The horses are rustling beneath a navy-blue sky as a meteor shower lights up the night. Whinnies echo across the park grounds as campfires are extinguished and the 75 campers retire to their tents and trailers.
When the sun rises, so do the cowboys and cowgirls who are up early to feed, water and groom their horses in preparation for the full-day trail ride.
This is the scene in the tiny Saskatchewan village of Roche Percee (pop. 149) as riders from Saskatchewan and Manitoba gather for the historic three-day Roche Percee Trail Ride.
This year’s annual ride marks the 21st time that riders have gathered in this very spot to commune with their equines and fellow horse lovers and to discover the diverse landscape that defines the coal-rich area of southeastern Saskatchewan.
“Ninety-nine per cent of people don’t know that this landscape exists,” says 72-year-old Art Brandsgard of Pilot Butte, Sask. who has attended 18 of the last 21 Roche Percee rides with his Belgian team and wagon.
The flower-encrusted grasslands, sandstone outcroppings and sprawling green coulees are juxtaposed next to dragline-scarred hills and pumping oil rigs. At times the ride travels only a few metres from the American-Canadian border and at other times, First Nations sandstone writings and teepee rings can be observed.
“There are lots of places we ride that you’d never know were there,” says trail boss Dallas Spencer, who scouted out the 65-kilometre route in advance. “If you’ve never seen draglines or things like that, it’s unique to ride alongside them for an afternoon.”
Brandsgard, who attends around 14 different trail rides annually, says he continues to attend the Roche Percee ride yearly because of the badlands-type of landscape and the physical workout it gives his Belgian team.
“It’s one of the best rides because it really challenges your horses,” says Brandsgard, explaining that he conditions his horses in advance and also rests them strategically along the ride so they can handle all of the inclines and valleys.
“It’s a demanding ride because you can’t just sit there in the wagon and go, you actually have to drive because if you don’t, you won’t make it up the hills.”
Brandsgard is joined annually by his 79-year-old brother, Harlan, who takes turns driving the team and covered wagon.
“As you get older, family becomes more important so the ride gives us time together,” says the younger Brandsgard, who often hands the reins over to his older brother Harlan.
“All the bickering you did when you were younger, you don’t do that anymore because time is too important now.”
Renate Selinger is at the Roche Percee Trail Ride for the first time with her horse, Cooper. The social worker camps for three days with two friends and their horses.
“It’s like a retreat because you’re away for three days and all you have to do is take care of yourself and your horse,” says the mother of three as she tents right beside her eight-year-old buckskin gelding who is pastured in a temporary electric fence.
“You wake up with your horse and go to bed with your horse — it’s an incredible experience.”
Trail boss Spencer, who rides alongside his wife, Carrie, and six-year-old daughter, Arizona, says he is hopeful the Roche Percee Trail Ride will have a future as long as its 21-year history.
“She (Arizona) has a friend her age with a mule that she rides with, so that is a really good thing. That’s the kind of thing that makes you want to keep the ride going.”
For information on the 2017 Roche Percee Trail Ride, contact Dallas and Carrie Spencer at [email protected] or (306) 421-5944.