Experience a horse riding holiday with a difference, and discover First Nations culture in Alberta through the eyes of the Ojibway, Cree, and Mohawk people. Ride in the foothills of the beautiful Rocky Mountains and reconnect with the outdoors from a new perspective — one that is rooted in Indigenous ways of knowing, learning, and connecting with the wilderness. Located one hour northwest of Calgary and around 16 miles south of Sundre, at the Painted Warriors Ranch, the heritage of Canada's original inhabitants is woven into every activity, their philosophy shaping all of the authentic outdoor experiences.
Initially working with Indigenous youth groups to keep their traditions alive, the Painted Warriors Ranch opened up its gates and its teachings to travellers in 2012: their aim to bridge the understanding between cultures through wilderness education, hands-on training, rituals, customs, and stories.
The team has decades of expertise, and whether it’s a day spent wildlife viewing on horseback or picking up a bow for the first time, you can expect to receive patient hands-on guidance. Owners Tracey Klettl (a descendant of the Cree and Mohawk people) and Tim Mearn (Saulteaux and a member of the Cote First Nations band), are highly qualified Outdoor Council of Canada instructors with many additional diverse certifications between them including, interpretive guiding, archery and horse riding. Painted Warriors is also an accredited training facility and is certified through the International Wilderness Guides Association.
All First Nations tribes share an intimate connection with the animal kingdom, especially the equine world, and at Painted Warriors, they feel it is important to preserve and impart their knowledge of working with horses, through this indigenous lens. From May through October, you are invited to explore stunning scenery from the saddle, the ranch surrounded by 82 acres of pristine wilderness. The small group horseback adventures take a maximum of six guests and range from two to 10 days, each one giving you the opportunity to learn new skills including natural navigation, geology, animal tracking and medicinal plant identification, horse riding, and backcountry basics.
A typical 10-day adventure will start at the Painted Warriors Ranch. For the first five days you will not only be learning basic riding skills and safety around your horse, but also developing your understanding of First Nation outdoor skills from basic camping and fire lighting, to reading the nature trails and learning about the indigenous culture and its link to these very ancient lands. Even if you are an experienced rider, you will find there is a lot to learn. The final five days are spent out on the trail putting what you have learnt into practice. As the programme is flexible, we will work with you to tailor the trip to your exact requirements.
The accommodation is based in comfortable trapper tents with shared facilities. Hearty breakfasts are served to get you ready for the day’s activities, while indigenous-inspired snacks and home-made dinners are taken “family style”, and weather permitting, around the campfire. Share stories from the past to the present day in the traditional way under the wide Canadian skies, or alternatively there is the large meeting hall.
The ranch also draws on its First Nation heritage when it comes to archery, the activity reawakening our genetic memory as hunter gatherers and restoring our deep connection to the land. Having once represented Canada at the world archery championships, Tracey now teaches guests how to use a bow and arrow. Realistic foam targets in the shape of different animals, from elk to boar foam part of a simulated hunt.
The ranch has accommodations for up to 14 people, the roomy Métis-style trapper tents (each tent can hold up to five people) surrounded by forest, and heated by cozy wood burning stoves. Glamping is possible for individuals, families or larger groups.