The waiver handed to me at Valle Vista Stables was an opus of epic proportions, a bone-chilling yet creative document. If an adult whose only experience with horses is running past them as quickly as possible at Elk/Beaver Lake didn’t already have a few nerves over mounting one, page after page outlining equine unpredictability, injury and quite possibly death is a great way to introduce some. Just as I’m about to do what I do every time I get on an airplane and come to terms with my own mortality, Valle Vista owner Terry Cardin and his trail guide Dieter Elliott introduce me to their rescued Arabian, Barbie. She’s beautiful.
Elliott leads Barbie to the riding ring and a three-step staircase where I’m able to easily slip my foot inside the stirrup and climb atop her sturdy saddle. Any anxieties born of the weighty waiver instantly dissolve and with the simplest of instructions: pull left on the halter to lead her leftward; pull with my right hand to lead her right. Pull back to stop. And the one tricky move to master – give her a little kick to get going. Hands on the horn of the saddle, leaning back slightly, I press my heels against her and eventually we get going. It’s not so much a kick as it is a massage with the back of my boots. I just don’t think she deserves the kick.
Barbie – or T-Rex Barbie Doll – is a gentle, semi-retired 24 year-old from Poland, naturally inclined to follow Cardin atop George – technically Giegio Valle – the Spanish stallion, here to keep us in line. With George and Cardin up front, Elliot chatting at my side, this feels incredibly safe, but not overly controlled – like a high school party with the cool parents still at home. We turn onto Lochside Drive and in a few minutes, we’ve hit the trail. Cardin twists over his shoulder and lets me in on a few nuggets of wisdom he’s gathered during his 40-plus years riding.
The most common mistake he sees newbie riders make: assume they can break out into a gallop on their maiden voyage. I’m not about to see from where Barbie earned her T-Rex moniker. I’m thinking she’s more of a glam rocker than a fierce pre-historic predator, but either way, we’re keeping a damper on her fire while I’m aboard. About 20 minutes in, I feel like an extra in High Noon. This is too much fun.
Other fatal missteps Cardin deals with regularly seem too dumb to take seriously: riders clad in dresses, flip-flops, heels. I’m going to Stossel-out on this one and simply add, Give Me a Break. If you have a shred of common sense and an open mind, you’ve got this. Even harbouring a little anxiety through the ride is alright. His horses, Cardin says, generally pick up on the energy and adapt accordingly. The emotional bond formed between horse and rider is the one holding Cardin in the career.
His first ride came as an enthused six-year-old in Esquimalt, before he became a full-time show rider and eventually landed where he is today: a businessman with a heavy focus on on kids’ camps and therapeutic riding for children with disabilities of all kinds. I get it. We meander across the mulch, alongside the lush, foliage and I feel both as giddy as a kid on pony ride at the fair and totally chill – something I know I haven’t been as of late. The easy roll of Barbie’s gait is novel enough to keep me engaged and engaging enough to keep my mind from turning back to life’s ongoing stresses. Every so often, she breaks into a trot, I bounce in the saddle and just as I’ve had enough excitement, she’s responded to my tug on the halter and slowed to a crawl. By now I’ve fallen just a little in love with Barbie.
“You have it in you,” Cardin says. “You’re either a rider or you’re not a rider. You can make somebody ride, but if they don’t have the heart of desire, they will never become a good rider.”
I will never become a good rider. But I reveled in the commercial experience – the joy of riding without the real work involved, the saddling, grooming, feeding, cleaning of the stalls.
“It’s very calming and relaxing,” Elliot says. “It’s nice to be out with animals in nature – and you’re always learning.”
The first lesson learned: Cardin’s waiver was a little exhaustive.
The hour-long beginner’s session evaporated around me and suddenly, we’re back at the stables. I clutch the saddle, forgo the step to dismount and swing my right leg from stirrup to dirt like a bona fide cowgirl. Or maybe more like a glam rocker confidently flailing about and unafraid to pass the next set of hooves I encounter out on a run.
Valle Vista Stables is located at 6281 Lochside Dr. in Central Saanich, with a second location, aimed at more advanced trail rides, slated for a July 1 launch in Prospect Lake. For details, contact