Happy Centennial, Ya Ha Tinda

Ya Ha Tinda ranch manager Rick Smith turns some horses out at the ranch gate to winter pasture

The Ya Ha Tinda, Canada’s national park horse training facility, is celebrating 100 years of service supplying the men and women of the mountains with calm, sturdy, reliable horses.

Situated west of Sundre, Alta., (about 150 km northwest of Calgary) the fate of the Ya Ha Tinda has often hung in the balance due to the threat of natural disaster, such as floods or forest fires or the even more treacherous government staff.

Over the years there has also been great pressure to turn the ranch into everything from a private government retreat to offering it to the highest bidder.

But so far, the questionable motives of government employees have lost, and the needs of the wardens and folks of the backcountry have won — and it ain’t often that happens. The reason is because of the horse.

No matter how advanced mankind becomes, no other form of transport is safer, quieter or more ecologically sound than the horse.

Each year, the Ranch brings in about a dozen young horses to the mountain range. Steep trails, deadfall, crossing fast-flowing creeks and recognizing the smell of bears and cougars are incidental parts of the young horse’s training program. By the time they are five, they’ve got quite a few miles under saddle and are ready to start their careers in any of the national parks of Western Canada. In the summer, there are few horses here, but each winter, hundreds of equines return to rest and winter on the natural meadows under the watchful eye of ranch foreman Rick Smith, one of four full-time residents at the site.

So this summer as you ride past the Ya Ha Tinda from your campsite at the Big Horn equine campground, raise your canteen in centennial salute to some of most revered and embattled lands in the Rocky Mountains.