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Canada Riding Vacation

Inns of Gaspe - Canada

July 27 - August 2, 2008

I have just returned from a riding trip with some of my students to the Gaspesie region of Quebec in Canada. The ride was booked through Equitours ( www.equitours.com ). For those of you considering a riding vacation, I thought I’d share some of our experience and impressions from the trip.

First of all, we are from Houston, Texas, and the ride meets up at an Inn in Metis Sur Mer near Mt. Jolie in Quebec, Canada. We had to GET there. OMG! What a nightmare (both going and returning)! We flew Continental Airlines with a stop over to change planes at Newark Airport. NEVER AGAIN will I fly through Newark. I’ll walk first!

The airline cancelled our flight to Quebec and we were booked onto the Quebec flight the next day meaning we’d lose a day of riding. We opted to fly into Montreal where we rented a car and drove 8 hours to the Inn, arriving at 3:00 am. We were absolutely exhausted but were seriously cheered up when we were met at the door by the Innkeeper, Matthieu, looking a bit bedraggled (as he had been waiting up for us) but very friendly and helpful. We slept about 4 hours and then had the most awesome breakfast of crepes with fresh strawberries and bananas. Met our trip guide, Pierre, at breakfast and he walked us out back to meet our horses.

We found, to our delight, that we would be riding some good Canadian drafty type sport horses with good bone and in great flesh and muscled like you wouldn’t believe. Good thing, too, as they were going to haul our butts for over 100 miles in the next 5 days.

We immediately hit the road (an unpaved logging road) and began to wind around for a good 22+ miles the first day through some absolutely gorgeous countryside. We travelled mostly along logging roads and faint trails through heavy forests and the most amazingly thick and varied wildflowers you can imagine. On one morning I attempted to count the different types of wildflowers and just gave up when I reached forty! There were tons more. Just lovely.

Our rides took us not only through verdant forests and along rustic roads, but also across countless and vast fields of alfalfa, wheat, oats and mixed hay meadows. We passed by, but not through, enormous fields of canola in full bloom looking for all the world like there had come a blizzard of bright yellow snow. And I cannot begin to describe how beautiful were all the lakes, small and large, and the rivers over which we crossed and watered our horses each day.

Pierre was obviously a good and loving horseman, making certain that we stopped each hour to allow the horses to graze and rest – claiming each time it was a “pit stop” for the riders. We knew better. And at every stream we passed, the horses were encouraged to drink their fill. On one day, we even took turns allowing the horses to drink from a tiny watering hole that Pierre actually had to use the machete he carried on his saddle to cut through the brush enough to expose the tiny trickle of water. Pierre tried mightily to appear to be a French-Canadian tough guy, but we could tell he was a softie when it came to his beloved horses. And his 18 year old daughter, Alexandra, who travelled with us bringing up the rear, was much the same.

Each day we lunched in a different, and very special, place. The first day was at a place where the most wonderful maple syrup is made. We learned about the process of boiling down the maple water until it becomes syrup and then boiling it more until it becomes maple sugar. After we finished our very typically European lunch of light sandwiches, cru d’état, juice and light dessert, we were treated to samples of maple syrup and maple sugar (more on that wonderful maple product later).

The next day was at a lovely scenic blueberry farm. After a light lunch, we waited patiently for dessert and were told “Your dessert is that way.” We hiked up the hill to the blueberry fields and picked and ate blueberries (and some wild raspberries and wild cherries) till we were fit to bust.

Next day’s lunch was beside a trout pond, eaten after we had each caught a trout to be cooked for our dinner that night! Then the next day was at an organic farm where the owners delighted us not only with the wonderful quiche and rhubarb/strawberry upside down cake, but with their farm and their seven (count them – SEVEN!) adopted children. And the final lunch, a simple but elegant packed lunch, was eaten perched precariously on a ridge overlooking the entire Gaspesie region!

Dinners? OMG! Let’s just say that the Continental French have nothing on the French Canadians when it comes to cooking. I’m not sure I’ve ever eaten so well for an entire week. Matthieu and his wife, Stephanie, and Michelle are to be especially commended for some spectacular meals.

Okay. More about the rides. Each day featured a new “roller coaster canter” that definitely kept us on our toes and left us breathless and exhilarated. The horses loved them, too. These special gallops varied in terrain from deep wooded winding trails to up and down the hillsides to dashes alongside a multitude of flowered fields. As if these were not exciting enough, the last day’s ride took us all the way to the St. Lawrence Seaway, where we rode right on the beach with waves crashing all around us, then on the “Bonzaii Gallop” of approximately 2 kilometers where our wonderful horses blew out all the stops and seemed to find as much joy with the wind (and rain that day) in their faces as we did.



The last day was a full 30 miles of riding and ended back at l'Auberge Une Ferme en Gaspesie, owned by our adored Matthieu and Stephanie, where we were welcomed back with good Quebecois wine and a meal to die for. OMG! Please let me have more of that pheasant en cruet! And then the dessert of a fresh bread covered in heavy cream, fresh maple syrup and maple sugar was just unbelievably scrumptious. It was topped with a farewell shot the contents of which I will not reveal. You must experience it for yourselves.

After such a lovely riding trip, it was truly a bummer to fly back into Newark and have our flight to Houston cancelled and to be told we would have to sleep on the airport floor as there were no hotels available for 50 miles. We flew out the next morning at 5:30 am, just thankful we didn’t get stuck like one of our party who volunteered to drive our rental car back to Montreal and fly back from there. She was stuck for TWO DAYS.

But the trip was definitely worth the hassle. If you are a decent rider and are comfortable at a full gallop for long periods of time on fit horses, then you owe yourself a trip like this. And if you go, give Pierre and Alexandra and Michelle and Matthieu (and my sweet horse of the week, Jack) a hug for me.

Visit the website of Ranch des Collines Chic-Choc here at http://www.ranchdescollines.com/anglais/index.html


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