Back in the saddle, back to nature


Finding harmony in Athabasca on horseback, paddling

Clucks and whinnies greet Caitlyn Chernish and Toni Shenfield as they walk towards the bright red barn. From the moment you step onto the Leaning Tree ranch, there is a sense of well-maintained order and tranquility, of nature in harmony with humanity.

Not a fence post is out of place, the garden is bountiful and the animals in their habitats seem content, although naturally curious. This is important, because when you’re riding a horse for the first time, like Shenfield, you want to quickly feel a mutual trust between you, your guides and your animal.

Watch Back in the saddle and back to nature in Athabasca County on YouTube.

Shawn and Amara Dallyn have designed everything at Leaning Tree Trail Rides to cater to that experience. By limiting their rides to small groups, they ensure there is a certain comfort among riders, and that each gets individual attention. Both horse and rider are set at ease, through the calm and confident handling of their guides. 

Once in the saddle (if not before), you’re drawn into the moment - communicating through simple gesture, paying attention to the horse’s wordless language, and being aware of your surroundings. 

Out on the trail, it all comes together. The Athabasca region is naturally diverse and abundant, with tall spruce, pine and aspen, living marshes, soft meadows and those long, quiet country roads that just beg for horse traffic.

#TakeItToTheLake this summer. Plan your trip to Athabasca!

“I hadn’t ridden in a long time, so it was good to get back in the saddle,” says Chernish. “Beautiful day, beautiful trails, calm horses… it was great. It was very peaceful, very relaxing. Once you know how to ride a horse, it comes back to you and it’s just a really relaxing experience.”

Leaning Tree Trail Rides in Athabasca
Photo: Angus Cockney
On the trail with Leaning Tree Trail Rides.

On days like this, you tell time by the movement of the sun across the sky. As the fiery orb reaches its zenith, the two friends take their leave of Leaning Tree and make the short trip back to Athabasca for some chill time in town. 

Armed with cool, tantalizing coffee bevs from Paddymelon’s, they kick back down by the Athabasca River, which lies at the heart of both the town and the region. It is the historic highway, pipeline and supply chain of Athabasca, pre-modern era.

For Chernish, who grew up here in Athabasca, long sunny days spent on the water are part of her blood. Late afternoon finds the pair unloading the kayak and paddleboard at the public beach at Forfar Recreation Park, just 20 minutes from town.

“People are taking up those activities more, like hunting, fishing and those sort of self-sustaining activities,” Chernish observes, noting a positive trend in recent months. “I do a lot of paddling and fishing in the summer, and I enjoy getting out on the water… anything outside is really my jam.”

Chernish values her time on the water, and for her that makes Athabasca the ideal place to be. “There’s just so much variety around town - within 30 to 45 minutes, you can be at 15 or 20 different lakes, and there’s the river. It’s a tight-knit community, and I feel it’s a great place with lots to do, especially for a getaway from the city.”


Find out more about the amazing #TakeItToTheLake opportunities in the Athabasca region here.

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