The Great Canadian Cowboy Experience: Alberta Style

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The great thing about The Great Canadian Cowboy Package is that when you open it, it somehow suits you perfectly, like a Western shirt that you grow into. It's not something you tear open like a box, though; rather, it's a personal Western experience that's a cowboy's step up from the usual dude ranch.

If you're seeking a trip that can both transport and transform you, this combination of riding and cattle work combines gritty ranch living and high altitude Rocky Mountains fun. You can emerge a more accomplished rider and a real cattle hand with a wiser, gentler understanding of the great outdoors.

Ranching, Riding and Rolling Hills

So, what is The Great Canadian Cowboy Package?

Lucky for you, it comes in four options, so you can choose one that best fits. There are two packages if you want to learn and experience different Alberta ranching practices, including equine and bovine. The other two packages are for more experienced and adventurous: riders who enjoy camping and the whole outdoor adventure experience.

The 13-night Maverick Package combines the Lazy M Horse Ranch and the Mountain Base Camp. This is where the more experienced riders spend seven nights, part time on the ranch and part time in the Clearwater River Tent Camp in the great Canadian Rockies. You ride game trails, cross rivers and streams and spend five to seven hours in the saddle.

The next six nights are spent at Willow Lane Ranches' Porcupine Hills Western Cow Camp. The first night at Willow Lane is at the ranch proper, then guests head into the Porcupine Hills for five days of challenging riding, cattle gathering and extensive cattle handling work.

There is also the Vaquero Package which is for those with at least an intermediate riding ability, who want to experience the great outdoors and the ways of the real Cowboys/Vaqueros. The first part of this package is the Lazy M's Seven Day Out Post Mountain Experience. The second part is one of Willow Lane Ranches Advanced Cow Camps.

LeAnne Lane, owner of Willow Lane Ranch with her husband, Keith, is always working. So you'll always be eating hearty home cookin'.

"I need to put buns in the pan right now so you better you make it quick," she told me, when I approached her to discuss The Great Canadian Cowboy Experience.

You begin your adventure at Lazy M Ranch (just north of Calgary, the international gateway to the Canadian Rocky Mountains) and there they will teach you some horsemanship as you spend a few days at the ranch, says LeAnne. The rest of the time is spent at their Clearwater mountain camp, where you do some riding, Western style.

"It's a five-star tent camp where you get to see lots of wildlife and get your butt ready for longer hours in the saddle at Willow Lane Ranch," says LeAnne. After you spend the first seven days at the Lazy M, you go south to Willow Lane for cow camp or the ranch stay.

Canadian guest ranchesBeyond a Total Beginner's Dude Ranch

"This is not for beginners," says LeAnne. "You might be awfully sore if you did this and have never ridden before. A novice rider would be okay. At Willow Lane ranch you come to cow camp and the cattle work and adventure continues as you get to hone your skills."

Why choose Alberta over a riding and cattle experience elsewhere? Well, says LeAnne, there's the money to consider, among other aspects.

"Our dollar is still less expensive to do this and this package is really attractive because it includes transfers from the airport and ranches, so everything taken care of," she says. "We find that the people who come here like that."

And she contends the cattle work at Willow Lane, just southwest of Calgary, exceeds experiences elsewhere.

"You get a genuine cattle work experience at our ranch that you don't get that anywhere else," she says. "Elsewhere, you might just be able to watch, but here you are one of only six people. You get to participate and the experience so much better when the numbers are this small. It's a more intimate experience and we get a chance to know everyone."

When you get to Willow Lane, "you come to the ranch proper where there's rolling open grasslands at about 3,600 ft elevation. At cow camp, you reach 4, 000 ft and we ride up to 6,500 ft.," says LeAnne.

Canadian Rockies wildlifePorcupine Hills Teems with Wildlife

The rolling foothills of southwestern Alberta near Calgary are home to many authentic cowboys and ranches. You can find yourself within easy striking distance to pristine country that's remote enough that it can be inaccessible to anything other than people on horseback.

"The Porcupine Hills are special to me because they are so secluded," says LeAnne "You see wildlife including black bears, grizzly, deer, elk, moose and eagles. And there's beautiful wildflowers including Wild Rose and geraniums, and all the berries come out in the fall, such as saskatoons and wild
raspberries. It's quite the banquet!"

At the Lazy M, says LeAnne, Lane Moore is "an absolute genius with horses." And he is willing to share his knowledge with you and teach you how to handle a western horse.

"When you come to Willow Lane, Keith, my husband, has been coaching our guests for 16 years how to handle their horse and do the cattle work," she says. "You have these ranch horses that are special; these are not trail riding horses, it's definitely not tail to head. We call it a working ranch horse and they can be any breed, but they are trained by us."

The cow camp promises to be a rewarding experience for mostly intermediate riders and up who want to try something new and hone their skills.

"Your job is to keep cattle going the right way," says LeAnne. "It's about team work and following directions. If you are the type of person that really wants adventure and wants to experience something out of the ordinary or learn on your holiday, this is for you."

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