Monthly Archives: August 2014

Sharing Trails – Give a little, Get a lot!

It was a beautiful July afternoon at Hilltop Ranch near Priddis, Ab., and I was about to meet Amazing Backcountry’s Scott Phillips for the first time. My wife Laurie and I had joined Amazing Backcountry a couple of months earlier at Scott’s request.  That’s a story for a future edition.

Everyone reading this will know that one of the expectations of ABC membership is that we share information with other members. Even information as close to our collective hearts as our “Top secret” or “Have to kill you if I tell you” favourite riding trails.

Boy did I have questions for Mr. Phillips.  My inside voice had spent hours rehearsing my opening and closing remarks to the western web-savvy upstart! When I was done with him, he was gonna ride back to the ABC mothership with his cursor between his legs and shutdown the trails section of his fancy website.

Now, the last thing I wanted to do was frighten Scott away, after all he had joined us sight-unseen in Priddis to show us some Amazing Back Country.  So I had to be nice, at least for a little while.  After a very enjoyable 15 kilometre ride (on a secret trail….LOL!) and a couple of cold beers, I found us sitting under a porch to escape a rain storm and it was then I decided to pounce like an injured cougar.

“Scott, why would any trail rider worth their salt want to divulge the location of their most favourite staging area and trails?’  I continued with my well-thought out rationale.  “Then on that beautiful weekend when all the stars are aligned for a perfect trail ride, I’ll arrive at my favourite, once-secret staging area to see a dozen rigs from the Taber riding club clogging up the parking lot and the trails. Yippeekiyay !”

No offense to any and all Taberites!

Scott suggested that my secret riding area is probably not so secret. For those wondering when I’ll stop beating around the bush, the Blackfoot Lake Recreation area is located just east of Ardrossan and south of Highway 16.  There, I said it now get on your horses and go ride those darn trails!

Scott continued to point out the obvious by adding that without sufficient equestrian use, that land could be reallocated to the hoards of mountain bikers, quadders, U-ters, snowmobilers and 4X4 enthusiasts (my characterizations, not Scott’s) that are waiting in the wings. Points taken!

If you are wondering what in the blazes I’m talking about, the next time you and your horse are enjoying a ride through a provincial recreation area look for a camouflaged game camera, like the one pictured here.  Ride up to it and look for a metal tag identifying it as provincial property. If it doesn’t have a tag, maybe it belongs to some weird voyeur and you should contact the local authorities…hah hah!  [Like roads and highways, trail usage may be monitored, and that that data can be used to dictate future trail designation or funding for maintenance and upgrade programs. – ed]

Scott convinced me to think “big picture” when it comes to sharing trail locations. If we all just take a moment and loosen a button or two on our leather vests, we can’t help but agree that to share is better.

So, to steal a phrase from the business world, lets “open our komonos”, figuratively speaking of course, and tell the world where they can find the best equestrian trails Alberta has to offer!

Happy Trails!

Kelly Gordon

Editors Note: Most trails and staging areas are already cataloged and mapped – they have been for years and they’re by no means ‘secret’. Having a map and some trail information is great, but what is lacking is current information: when was that map published?  When was the trail last used or maintained?  Is the staging area even there anymore? On our initial cache-hiding venture years ago, I drove to a ‘published’ and mapped staging area only to find it barricaded and the trail overgrown from years of non-use.

The tools we’ve given you allow you to share updated information on trails and staging areas that you use.  Not only does this provide a means to research trails that you might be considering riding, but there are many spillover benefits.  For example, as Kelly states, trail usage is monitored.  New riders on trails isn’t a bad thing; let’s face it – there’s no chance that a trail is going to be overwhelmed by riders if it’s published; the price of gas these days, and simply time and logistics, is most likely going to prevent everyone from Taber from making weekly trips up to the Blackfoot.  Additionally, using trail systems – anywhere in the world – is the only way to guarantee that they will continue to exist. As proof of that, read the recent Trail Rangers article by Dale at Alberta Carriage Supply.

We feel that by sharing trail and staging information, and promoting the equine use of these resources, we preserve and protect them, not only for our own use, but for future generations.  The use of our backcountry and enthusiasm to get out on horseback and explore is what will keep our precious trail system alive – and designated for equine use.  Who knows?  I wouldn’t be surprised that in the not-so-distant future, Amazing Backcountry will be a source for trail usage information. It’s a heck of a lot easier on our tax dollars than putting up trail cameras.?

Feel free to add your trails, staging areas – and share your Adventures!  – Scott Phillips

Kindness Matters

Through the years I have been inspired by many horse people, some well known and some just “average” people. My desire to be a better horse person has also been inspired by a young person who wasn’t involved in horses at all. She lived life with many health challenges but did so with an uncommon joy and positive outlook. Her motto in life was “Kindness Matters”. She showed me that the essence of all things good (like happiness, peace and laughter) came not with WHAT we do but HOW we do things. Through kindness in her day to day actions she brought a vibrancy that motivated others.

My daughter and Kahlo

My daughter and Kahlo

Remembering that motto when I work with my horses is like a key that opens doors in building a partnership with them. I have on occasion seen people interact with my horses who are impatient,frustrated and punitive in their responses to undesirable behavior by the horse. It seems to me that those undesirable behaviors only increased in frequency and intensity as a result. I have also seen other people interact with my horses who can set clear boundaries or expectations of behavior but with patience, tolerance and encouragement which then snowballs into more and more desirable responses and positive motivation by the horse. Acting with kindness seems to be an investment in future behaviour.

In his book, “David and Goliath”, Malcolm Gladwell explores the relationship between those in a position of power and those without. Although he is examining human relationships in a political sense, the analogy to the horse human relationship is an easy parallel to draw. In 1970 , Leites and Wolf published the paper “Rebellion and Authority: An Analytical Essay on Insurgent Conflicts”. It basically outlines that those in power don’t have to worry about how the powerless feel about their enforcement as long as the enforcement is severe enough to make the powerless reconsider any further acts of defiance. This belief system explain why some humans feel that punitive measures are useful in horsemanship. I’ve heard the remark after a horse receives a physical punishment for an undesired behavior, “well, he won’t try that again!” History in human conflict proved that this viewpoint had flaws and limitations, just as most horse people will relate a story of a horse that simply will not respond to punitive measures. A new “Principal of Legitimacy” has emerged to promote peace in conflict. Gladwell summarizes this as,”When those in power want obedience from those without, it matters primarily how the powerful choose to behave. Peacefulness exists when those asked to obey feel that they have a voice, the authority must be predictable and the authority must be fair.”. I have found that allowing my horses to explore their options in response to requests, to be consistent in my expectations of their behaviors and to be fair in my attempts to teach them results in a far more peaceful relationship.

Simply, even in horsemanship, Kindness Matters.

One of my favourite horsemanship authors is Mark Rashid, who has also made the connection that Kindness Matters. “it is my belief that becoming aware of how we participate in the world on a daily basis and how we perform our everyday, mundane (and or not so mundane) throughout the day all add to our ability or inability to ultimately develop the kind of awareness and sensitivity it takes to be really good at working with horses….it doesn’t begin with working with our horse. It begins by doing all those everyday things with as much feel and awareness as we possibly can, and then bringing that awareness to our horse.”. I feel the awareness and sensitivity Mark talks about are found within kindness.

I think my friend discovered at a very young age that infusing kindness in how she went about her day to day actions was more important than simply getting them done and embraced it on such a deep level. She has inspired me to find a deeper understanding of it in life and with my horses. She recently lost her battle with her health challenges, but she has inspired many to carry on with her motto “Kindness Matters” and I humbly ask you also to consider how it may apply to you and your horsemanship.

Trail Rangers – Rebuilding Kananaskis Trails

Hello back-country users, I would like to share with you a unique project taking place in the southern portion of Kananaskis Country.

Last year the heavy rains and flooding that destroyed so much in towns and cities of southern Alberta also did a lot of damage in the high country. I had the opportunity to see some of the destruction last year with Dewey Mathews of Anchor D Guiding and Outfitting, and it was suggested that is difficult to repair trails and follow the rules of  No motorized vehicles.

Trail Rangers – Rebuilding Kananaskis Trails

As a partner in Alberta Carriage Supply, I am always looking for ways to help people put their horses to work.  This seemed like a perfect opportunity rather than an obstacle. I proposed repairing the trails with draft horses.

This may seem like a good idea, but is it possible? I called Bill Graham of the Road Builders and Heavy Construction Historical Society of Canada. I know Bill and the RHHS from their participation in Draft Horse Town at the Calgary Stampede. Bill has been involved in heavy construction for most of his life (among many other ventures) and has a penchant for collecting old motorized and horse drawn pieces of construction equipment. He also likes to see it work and get dirty. Bill liked the idea.

Dewey, Bill and I had a meeting to discuss the project. As we talked about the project, the excitement grew as we realized it was possible. Our planned 1 hour meeting turned into 3.

As a partner in the venture, Anchor D will obtain the necessary permits, provide meals, accommodation, and back country knowledge. RHHS will provide horse drawn construction equipment and road building expertise. Alberta Carriage Supply is charged with finding teams, teamsters, labourers, training and co-ordination of the project.

Trail Damage

Trail Damage

The damage to trails is extensive. In some areas, bridges and crossings were washed away, some trails had water cuts in them 3 feet deep and some parts of trails sloughed away.  Debris of deadfall, rock and silt has changed the look forever.

Our goal is not to put things back as they were, but to make the trails safe for all back country users.

To accomplish this we will be using road plows, dump wagons, graders, fresnos, wheelers, and even a horse bull dozer. The equipment is all close to 100 years old, so does not have any safety guards and is inherently dangerous to man and beast. To ensure we have a productive experience, we require that all participants attend a 2 day clinic at Alberta Carriage Supply to learn how to safely operate the horse drawn equipment.

Wagons on the Trail

Wagons on the Trail

So who can be a part of this?  Anyone with a smile and a love of the back country! We need help, teams, teamsters and labour to make this a successful operation!

Trail Rangers Details:

Working Days: September 8 -11 in Kananaskis Country

Training Dates: August 17 & 18 (Alberta Carriage Supply)

Cost: $250.00 per person  includes 3 good meals per day, tent, cot & foamy, & training
$75.00 per horse for feed.


To sign up, or for more information, please contact Dale at:
Phone: 403-934-9537