Ride Viking style
The small but sturdy Icelandic horse probably traces its origins to early Viking settlers. These horses, famous for their good natures, flowing manes and ambling gaits (known as a tolt), are seldom seen on trail rides outside Iceland. Today, however, you can ride one of these gentle creatures through some 125 acres on the scenic Niagara Escarpment near Collingwood at the Pretty River Valley Country Inn. During a 20-minute natural horsemanship session in the arena, you’ll learn how to communicate with these willing steeds. After the guided one-hour ride, relax in the steam rooms, saunas and outdoor pools of nearby Scandinave Spa. The Icelandic horse experience is offered year-round through Pretty River Valley Country Inn as part of a two-night getaway package.
Outwit the tracker
During the week, enjoy a four-hour guided trail ride through the rural landscape along the Conestogo River, criss-crossing back and forth across the water as you make your way into the village of St. Jacobs. Tie up your steed in the Mennonite hitching shed or by the Shadetree gift shop. Your horse naps while you get explore the town and grab some lunch at the adjacent River Rose Cafe. Then ride back to the Conestogo River Horseback Adventures base. Your mount might be a friendly Canadian horse, even a Belgian draft horse that’s “very comfortable, like riding a couch sideways,” says owner Tatyanna van Lenthe. Deer, bald eagles, blue heron and osprey are often seen along the way. More prosaic, but amusing, adds van Lenthe, are the friendly herds of cows. “They are very curious. One even tried to lick a horse.” Prior experience is not required, but a little athletic ability would make it easier to spend three hours in the saddle. Teenage boys love van Lenthe’s manhunt-like game where participants are given a map and have two hours to run back through the forest to the house while she gives chase on horseback.
Take a carriage ride
Horse-drawn carriages are a common sight along the roads of Waterloo County, home to many Old Order Mennonites. But, you too can now enjoy a ride through the historic streets of Elora in one of these classic vehicles with driver Jacques Dion. “The carriage was one of the last ones made in Wallenstein (a nearby village), ” says Dion. “It can easily carry up to six adults and it has a double-folding top to protect you from the sun and rain.” Pulling the carriage is a single beautiful Clydesdale horse he bought from the Carson farm in Listowel. “Austin always does his job diligently and is very calm and safe in traffic,” reassures Dion. When young kids come along, they can sit with him and help to drive the carriage. “This experience has left many everlasting memories with hundreds of kids over the years.” The carriage usually sets out from the Café Creperie on Mill Street in Elora. The service is popular with bridal parties so call the café ahead to book, 519-846-1618, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Visit a donkey
The hardest of hearts will melt at the Donkey Sanctuary of Canada where visitors meet some of the 100 horses, mules and hinnies (the offspring of a horse stallion bred to a female donkey) in their care. Learn the difference between a Jenny and Jack, watch a donkey care demonstration and even try brushing one yourself. The animals at the sanctuary have either been rescued from abusive situations or from owners who could no longer offer proper care to their animals. Visitors can stroll down the farm lane and visit the barn. Bring a picnic to enjoy at a table beside the pond filled with koi. Visitors are asked not to feed the donkeys but are welcome to bring gifts for their care including white vinegar and Epsom salts. June 9 is Donkey Day, a special event with wagon rides, agility dogs, demonstrations of equine massage, music and informative talks. Open Wednesdays and Sundays only.