Summer of Awesome - Pinto Valley Ranch

So my girls are still heavily into horses, and the Olympics did not help matters any. So to (hopefully) further dissuade them against the whole idea, I took them out to Pinto Valley Ranch. The ranch is located in Fitzroy Harbour, which makes it a bit of a hike - it's about 1/2 hour north of Kanata. What makes it worth it, though, is that it's one of the few places around where amateurs can have a go at horseback riding.

Pony Riding at Pinto Valley Ranch

They have several ponies on hand for younger kids. You can pick out a pony, then take a 10 minute or 20 minute ride around the paddock - your pony will be guided on the ground by an experienced rider, and your child will just be able to get the feel of a gentle walk and enjoy visiting with the horses.

Once you hit 11 years old, you're old enough to qualify for their trail rides. The trail rides are for all levels of riders - their horses are seriously so gentle and easy that even total beginners will be safe and sound. The horses and riders travel as a group along a pretty trail for about an hour, so you and your child can get a good feel for what it means to be on horseback.

Ponyboy at Pinto Valley Ranch Dotcom at Pinto Valley Ranch Horses at Pinto Valley Ranch

The ranch is a quiet, laid back kind of place. It's not like other in-town attractions, where you're running from one high-octane activity to the next. Besides the horse riding, there's nothing "to do," per se.

But just being out on the farm was a surprisingly fun experience for the kids. There are plenty of animals about - llamas and goats, funny loud roosters in a pen, pigs that are allowed to roam free (my kids LOVED them), kittens in the barn. If you're lucky, you might bump into a free-running peacock or two. You're free to walk up and down the stalls in the barn, too, visiting quietly with the horses, stroking then on the nose, imagining you own one and it sleeps in your bedroom and you ride it to school every day and Mommy, can I please please please have a horse???


Cats in the barn at Pinto Valley Ranch Pigs in the barn at Pinto Valley Ranch Roosters in the barn at Pinto Valley Ranch

There's a small tuck shop where you can sit inside and have a snack, and buy treats or drinks. There's plenty of outdoor toys for little ones to explore. It's quite pleasant to just sit and enjoy the barn smells and sounds. A slow-going afternoon in the country, if you will.

We were there for about 2 1/2 hours total - enough time for a pony ride, a snack, a visit with the other animals...and then another pony ride. I am a sucker.

If you are at all interested in the ranch, now is the time to go, and I mean like now, today. The ranch is facing some hard times right now - first of all, the drought this summer has caused a massive hay shortage in the area, and the ranch is looking at selling up to half its horses to make ends meet. Secondly, the owners' kids are all in full day school now, so they're starting to wonder when (or if) it's time to hang up the saddles. It's too bad, as it's the perfect place to introduce a possible horse-loving child to these kind, gentle animals.

Also I should mention, they have day camps all summer long where your child can spend a week learning basic horse handling skills in the summer; and in the winter, you can head on out for a sleigh ride (advanced booking required).

So go, now, today, while you still have a chance to support this great local business.

Some important details: The day camps run in the mornings, so the rides are only open to the public from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. in the afternoons. You can show up any time for a pony ride; trail rides run in the summer on this schedule. IMPORTANT NOTE: if the temperature is above 30 degrees, rides for that day are cancelled due to the weather being too dangerous for the animals. They're open every day in the summer, then Thursdays through Sundays for September and October.

The pony rides are $10 for 10 minutes, $20 for 20 minutes; trail rides are $40 per rider (no double riders allowed). A wee bit expensive, but it's the only expense you'll have there, and it was SO worth it to my girls.

Shout out to Ponyboy and DotCom - best horses ever. You'll live forever in my daughter's dreams.

Love you, Ponyboy!

Lynn is mom to three tombliboos and blogs over at Turtlehead.

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Summer of Awesome - RCMP Stables

Recently my two daughters have become obsessed with horses. They both claim that they want to learn to ride - no doubt they have images in their heads of their hair flowing in the wind as they race towards the sunset, bow and arrow in hand just like Merida in the film Brave. I have to admit, I am pretty skeptical that their reaction to riding a real-life horse will be quite so dreamy.

So I thought I'd ease them into it by visiting the RCMP Stables. It's where they train the horses for the Musical Ride, and I was hoping an up-close-and-personal encounter with an enormous, black horse would knock the request for riding lessons right out of 'em.

The stables are in Rockcliffe and are open every day in the summer from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. This is where they train and house the horses for the famous Musical Ride. During the summer, the 36 horses that are part of the Musical Ride are on tour, but there are still about 60 other horses in the stables - these are horses that have been retired from the ride, or young new horses who are just starting their training.

So the first thing you need to do when you get there is find the entrance, which (memo to the RCMP) is not very clearly marked. Here's the building:

RCMP Stables Building

The entrance is the one on the far left hand end, behind the giant tree, that has a sign that says, "Lost and Found." OF COURSE.

The door leads you straight into the gift shop (OF COURSE), and you have to go through the gift shop to get to the museum part. The museum is a few small rooms that talk about the history and function of the RCMP, and the details of the Musical Ride.

We learned about the RMCP's bomb disposal unit:

Bomb Disposal Unit helmet

The kind of horses that are picked for the ride (must be almost all-black, 16 hands high):

Museum Display

And we saw the carriage that is used for visiting heads of state, including Will and Kate last year on Canada Day:

Will and Kate sat here!

There's also a video playing with footage of the actual Musical Ride, if you've never had a chance to see it.

A tour leaves about once every half hour from the museum section and lasts about 20 minutes. You'll get a chance to see the Musical Ride practice area:

Musical Ride rehearsal area

(This area is also open to the general public, you can come and watch them practicing which takes place most weekday mornings in the winter - call them for the schedule.)

You'll see the tack room and the ferrier's workshop:

Ferrier's Workshop

You'll see horses (yay!):

Horse RCMP Stables

You'll learn about how they name the horses (did you know there's a naming contest every year, in the spring?), how they choose the horses, and how the selected officers learn to ride.

Name Tags from Retired Horses

After the tour, you're welcome to walk behind the stables where they have a training area. When we were there, two riders were working with a new young horse and we were allowed to watch if we were VERY quiet.

Training Area

Out front, two RCMP officers in full uniform allowed us to get up close and personal with the horses:

RCMP Officers

That was probably the best part. We were able to pet the horses, chat with the officers (SO NICE), and we learned a few extra details, like how they brush-in a maple leaf pattern on the the horses' backsides before taking them out on rides. Cool.

I liked this visit because it felt like we were really learning something about Canada. We have, unfortunately, never actually seen the Musical Ride itself, so this was a great introduction. However, it was a pretty small place - we were able to cover the whole museum, the tour, and the visit with the officers in about an hour and a half. So it fits nicely in between naptimes, but if your kids are older, you can probably combine this visit with another event.

Also, word of warning: your secret plan to avoid riding lessons may backfire, and the budding love of horses may turn into full blown adoration.

Lynn is mom to three tombliboos and blogs over at Turtlehead.

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