch; with poetic loop names such as Del Viento, the cowboys earn more points for more difficult loops. It's also quite a cowboy gear show as well. These riders are proud of their cow-savvy horses and chances are their mounts are wearing more silver than the cowboys' wives!
Cowboy Poetry Gatherings
Probably the best description of cowboy poetry is; "It's the ring and ricochet of cowboy lingo off the stirrup bone of the middle ear."
Cowboy poetry is an art form developed on the long cattle drives, where stories were told and retold so often they took up a rhythm and cadence gradually evolving into poetry. For the most part, today's modern bards still make their living in the livestock industry and their fascinating and often hilarious poetry will have you riding down the dusty trail alongside them.
The gatherings, as they're called, also welcome western artisans and quite often, there's a ranch rodeo - or at least a horse sale - attached as well. A gathering is highly recommended entertainment for the whole western family.
More information for the gatherings can be found on http://www.albertacowboypoetry.com/ or check each provinces tourism websites.
If the western lifestyle is your lifestyle, subscribe now to Canadian Cowboy Country magazine. www.canadiancowboy.ca or phone toll free: 1-800-943-7336.