Category Archives: Brenda

Backcountry Cooking – Penne with Dried Tomato and Spinach

This next dish is easy to make and all the ingredients travel well and don’t mind getting banged about in the pack boxes. Make a lot, make a little, the recipe is easily adjustable.  Want to spice it up more, add chili flakes. Bacon goes well in this dish, but then bacon goes with everything!

2 cups pasta – penne or rigatoniSun-Dried-Tomato-Penne-Sausage-Skillet

1/2 cup sliced dried tomato

1/4 cup pine nuts

2 cups spinach

1tbsp oil

1tsp Italian seasoning

1/4 cup dried onion or 1 medium fresh onion

1 tsp garlic – dehydrated or fresh

1/2 cup Water (wine is really good if you happen to have it)


Chopped spicy sausage (pepperoni, hot Italian, or something similar)

Parmesan cheese

Cook pasta and set aside.

Put oil in pan, add pin nuts and toast a bit. Add sundried tomato, onion, garlic and herbs. Stir it up a bit and then add the water/wine. Simmer. Then add the cooked pasta and sausage and lastly stir in the spinach.

Sprinkle with parmesan and eat.


Rachel, better known as ‘Cookie’, has been a chef for clients around the world. She brings a uniqueness and flare with homegrown tastiness to backcountry cooking.  Originating from New Zealand, Rachel currently lives on a farm near Dapp, AB.



Deb and her horse Sassy at Mesa Butte

Deb and her horse Sassy at Mesa Butte

I’m pretty sure that each of us taking part in the Amazing Backcountry Race for STARS has either taken a ride in the STARS helicopter or know someone who has. We all feel the ripple effects when someone is transported via the Air Rescue System, whether through being directly involved in the accident or seeing the red helicopter fly through the sky.

One of our riders, Deb Dombowsky, experienced the ride first-hand last summer when riding in the mountains west of Calgary.  She shares her story…

“It was a beautiful morning in the mountains in my favourite camping spot, Little Elbow Equestrian campsite. The sun was just breaking over the mountains with the promise of a warm day. I saddled up my young horse, Secret, for what I thought was going to be a quiet, short ride down to the river.

We set out just behind the campsite and I was pondering where I would take my brother when he got up there later in the morning. It was maybe a half hour into the ride when we came around a bend in the trail and were met with a black bear.

ABC Race for STARS

ABC Race for STARS

My horse stopped hard and the bear took off into the bush with my dog in pursuit. It happened so fast, when my horse jammed on the brakes I clinched my legs and unfortunately stuck her pretty hard with my spurs.  And then we were off to the races so to speak!

Next thing I know I’m out of the saddle, onto her neck, and then sailing through the air and right into a tree. I lay there on the side of the trail trying to breathe.  When I hit the tree I collapsed my lung and broke 10 ribs (5-11 were flail), broke my collar bone, and fractured my scapula in three places.

At some point I knew I needed to get out to the road if I was to get any help, so off I crawled.  I was very lucky to have a young man come along and he went to the camp attendants to get help.  Jim and his wife were with me right up until I was transported by STARS.  They kept my dog and horse safe until they could be brought back home. I am forever grateful for their help.

I heard the helicopter landing right there on the road and I thought, ‘how many times have I heard and seen STARS in the sky and never dreamed I would be in it one day.’ The crew was so fast and efficient, I truly believed them when they said, ‘you are going to be okay.’  As we made our way to Foothills hospital the voice that came through my headset kept reassuring me and walked me through all they were doing for me.

As I write this I need to include that it was barely a year ago that I watched STARS take my grandson, Tyson Hirbnak. We were camping in the backcountry in Dutch Creek and had a propane explosion which badly injured my grandson and my husband.  You can read about Ty’s story in the January 2014 STARS calendar. You can watch a STARS video featuring Ty here:

STARS has made a huge imprint in the lives of our family. Now when I hear and see STARS in the sky I have a flood of emotions, but mostly a deep gratitude in my heart for them and all they do.

Thank you STARS.

Deb resides in Calgary Alberta.


Amazing Backcountry Race for STARS

Ever heard of geocaching? How about geocaching on horseback?

For the 3rd year in a row, Amazing Backcountry is hosting The Amazing Backcountry Race for STARS, a fundraiser for the Shock Trauma Air Rescue Service (STARS) that is now operating throughout all four western Canadian provinces.

Participating in the growing sport of Equine Geocaching, riders tap into their adventurous spirit to hide and find caches in amazing horse-accessible locations.

We want you!

Finding a geocache

Rider Susan Wall finds a geocache.

Riders from across British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba are register to participate in the STARS fundraiser. It’s a great way to meet new people, explore new trails, and support a good cause. To date, riders participating in the Amazing Backcountry Race for STARS have raised over $37,000!  In 2013 alone, there were a total of 64 caches placed throughout Western Canada on 37 different trails, spanning a distance of 460km from Fort Assiniboine to Waterton, AB and the Cypress Hills in Saskatchewan.

We are setting our sites high for 2014, looking to raise even more money and add even more riding areas in to Amazing Backcountrys new global Trail Guide.

Sound like fun? That’s what it’s all about, while at the same time raising money for the lifesaving organization of STARS.

How does it work?

The race begins on May 1st and ends on October 16th. ??If you’re not already an Amazing Backcountry member, you can easily sign up here.

Membership is completely free and only takes a minute. With your membership you have full access to the Trail Guide, Contests, Rider Forum, Library, Adventures, and our own Horse Riders Network.

ABC Race for STARS Cache Hiding

Riders Linda Fitzpatrick and Sam McPhedran on a cache – hiding mission.

Once a member you can choose to Ride for STARS and then head out for some great riding and exploring. Throughout the Race, find people to sponsor you: simply send them to your page on the Amazing Backcountry website where they can quickly and easily make an online donation. No trudging door-to-door with a pledge sheet! 100% of your sponsors’ donations go directly to STARS. Every donor will receive a tax receipt from STARS.

The Amazing Backcountry Race for STARS is a very interactive event; with the exception of heading to the hills to hide and find geocaches, the Race is conducted online. Share your riding adventures, post pictures of your rides, chat with other riders, and view your individual donations and fundraising totals in real time.

Throughout the summer Amazing Backcountry also runs a variety of fun contests for participants. At the completion of the event, prizes are awarded to top fundraising riders at a fun-filled riding event.

This is a race after all, and the big winners are those riders that raise the most money for STARS!

A Friends and Family Activity

ABC Race for STARS - Cache Hide

Rider Mike Harink and his family have hidden caches at some amazing locations!

The Amazing Backcountry Race for STARS – and Amazing Backcountry itself is a great activity for families, friends and riders of all disciplines.

Turn your rides in to social events by inviting friends and family along with you.

Not riding??? You can still be involved.

Choose your favourite horse and rider duo and sponsor them! Or take advantage of advertising opportunities by choosing to sponsor the fundraiser through a monetary contribution. The event is 100% volunteer run and costs, such as banking fees and advertising, are funded by our great event sponsors. Our advertising program for event sponsors includes newsletters with a distribution of over 12,000, Facebook posts, links on our website and, of course, your ad featured on our site.

Related Links:

Amazing Backcountry Race for STARS Information

Contact the Ride organizers, Brenda Murdock and Scott Phillips

STARS website

Foundation Horse Training

Training for the High Lonesome

To really understand the value of a good mountain horse, I need to paint you a picture. Life in the backcountry is something many people will not experience and therefore aren’t able to understand. For those of you who have been there, you know.

You are miles away from the nearest city (many times hours in the saddle just to get to your vehicle only to have to drive several hours to get near to civilization, let alone help) which can be torture when you or your horse is injured; many times you don’t see another human being for days; you are faced with a great variety of terrain from flat open meadows to steep rocky cliffs, brush encrusted forest, or horse-burying bog; you encounter many different species of wildlife, from deer and elk, to moose, bear and cougars; and you are at the mercy of mother nature 24/7, who, like a woman, likes to change her mind very frequently.

So…life in the mountains can be a matter of life or death. Contrary then, to popular belief, a mountain horse is not ‘just a trail horse.’  By true definition a mountain horse is much more remarkable than this.  A good mountain horse needs to be able to think. We call it ‘creating the thinking horse.’  He must be able to go against his instinctual desire to flee in the face of danger and to put total trust in his rider/companion, as well as his own abilities, regardless of the circumstances.

pack string

Horses in packstring must learn how to work together.

Also contrary to popular belief, the ‘pack horse’ may be your most important mount when in the wilderness, even over your riding horse. You can walk or hike to get where you’re going, but having an animal to carry all your gear through a myriad of terrain without breaking a thing, is sure a luxury!  One can survive days on only water, but food is sure nice! And so is clean clothes, lodging, and a sleeping bag!  If a packhorse goes lame or is injured, you may be sitting in camp for days, immobilized. So it is just as important that a pack horse is able to ‘think’ and not do something to jeopardize injury to himself, his teammates, or you.

Training a mountain horse begins from the ground up. Forming a trusting partnership doesn’t start once you get on their back. This is the least important aspect of training for me because by the time I get on their backs to ride, it is one of the easiest things I do. Those horses already know my body language and voice cues and have established trust and respect for me. Our first ride is usually just to get on and walk away.  The most important aspects of training happen before this. Just as a child’s initial learning is so crucial between 0 and 5 years, so is a horse’s first steps of training laying the foundation for everything that is to come.

Her horse, Stella, helps Brenda hang a highline in the backcountry.

Her horse, Stella, helps Brenda hang a highline in the backcountry.

Some key aspects to laying a good foundation are:


Developing a good mountain horse takes time. It’s not just about going riding or being on its back, it’s about spending time.


Establishing body language that you and your horse can understand. Understanding how a horse thinks and behaves is important. You need to be able to communicate clearly with your horse.

kelvin in roundpen

A clinic participant develops trust, respect and communication in the round pen.

Voice Commands

Especially in the backcountry, being able to communicate verbally to your horse is very important. Being on the side of a steep cliff on a nervous horse and calming him with your voice, or having a pack string of 11 horses and being able to talk to the 9th one in line is pretty cool!   It can also be a matter of life or death!


Decide who is Alpha. YOU need to be a leader to your horse.  A confident, clear and fair leader is someone that your horse is going to want to follow.  Being in a situation or terrain that is unfamiliar or even scary to the horse, the horse needs to look to you for direction instead of going back to his natural instinct to flee.

Respect and Trust

Create an environment for mutual respect and trust. Every situation you encounter will go back to …does your horse respect and trust you. Being able to communicated clearly to your horse and showing him/her that you are a responsible leader is the start of a good relationship.


Learning to work as an individual and as a team. A mountain horse must develop his skills operating on his own as well as be very aware of what’s going on around him.  Stimulate!

Introducing your horse to new things and situations and leading them through them safely and calmly will increase your horse’s confidence in himself and you.

A horse gets used to camp life.

A horse gets used to camp life.

In the backcountry we rely on our horses for survival as much as they rely on us. It is truly a unique partnership that is not forged elsewhere. Because of the exposure to so many different elements and experiences a true mountain horse is going to be a good, reliable mount whatever discipline you go into. With the phenomenal foundation that a mountain horse receives, their mind is balanced and they easily adapt to new surroundings, situations and requirements.

Article written by Brenda Murdock and featured in the Dec 2010/Jan 2011 edition of the Canadian Cowboy Magazine.

Geocaching events help support STARS

 Tuesday, December 10th, 2013

It’s no mystery for Brenda Murdoch. The New Norway area resident gets excited to be involved in fundraising for STARS.

Brenda combines her love for horses, the mystery of finding objects and raising money for charity by geo-caching in Alberta’s back country.

“It is a fun way to raise funds for STARS. We all know of someone in the community that has benefitted from the service,” said Brenda. “We ride horses in the back country where there is little or no access to hospitals, so it is double important for us to have a service like STARS come out when accidents happen.”

Geo-caching is not limited to geography because stations are set up throughout Alberta.

“It’s not limited by time. We hold a special one-day event, but people can complete the tasks from spring to fall. We hold a fundraising event in each province, but not everyone can attend that day,” continued Brenda. “It’s one big blanket fundraiser for Alberta.”

Geo-caches are hidden in back country spots and riders find them with their horses and GPS trackers. Each rider looks for sponsors, or has a web site on which people can donate. Brenda raised the sixth highest amount this summer.

New Norway resident, Brenda Murdock, equine geocaching with her horse in the mountains west of Longview, AB.

New Norway resident, Brenda Murdock, equine geocaching with her horse in the mountains west of Longview, AB.

“You can check how active each rider is and read their stories on experiences they have had,” said Brenda. “This is the first year we have had geo-caches all over Alberta. We have excellent riding spots along the Battle River, so it would be nice to have more local riders get involved. All you need is a computer, horse, GPS and a truck and trailer. You can take a camera and take pictures and then write about your adventures.”

Completing the tasks can be done by any level of riders.

“It’s fun and full of adventure. It is a new way to explore Alberta and go places you normally wouldn’t go,” said Brenda.

Every summer, Amazing Backcountry hosts The ABC Race for STARS, a horseback geo-caching event held throughout western Canada. Competing riders raise money for STARS Air Ambulance through pledges made online. In 2013, 194 donations were received amounting to $17,850. Over two years the total is $37,150.

“We credit everyone with the success of our organization not only in this province, but also as we usher in a new era of STARS in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. STARS has come a long way since our humble beginnings in 1985, but our main focus is still the same – it’s about the patient,” she added.

Amazing Backcountry riders has over 120 members throughout Alberta and Saskatchewan who participated in the STARS fundraiser. Top money earners for STARS were Mike Harink of Wetaskiwin, Alison Mannix of Rimbey, Scott Phillips of Spruceview, Kathy Wheeler of Calgary, Nicole Darling of Priddis and Brenda Murdock of New Norway.

“In conjunction with STARS, we look forward to expanding the ABC Race for STARS further across the western provinces and including even more riders,” said Brenda.

Amazing Backcountry is an equine geo-caching activity where horseback enthusiasts around the world hide and locate geocaches using their GPS and the Amazing Backcountry website. All caches are tracked online and each contains a log book and items left for trade between riders. There are currently 64 caches placed on 37 different trails throughout Western Canada.

If you would like to be involved in the 2014 Amazing Backcountry Race for STARS by sponsoring, as a rider, or need or more information visit or Brenda can also be reached at 403-651-6142.