Wild Deuce Retreats & Outfitting is only 45 minutes from Rocky Mountain House, Alberta, and just over three hours from the metropolis of Calgary. Wild Deuce has it all, from day rides to week-long wilderness pack trips, from women's retreats to horsemanship clinics to the Working Mountain Horse Competition and Sale. Its scenic trail system encompasses more than 340 square miles, which take in the picturesque Clearwater and Ram Rivers.
As I arrive, I find Wild Deuce co-owners Brenda Murdock and Terri McKinney busy shoeing horses and organizing tack. I introduce myself to the eight other women who'll be riding on the five-day Women's Retreat Ride. Then Taylor, Terri's 8-year-old homeschooled daughter, leads me to my horse.
"This is Slim," she announces. "He is a Belgian/Quarter Horse cross. Everyone likes Slim."
Towering over me at almost 17 hands high, Slim, a chestnut with a huge white blaze, looks like a gentle giant.
We assemble in the staging area, load up the saddlebags with lunches, and mount up. Our sleeping bags and clothes will go in a wagon pulled by Mike and Arvid, a pair of Norwegian Fjords, driven by Terri's husband Chuck and young Taylor.
On the trail, we wind along the shores of Beaver Lake in the Upper Clearwater Area of the Bighorn backcountry, crossing crystal-blue rivers rushing over stone beds. Every corner rewards us with a glimpse of vast valleys and painted-mountain backdrops. The pace is slow and steady as we chat and get acquainted.
Base camp consists of six canvas tarps draped over tree-limb frames, each equipped with a small wood-burning stove in the corner. At the camp's center are two large tents, one for cooking and another for tack.
We unpack our sleeping bags and gear to the clanging of bells hung around the horses' necks as they make their way to the field to free graze.
One memorable ride takes us up a valley with stunning views. A few deer watch us as we ride through a burn. The blackened, haunting stumps of half-charcoal trees are twisted into bizarre forms.
Just above tree line, the most incredible turquoise color slowly comes into view. Slim climbs the ridge, revealing a pristine glacial lake embedded in a circular valley.
"This is Lost Guide Lake," Brenda announces.
We dismount, tie the horses, and lunch on the banks of the lake. Diamonds dance on the water, as the sun bounces from ripple to ripple.
On the last full day of riding, our destination is 40-Mile Ridge. Beginning along the river's edge, the trail takes a sharp left and heads straight up. Climbing above the tree line, the view gets wider and wider until the entire sky opens to 360 degrees.
"This is the top of the world!" shouts Brenda.
The view boasts the border of Banff National Park on one side and the staging area where we started on the other.
When your belly hurts more from laughing than your butt hurts from riding, you know you've had a wild ride with Wild Deuce Outfitting.
Enjoy this bonus photo album from my trip! (For more on Wild Deuce, see The Trail Rider, April '10.)
For more information about Wild Deuce, call (403) 651-6142, or visit www.wilddeuce.com.
As the owner of Clix Photography (www.clixphoto.com), Shawn Hamilton travels worldwide to cover equestrian events and capture images that appear in top magazines, including The Trail Rider. She lives with her husband, four children, and five horses on a farm in Ontario, Canada.