Camp Canada

Head north of the bor­der for a top-notch horse-camp­ing ex­pe­ri­ence in On­tario’s beau­ti­ful Ot­tawa Val­ley.

Horse & Rider - - CONTENTS - BY SHAWN HAMIL­TON

Head north of the bor­der for top-notch horse-camp­ing in On­tario’s Ot­tawa Val­ley.

I was ex­cited yet a touch

anx­ious as I drove along the rolling hills of Ren­frew County to­ward Horse Coun­try Camp­ground in Foresters Falls, a 1½ hour drive north­west of Ot­tawa, On­tario. It was the first time my hus­band, Joe, and his Bel­gian/Paint Horse cross geld­ing, Ma­jor, would be join­ing me on a horse-camp­ing trip, and I wanted ev­ery­thing to be per­fect.

I chose a Septem­ber week­end when the weather is typ­i­cally cool in the re­gion. We’d post­poned our trip for a week af­ter Horse Coun­try’s of­fi­cial Fall-Colours (as we Cana­di­ans spell “col­ors”) Ride in the hope that Mother Na­ture would bring cooler tem­per­a­tures and more vi­brant color, but the area was still ex­pe­ri­enc­ing sum­mer’s warmth. (For in­for­ma­tion on fall-color rid­ing at Horse Coun­try, see page 59.)

Re­sort Camp­ing

Horse Coun­try Camp­ground ( horse coun­trycamp­ground.com) is si­t­u­ated in the scenic Ot­tawa Val­ley along the Ot­tawa River, which runs be­tween eastern On­tario and Que­bec. Re­sort ameni­ties make for a com­fort­able get­away with your horse no mat­ter your ex­pe­ri­ence level.

Horse Coun­try is a mem­ber­ship-based, com­mu­nity camp­ground part­nered with Wilder­ness Tours Re­sort, a 6,000-acre out­door-ad­ven­ture and white­wa­ter-raft­ing desti­na­tion along the banks of the Ot­tawa River. This model al­lows you to pur­chase, lease, or rent camp­sites for a time pe­riod of your choice and en­joy the trails along with the re­sort’s ameni­ties, in­clud­ing a pool, hot tub, restau­rant, and bar.

You don’t need to be a mem­ber of Horse Coun­try to camp here; many sites are des­ig­nated for nightly and week­end book­ings by non­mem­bers. You can spend a week or week­end away with your horse or en­joy a spe­cial event or clinic.

When I first vis­ited the camp­ground in 2013, it’d just opened with four sim­ple sites. In just five years, Horse Coun­try has ex­panded to al­most 70 eques­trian camp­sites, each with a cedar post-and-rail cor­ral.

You may choose a site with ei­ther a 20-by-20-foot or 60-by-20-foot cor­ral. (If you bring two horses, you can di­vide the smaller cor­ral into two 10-by-10-foot-

cor­rals.) If you’ll be staying for more than a week, ask about pad­dock time so your horse can re­ally stretch his legs. You may ei­ther bring your own hay or ar­range for hay to be de­liv­ered to your camp­site be­fore you ar­rive. Eques­trian ameni­ties on the prop­erty in­clude the new 100-foot-by-200foot sand arena and a cow­boy-chal­lenge ob­sta­cle course.

Each camp­site fea­tures a pic­nic ta­ble and fire pit, as well as a wa­ter hookup. There are no elec­tri­cal hookups; most campers run gen­er­a­tors and off-grid so­lar bat­tery sys­tems.

You may stay in your liv­ing-quar­ters trailer, a rental trailer, the prospec­tor tent, or the bunkhouse. You’ll ap­pre­ci­ate the grow­ing town of rus­tic build­ings hous­ing the main of­fice, tack store, and saloon/bar­be­cue area. Horse Coun­try is open ev­ery year from the third week in May to the end of Septem­ber.

Set­tling In

We pulled our liv­ing-quar­ters trailer through the ranch-style gate and were im­me­di­ately greeted by Wal­ter Wil­lett, pres­i­dent of Horse Coun­try Camp­ground, Inc. Wal­ter runs the camp­ground with his wife, Brenda.

Wal­ter showed us our site, which fea­tured an over­sized cor­ral big enough for both horses and a run-in shed. We un­loaded my Ap­paloosa geld­ing, Bai­ley Boy, and Ma­jor to graze and get used to the sur­round­ings. Bai­ley Boy set­tled right in. Ma­jor was a lit­tle un­sure, so he con­cen­trated on graz­ing the grass close by.

Abun­dant Trails

Sur­round­ing Horse Coun­try Camp­ground are more than 30 miles

of marked trails on 6,000 acres of pris­tine forests, bush, open fields, and Ot­tawa River wa­ter­fronts. You’ll find wa­ter cross­ings, bridge cross­ings, and gen­tle hills.

Trail ter­rain ranges from easy to ex­treme. Aside from the grassy ar­eas, the foot­ing is a mix­ture of clay, soil, gravel, and sand. A few of the up­hill stretches tend to be rocky.

You’ll ride through splashes of wild­flow­ers bor­der­ing a for­est of mostly ev­er­green ex­cept for the maple trees, which change from yel­low to or­ange to red in the fall.

From the camp­ground, pop­u­lar rid­ing des­ti­na­tions in­clude Voyageur Bay, where you can swim with your horse or just stop for a pic­nic and en­joy an Ot­tawa River view; River Run, a scenic ride along the river to an area with cab­ins and cor­rals for overnight stays; and the horse-friendly White Wa­ter Brew­ing Pub, which sup­plies rid­ers with a hitch­ing rail and wa­ter buck­ets.

A bonus: You’ll find mount­ing blocks along cer­tain trails for ease of mount­ing should you need to dis­mount to check your cinch or take a break. Mount­ing-block ar­eas are marked on pro­vided trail maps.

Quiet Morn­ing

The next morn­ing, sun­light fil­tered through the tow­er­ing pines along the drive­way as I walked to­ward the main build­ings. There are out­houses scat­tered among the camp­ground for con­ve­nience, but a short walk brings you to flush toi­lets and hot show­ers.

Typ­i­cally, when one wakes up at an

equine camp­ground, the sounds of pots clang­ing, horses nick­er­ing, and dogs yap­ping echo through­out the morn­ing air. But at Horse Coun­try, the camp­sites are so spread out that you rarely hear the go­ings-on of your camp­ing neigh­bors.

Joe pre­pared ba­con and eggs as I mucked the cor­ral. Af­ter break­fast, we tended to the horses. I was sur­prised at how well Ma­jor was tak­ing ev­ery­thing in stride. The geld­ing stands at just over 16 hands and, al­though he’s a bit of a teddy bear in per­son­al­ity, his Bel­gian-size neck al­lows him to pretty much go any­where he wants to, if he so de­sires. I wasn’t ex­pect­ing Ma­jor to be so well-be­haved in an un­fa­mil­iar place, but it ap­peared that he felt safe with his well-trav­eled buddy by his side. Per­haps a per­fect trail ride would round out our week­end.

River Rid­ing

We chose to ride to Voyageur Bay and River Run on the high road of the Wilder­ness Tours Trail. I was look­ing for­ward to swim­ming with my horse again, which I hadn’t done since camp­ing at Ot­ter Creek in New York years be­fore.

We packed our lunches, snacks, wa­ter bot­tles, hal­ters, lead ropes, maps, and GPS and headed through the camp­site to the trail­head. The last time I’d vis­ited the area, a mother bear and her cub were seen munch­ing on corn stalks near the trail, so I kept a close watch for bear.

To reach the trails, you first have to cross a wide, invit­ing bridge; or, you can sim­ply cross the river. We chose the river cross­ing on the way out, sav­ing the bridge for the way home as Ma­jor had never crossed a bridge be­fore. Ma­jor led the way across the river without hes­i­tat­ing. We rode up a hill and headed out on Broome Road aim­ing for a lunch stop at Voyageur Bay.

As we passed by a hu­man ob­sta­cle course for races out of White Wa­ter Raft­ing, Joe was able to get Ma­jor right up to ev­ery ob­sta­cle. Ma­jor was cu­ri­ous but calm when pass­ing the pile of tires and even touched the two tires hang­ing on a rail with his nose.

This trail proved to be quite rocky, but the view of the Ot­tawa River through the gaps in the trees made it worth­while. With Bai­ley Boy’s good shoes and Ma­jor’s din­ner-plate hooves, we man­aged the up­hill trail fine. The down­hill trail, how­ever, was quite a bit trick­ier. We took it slow, made it down safely, and con­tin­ued our way to Voyageur Bay.

When we reached the bay, we were ready for a break. We tied the horses to the pro­vided tie line, un­tacked them, grabbed our lunches and wa­ter from the sad­dle­bags, and en­joyed the view of the river while we ate at a pic­nic ta­ble.

Be­fore re-tack­ing, I took off my boots, jumped on Bai­ley Boy bare­back, grabbed Ma­jor’s lead, and headed to­ward the wa­ter. Ma­jor was hes­i­tant at first, but even­tu­ally I had them both in the wa­ter and at one point both were swim­ming. It was lovely. There’s noth­ing that brings me back to my child­hood like swim­ming on a horse.

Once ev­ery­one dried out we tacked up and headed for River Run.

The sandy foot­ing edged by tow­er­ing pines makes this a per­fect place for a nice lope.

When we reached River Run, we hopped off the horses, gave them a drink from the pro­vided buck­ets, and al­lowed them to graze while we in­spected the cab­ins and cor­rals. The cab­ins looked cozy and the cor­rals safe and invit­ing.

There’s a restau­rant on River Run’s grounds, but it was closed for the sea­son. Wal­ter had re­minded me of White Wa­ter Brew­ing Pub and its horse-friendly at­mos­phere, so we hopped back on our geld­ings and at­tempted to find our way there to quench our thirst.

All went well un­til we took a wrong turn at McCoy Road, just miss­ing the trail to the brew­ery. The path be­came wet and mucky, with slip­pery roots, so the go­ing was tough. So much for the per­fect ride I’d wanted for Joe!

Af­ter some do­ing, we man­aged to get through the muck and on the right trail back to the camp­ground. On this trail, we en­coun­tered switch­backs, which wound up and down through the for­est. We were glad to see the bridge cross­ing to the camp­ground. Cross­ing the bridge was easy; Ma­jor just wanted to get home to his hay and grass.

Day’s End

Af­ter un­tack­ing, we hosed off the horses at the wash­ing sta­tion and turned them out in their cor­ral to graze. It was a long day in the sad­dle, and we were bushed. We headed down the road to re­lax in the hot tub and swim in the pool. Af­ter a hot shower, we headed to the bar to en­joy a cool drink and live mu­sic, a splen­did way to fin­ish the day af­ter a long ride. We re­turned to our camp­site, tended to the horses, bar­be­cued steaks on our bon­fire, and en­joyed a glass of wine un­der the stars. It was per­fect.

RIGHT: This was the first time my hus­band, Joe, and his Bel­gian/Paint Horse cross geld­ing, Ma­jor (shown), joined me on a horse-camp­ing trip. I was sur­prised at how well Ma­jor took ev­ery­thing in stride.

TOP: Campers ap­pre­ci­ate the grow­ing town of rus­tic build­ings hous­ing the main of­fice, tack store, and saloon/bar­be­cue area. ABOVE-LEFT: Ma­jor en­joyed a long drink at Voyageur Bay be­fore we un­tacked and had lunch at the pic­nic ta­ble over­look­ing Ot­tawa River. ABOVE-RIGHT: At Voyageur Bay, I took off my boots, jumped on Bai­ley Boy bare­back, grabbed Ma­jor’s lead, and headed to­ward the wa­ter. Ma­jor was hes­i­tant at first, but even­tu­ally I had them both swim­ming.

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