Well into the second official season for Record Ridge Riding (RRR), Ken and Julie Drake’s horse-riding adventure company, Ken joked that he hopes this year the business will pay for his time shoeing horses, and maybe even pay for a couple of dinner dates with Julie.
Over four years, the couple have built RRR on a prominent south ridge of Mount Roberts, just a couple kilometres west of town on the Cascade highway. They carved roads and terraced paddocks into the old Drake property, and built a home and a stable out of timbers.
Ken’s great-grandfather moved to town when it was first a town, hired as a cattleman to feed the miners. Then he started the dairy herd and farm that would supply Rossland with milk for many years to come.
“If you want to ride over, that’s one of the rides we offer,” Julie said, pointing across the valley to the far side of Deer Park hill as she decided where to go for an afternoon ride. Julie sparkled with genuine excitement for the available trails. They offer everything from one hour jaunts to the full length of the Rossland Range, passing old shafts where armed guards used to protect the motherlode, and navigating the steep creeks, gullies, meadows, rocky ridges, and forests that define this region.
“I grew up here. The day I left was the day I wanted to move back,” Ken said.
Ken moved to Alberta for work, and the rest of his family left Rossland too. Of his parents and siblings, only Ken and his mother live in Rossland today.
Julie recalled their early days together: “I worked up at the oil patch and he worked at the saw-mill.” They shared a passion for horses and spent countless days in the saddle together, but in the two decades Julie’s known Ken, “he was chomping at the bit to get back here.”
They married 17 years ago and stayed in Alberta for the work, bred a herd that now sits at 18 horses, and dreamed of Record Ridge Riding.
Five years ago, prayers were answered and they were joined by their son Austin. The well-worn dream of RRR came true when the family moved here the following year.
“We’re really blessed,” Julie said, surveying the landscape. “We’ve got the Alberta sunrise,” Ken said. “It’s awesome.”
For Ken and Julie, horses are love and lifestyle first and foremost. Ken “grew up on the back of horses,” remembering one old Clydesdale, Buck, he used when he was 13 to skid logs. “I got my first shiner on him,” he said, ducking a branch and hitting his face on the saddle.
The couple were married on horses, with Julie on Keasha and Ken on Radar, two white Arabian horses who remain close companions. Soon afterwards, Ken started to breed a herd of “Arabian quarter horses” who blend Ken’s favourite traits.
Ken once considered himself a quarter horse man. He thought Arabs were “airheads” and “hot-blooded,” even if they’re fast, until he trained one for a client and grew attached.
“They’re a real people-pleasing kind of animal, you can’t have a rough hand with them — they get all eyeballs and nervous.”
“If you can keep calm all the time, you can get a really good horse out of them. They’re soft, they’re giving.”
“But I like the quarter horse features — that quarter horse ass and muscle.”
Ken denied offering lessons in a traditional sense, for horse-jumping for example — for that, they’d have to build “more pens and an arena.”
But Julie jumped in: “He’s awesome at teaching people. If you or your kid want to come out and just know how to ride the trails, how to cross creeks and lift the horses feet, he shines at that.”
Julie is proud of Ken’s talents. “He’s a phenomenal horse trainer. If you have a horse with a problem, bring it to Ken. That horse will get it.”
Ken understands that horses are intimidating. “They’re powerful,” he said, “if they only knew how powerful, relative to us.”
The couple have had very nervous people who struggled with their fear, but “we match them up to the right horse,” Julie said. “We want everyone to have a good time. They’re gentle, these horses are awesome.”
Ken summed up his horse wisdom in simple terms: “They’re always looking for the leader,” he said. “They’ll always follow the leader. So you have to step up to the role.”
“It’s all listening to your horse. What works today on this horse, might not work on the other horse. You have to read their body language.”
He also explained how humans can communicate back to horses. “It’s all posture. It’s all in body posture and language that horses understand.”
When I got on Magnum, a steady quarter horse, most of Ken’s simple directions concerned gentle leadership: “Horses read people quick. They’ll find out what they can get away with,” Ken said, “and they’ll get away with it.”
“There’s no eating on the trail. These horses have hay all day, but the first thing they’re going to do is try you, they’ll reach down and try to take a bit of grass. First thing you do is correct them. If you do it right away, he’ll probably be pretty good the rest of the ride.”
Over the years, they’ve seen the positive benefits horses bring to people. “Even the medical profession is starting to realize the effect that animals have on people,” Ken said. “Just standing around brushing a horse is soothing. I could brush a horse for hours.”
Once Ken worked with an autistic girl whose motor skills were quite compromised: “As soon as she saw the horses, she was all smiles,” Ken recalled.
Increasingly, the horses are paying their way. “We’re doing better every year,” Julie said, and Ken noted a lot of local business out of Nelson, an increase in travellers from far away, and repeat riders as well.
Business was a little slow in the spring, but should pick up in the sun we’ve had. “Weather dictates a lot,” Ken said, “plus we’re just getting started. It takes time to get known.”
In the meantime, they’re self-sufficient by necessity, and Ken has good first aid skills and does all his own shoeing. He hopes business will expand enough this year to hire a farrier, but these specialists are costly.
Acknowledging that it’s all “a really big dream,” they see business growing and talk freely about all kinds of plans, from wagon rides to long distance treks, from hay sheds to campsites, all with a bigger vision in mind.
To learn more, visit www.recordridgeriding.com.