A visit to an authentic guest ranch in Alberta can be addictive. All it took was one week of working with the herd, tending to the animals, hanging out with real wranglers and watching that sun sink in the west and I was hogtied in love with the traditions, folklore and lifestyle.
If you spend time on the range it won’t take long before you’re looking for your next fix of the cowboy way. Be it poetry, made-to-measure western gear or learning the art of roping and riding, Alberta has your inner cowboy covered.
Boots Are For More than Just Fashion
Nothing tells a story like a pair of cowboy boots and Alberta Boot Company in Calgary is the place to start. Quality craftsmanship has made the company a household name since 1978. Choose from over 6,000 pairs of in-stock boots or have a pair custom made just for you. My boots have a scuff from a stepping stone I fell off while crossing a creek. There’s also a soft rub from long days in the stirrup and wrinkles and caked-on mud from fixing a fence in the rain. The older the boots the better the stories – just like cowboy poetry.
Cowboy Poetry Party
At least a dozen Cowboy Poetry events happen each year in Alberta – drawing poets and musicians who love all things country and western. In mid-July you’ll find me tapping my toe to the music and laughing with the storytellers at the annual Willow Creek Cowboy Gathering in Stavely, about one hour south of Calgary. Poets gather from across the continent – young and old – to tell tall tales romancing life on the range. The sagas may be based on truth, but like they say – why let that get in the way of a darn good story? Gatherings are usually accompanied by a dance and equine events.
Step Back and Learn
You’ll learn all about Alberta’s western heritage at the historic Bar U Ranch, along the famed Cowboy Trail (Hwy 22) in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies. It’s a working ranch so it’s easy to find a rope to toss at a hay bale dressed as a calf. My husband mastered the toss while I sipped coffee brewed over an open fire. The kids followed the sound of a gently tapping hammer to see how a leather saddle is adorned and came home with a leather tag they tooled themselves. Riding in a wagon easily pulled by a team of silky black Percheron horses was a wonderful way to explore the ranch. We always try to line up our visit with one of Bar U’s many summer events. The old-fashioned western celebration on 1 July for Canada Day is definitely a family favourite.
Learn to Dance Like A Cowboy
One summer, we took a road trip to Hill Springs and spent the weekend at the Great Canadian Barn Dance campground. Saturday night was a good old barn dance where we learned to two-step, line dance and square dance. We all had a blast. Next time we’ll head to the iconic western bar –Ranchman’s Cookhouse and Dancehall in south Calgary. I can almost taste the famous Stampede Beef on a Bun – made with tender melt in your mouth brisket that’s been marinated for 24 hours. My cowboy boots can hardly wait.