Holidays

Canada’s prairie country always seems barren to me, as though something is missing and the ecosystem is incomplete. Probably because it is. For tens of thousands of years, as many as 30 million bison formed the cornerstone of a complex ecosystem, which dominated the Great Plains. In 1890, bison were perilously close to extinction, with less than 1,000 animals scattered across the continent. Today, largely due to conservation efforts by Parks Canada, bison thrive in parks and private herds, worldwide.

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The words Finally a Horse Back Ride in Cuba jumped out at me when searching through the Unicorn Trails website. The Tabaqueros Ride going right through Valle Viñales, my favourite part of the island, sparked visions of oxen-powered carts, tobacco fields, and memories of watching the sun burn off the mist in the valley of limestone mounds. Having lived in Cuba for just over two years in the mid-1990s, I had a strong desire to revisit the country to see how it had changed.

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It’s a beautiful day to head out to the mountains for some playtime. You grab your horse and tack and head out in the afternoon for a quick ride to your favourite spot. It’s 28 degrees Celcius and you don’t see a cloud in the sky. You grab a light windbreaker for “just in case,” get on your horse, and soon you’re enjoying the peaceful sights, sounds, and smells of the forest.

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Since 1926, the Circle Z Ranch has welcomed guests to the traditions and beauty of our pristine Arizona property. We create unique, all-inclusive horseback riding vacations for visitors of all ages and riding abilities.

Our group of 17 horses and riders had taken shelter from the brutal midday sun beneath a massive overhang created thousands of years ago when water roared through the valley, and our chosen lunch spot was also home to several rattlesnakes.

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Click. Nothing. I pressed the button on top of my headlamp again. Click. Still nothing. Oh crap. My headlamp batteries had just died, and on the worst morning possible. Today was the day I would be riding Chocolate through 912-metre long Bulldog Tunnel as part of our 550 kilometre solo journey along the Trans Canada Trail (TCT).

My favourite aspects of a riding vacation anywhere in the world are experiencing the spectacular scenery of a new country from the back of a native horse, and glimpsing the true culture and everyday life of the local people. The Wild Andes Expedition Ride with host Gabriel Espinosa of Hacienda La Alegria, which I found through Unicorn Trails, offered a close-up view of life in the mountains at all elevations in the Ecuadorian Andes.

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