Beautiful horses happily play together on large pastures. Thick, colourful rolling hills spread out as far as the eye can see. Trails jut off in every direction, emphasizing the journey not the destination. An old green Chevrolet truck sits quietly in a wooden barn. Welcome to Rawhide Adventures. Welcome to Ontario.
Carl, colloquially known as Crusty, takes great pride in his ranch, and it shows. He’s been running Rawhide Adventures out of Peace Valley Ranch for many years with a great sense of passion.
“My dad started this in 1964, and I took it over in 1975. We started with 2 horses, and now…well, we have 40.” He’s wearing brown leather chaps, a bright pink dress shirt with rolled up sleeves, and a cowboy hat. “I watched too many John Wayne movies,” he says, through laughter.
Located about an hour and a half from the heart of Toronto, the idyllic scenery here would have you believe you’re in another world. The honking of horns is replaced with the clatter of hooves, and the smell of exhaust quickly turns into that of hay and fresh fields. Crusty’s knowing smile is a sure indication that he’s well aware of all of that.
The foundation of Rawhide Adventures is predicated on a deep respect for horses and the tradition of ranching. Crusty, as it were, has both his wife, Natalie, and daughter, Nikki, by his side to make this a true family ranch which lives up to certain ideals and principles. With sincerity his daughter, something of a horse whisperer, noted, “this is a family ranch, what I would want to stress the most to people is how amazing our horses are.” The best part about a visit to Peace Valley Ranch, and taking part in the repertoire of activities that Rawhide Adventures offers is that, for a moment, you get a genuine window into life on a ranch – a life that, typically, is going to be quite different from your own.
The easiest way to be a part of the fun and decide if the ranch life is your cup of tea is to book a trail ride. It’s worth noting that Rawhide Adventures operates on a reservation only policy, and that’s because they want to ensure that your experience is catered to you. You’ll provide your age, height, weight, and riding experience, and they’ll choose the horse that’s the best fit. A trail ride costs approximately $40 per person, per hour, and each booking needs to be a minimum of two hours. An expert rider will be accompanying you though, to ensure that your experience is both safe and enjoyable.
This isn’t a “single file, long narrow trail along the roadside” sort of adventure. Rather, you’ll be riding your horse across escarpments, over open fields, in the midst of the forest, as well as on the cattle ranch itself. The private trail ride is an ideal way to get your feet wet, and it’s available for any experience level.
If your inner-cowboy (or cowgirl, of course) is aching to come out, remember that at Rawhide Adventures safety is their number one priority and, as such, you’ll need to make sure you’re wearing the appropriate attire. If you’re planning on riding a horse, you should have either boots or running shoes with socks, a comfortable pair of jeans, and a long sleeve top.
The ideal way to fully understand what life on a ranch is like is through the Ranch Life Program, which aims to immerse you in the experience of “A Day in the Life of a Rancher.” The experience is highly customizable based on skill and interest, and can be as physically demanding as you’d like. You can expect to try your hand as haying, painting, as well understanding more about fence checks, rotational grazing, and even calf sorting depending on the season. Of course, a number of hours a day with the horses is also all part of it. Peace Valley Ranch has a fully functioning bed and breakfast on the property, so the experience is truly immersive.
Talking with Crusty about the experiences he’s had with guests from the past is like watching him talk about old friends. One woman in particular brought her daughter to the ranch for a week, and in full smile, he noted, “Ah, we had a great, great time.”
The list of things going on at this ranch is remarkable. In an effort to get the youth more involved, Rawhide also operates a popular Wrangler in Training (WIT) Summer Camp for kids aged 10-15. Beyond that, they also run a number of Cattle Drives each year, where more experienced riders help to move the herd. The interest in their Cattle Drives garnered so much interest that they now also run a Cattle Driving 101 workshop for on-ranch training in between them.
The Peace Valley Ranch, and Rawhide Adventures in particular, offers people the chance to put on another hat for one day, and a cowboy hat at that. Crusty’s daughter notes about the region, “It’s a hidden gem. The fact that we can have so much green space an hour away from the biggest city in Canada…It’s kind of remarkable.” It’s easy to keep your head down and decide what a province or an area is without ever bothering to explore it. Rawhide Adventures, in a sense, is inviting you to come and explore a different side of the region, but, also, a different side of yourself.
Images 4, 5, 6, 8, 12 Courtesy of ROSEMARY HASNER/ BLACK DOG CREATIVE ARTS
Written by: Christopher James Mitchell