Vermont and Quebec are not so very far apart, and our two rides in the area share some similarities, but also offer very different experiences.
Icelandic Horses in Vermont
The riding in Vermont on the Sugarbush Tolt Trek is designed around the Icelandic horse breed, allowing you to learn about and experience their unique characteristics. These horses are wonderful, and it is a perfect opportunity for those who want to experience their distinctive gait, the tolt, for the first time. The riding begins in the arena with instruction of using the correct aids, giving you the chance to experiment with and feel for the comfortable 4 beat lateral gait.
The rest of the rides are in the vicinity of the farm, much along the quiet, hilly dirt roads in the rural country. You also use trails built and maintained for snowmobiling during Vermont’s long winter, and see small maple syrup gathering operations along the way. Given the steep rolling hills and terrain, it is a mellow-paced ride, plenty of time to relax and enjoy the scenery, and also numerous opportunities to perfect your tolting skills.
There are two rides each day, with lunch at the farm in between, and you have the opportunity to ride a variety of horses, as they are only ridden once a day at most.
The horses are so well cared for, with all staff very attentive to the highest quality of care. Veterans of years of being breed ambassadors to curious guests, many of these horses originally came from Iceland and have enjoyed long lives at the farm.
The area of Waitsfield, Vermont is lovely, and the inn accommodations ideally situated a short drive from the farm. The weather allowed for our breakfasts and dinners to be taken on the beautiful outdoor porch with its idyllic pastoral views. The food is fantastic, and the accommodations comfortable and atmospheric of the old fashioned Vermont country life. With your own car, you can easily visit the small town for drinks and souvenirs, and you have the opportunity to also sample local restaurants on nights dinner is not provided at the inn.
Overall, the experience is a very comfortable, fun, and relaxing way to meet Icelandic horses and spend time in the New England countryside.
A short trip north brings you across the border into Quebec. I took the bus from Burlington airport into Montreal, a city well-worth a visit. From there another bus took me to Trois Rivieres, where I was collected by the host, Bernard, for the St. Lawrence ride. Bernard’s affable attitude and playful banter with our other wonderful guide, Gen, provided much entertainment throughout our week’s stay.
Home base is Bernard’s farm, where you stay the first and last nights of your trip. The guest house has several bedrooms upstairs from the two shared bathrooms with showers, with lots of Western equestrian décor and artwork from the years the farm has operated.
Each morning you will tack your horse, with however much help is needed to become familiar with the Western gear. Your first day of riding is on the farm’s green rolling hills, through farmland and pasture with the opportunities to canter and get to know your horse.
That night you transfer by a short drive to the cabin in the nearby woods, where you and your horses stay for the week. The description by some as “as close to camping as you can get without a tent,” is a bit of an overstatement, as there are bathrooms with hot showers, stoves for cooking and battery operated lights. It is a basic and remote experience though, with no cell or internet service, and not much beyond the necessities of single beds and a long table for meals and companionship.
The riding from the cabin is through the park around the Gentilly river, through forested paths and across the river’s banks and dunes. The days are pretty fully spent in the saddle, with trotting and cantering throughout, so although you don’t need to be an expert rider, you should be prepared for long days with some faster paces. The horses are well-trained on the trail and take good care of their riders. Each morning you make your sandwich for lunch and stop along the way for a picnic meal. Breakfasts and dinners are impressive affairs, with dinner made on the farm and shuttled to the cabin. You have the opportunity to purchase drinks on the way to the cabin, an option which can be appreciated after a long day in the saddle, and enjoyed while Bernard serenades the group with his guitar in the evening.
Your last night is spent back at the farm before your final day of riding, with an introduction to cattle work. This day will likely have several day riders to join for the experience, as you split and herd the cattle with your group from their pasture to another area of the farm. If you’re lucky, as we were, to have a rogue cow with her own agenda, this includes much gathering from wooded and low visibility areas before continuing to the designated route! After lunch, your task is to herd them back to the pasture, with time for a shower before departure that evening.
The other guests with me on the ride drove from Boston and New York, respectively, and it is a good option for those on the east coast looking for something close to home. Pretty evenly located between Montreal and Quebec City, it would be a great addition to a wider Canadian visit. (Perhaps brush up on some French first; I was unprepared at how French the region is, and should’ve practiced with some French Canadian phrases before traveling!) With wonderful hospitality and lots of riding time, the St. Lawrence ride offers an escape into the world of the Quebec cowboy.
Depending on the type of experience you are looking for, one of these trips in the northeast could be a wonderful option for your next summer adventure in North America!
- Written by ride consultant Megan Barrett