Once again, the weather forecasts supplied by Environment Canada on CBC Radio were incorrect! Instead of cold, wet, overcast weather, the holiday weekend was brisk but largely sunny.
And so it was ideal for horseback riders.
Saturday saw over twenty horseback riders exploring the new trail hugging Gatineau Park’s southernmost boundary. It’s a trail that was recently completed by the Pontiac-based Gatineau Trail Riders’ Association (GTRA).
Association president Pierre Lapointe credits the help of GTRA member Gerald Storing from Wilson Road. The two worked hard last summer to prepare a new 5 km section of equestrian and pedestrian trail.
“The Pontiac section of the trail goes from my farm, Luskville Falls Ranch to Church Hill on the Eardley-Masham Road. Our new trail extends from there to the corner of Wilson Road and Steele Line.
“It’s been a lot of work: this new 5 km expansion meant we built a lot of bridges and culverts this summer. As well, at its eastern edge near the Eardley Road, we got four loads of big stones followed by six loads of 18 Tons of gravel to create a good trail base.
“The National Capital Commission (NCC) does an annual inspection June 1 to ensure the trails are okay. There are many criteria we have to meet, particularly regarding drainage. And there was lots of raking and shovel work, too. ATVs create a lot of tracks that fill with water, for instance.”
The GTRA hopes to further expand the network of trails in future years but must work with the NCC to do so.
“The NCC are much more cooperative now that they can see we’re serious. They want our equestrian trails to be inter-municipal and they must be seen to promote equine tourism.”
Mr. Lapointe certainly promotes this upcoming industry himself. He is owner/operator of the Luskville Falls Ranch, located at the base of Luskville Falls behind the Municipality of Pontiac’s Hotel de Ville. His ranch offers free room and board for horses whose riders want to go on the trail events. Why free, I asked him?
“It’s to promote equine tourism and our association,” he promptly replies. “Riders can call ahead, trailer their horses to the ranch and be assured that their mounts will be well-stabled, fed and watered. Travellers can even leave the horses here with me and head into Ottawa to sightsee for a day -- even overnight. The way I figure it is that it is important to promote equine tourism and also, to let people know that our association exists.”
Through organized efforts like the October 7 trail ride, the profile of the GTRA is being raised. Says Lapointe, “On October 13 the RCMP are coming out for an annual trail ride. Another trail riding association, Happy Hooves Trail Riders, from Manotick, are coming out the next day. That one is an open ride and there’ll be many more such events.”
Lapointe credits the Municipality of Pontiac and mayor Bruce Campbell as being extremely supportive and cooperative.
How popular was the October 7 ride?
Local riders and GTRA members like Maureen Tessier and Amber Walpole were among those who appreciated Lapointe and Storing’s trail-building efforts. Describing the October 7 ride as “exciting” and “beautiful,” both equestrians are eager to participate in many more trail riding events. As well, the pot-luck supper hosted by Storing at his farm after the ride ensures that horsey folks get to know one another. It’s all part of the fun.
And, after having been on a wagon-train and outrider event earlier this summer (not the well-publicized event that got so much press, but a privately organized event in September), I can personally say that I feel enthusiastic about equine tourism. That ride saw three waggons and heavy-horse teams as well as outriders from all over the Pontiac and also Ontario. The out-of-province riders were astonished at our Pontiac’s scenery and pretty backroads.
In my view, there’s nothing like horseback riding because it’s a sport that encourages compassion and understanding between human beings and another living creature. It is a particularly good sport for children as it also teaches responsibility, and how to care for an animal. A special bond develops between the horse and rider that is difficult to define or explain... but thrilling to experience. As well, riding slows you down and transports you away from your daily stresses. It relaxes you, encouraging you to appreciate the environments through which you are riding.
These are all excellent reasons to consider trying this age-old, popular sport that will get you out and about in our beautiful Pontiac.
The Gatineau Trail Riders’ Association costs $20 for single adults; $30 for a family of four. The association has irregular meetings but always welcomes horse people, regardless of whether or not they have their own mount.
President Pierre Lapointe can be reached at Luskville Falls Ranch, 455-2290. Call him to join, and to find out about dates for scheduled rides. If you are like me and don’t have a horse, he has seven that you can rent. If you own or have access to a horse, contact him for information regarding trailering your horses, watering them etc.
The GTRA is a member of the larger umbrella group, Québec à Cheval, which allows the smaller association to have insurance as well as having a voice and place in the larger network of equine tourism in the province.
The GTRA trail is open for horseback riding and hiking from June 1 to 30 November. Members only are allowed on the trail by horse, and all horses must have passed the Coggins test (and have documentation to prove it) not only for the rides but to be trailered at Lapointe’s ranch, too.
Mr. Lapointe adds, “Here at my ranch we do have a winter trail: as long as there is 4 inches of snow we can ride. The only reason we cannot ride in spring is that the ground is too soft.”
So all you horsey types, over to you! Get involved. Make this organization hum with your energy, enthusiasm -- and through your personal participation. The trails can grow, the municipalities will pay attention... if we all seize this opportunity to ride, get to know one another, and create a workable trail network to border Gatineau Park. That’s the goal: to connect the municipalities surrounding the park via a safe set of excellent trails.
Katharine Fletcher is a freelance writer based near Quyon. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org