Have you ever seen the beauty of a horse dancing in a dressage class? What about the thrill of pony chuckwagons in a championship race? Or the view of the Red Deer River from a classic carriage? Red Deer is in the heart of Central Alberta, and it’s rich in western heritage. What you might not realize, though, is that this heritage has evolved into a wealth of modern, engaging activities that you can enjoy with your family.
Alberta ranching families began to settle the territory in the 1880s and transformed the rolling grasslands into cattle country. Guest ranches, working ranches, cowboys and cattle are a common site. Trail rides and western spirit comes alive with many special cowboy-flavoured events. There’s just something about horses and people, that have drawn us close for centuries and still continues.
When you arrive in Red Deer, one of your first equine-inspired stops will likely be Westerner Park, located just off Queen Elizabeth II highway on the city’s south end. This impressive facility is home to Westerner Days Fair & Exposition, which takes place from July 18 to 22, and it also hosts many equine shows, clinics and events throughout the year.
“We hold all types of English, western and rodeo events,” said Isabelle Nicol, agricultural events coordinator with Westerner Park. “Some of our most popular attractions include The Mane Event, the Foothills Cowboy Association Championship Rodeo and the Canadian Supreme, which is the most prestigious cutting, reining and working cow horse show in Canada.”
In addition to these elite equine events, the public can also enjoy a variety of breed-specific shows. “Westerner Park hosts all types of competitions, from quarter horse to Arabian shows and pleasure classes to jumping classes,” said Nicol. “During Westerner Days, there are also the mini donkey and mini horse shows – these are always crowd favourites because the animals are so adorable.”
Westerner Park is central Alberta’s premiere event destination, and hosts more than 1,500 sporting, trade, and entertainment events yearly, plus produces Westerner Days Fair & Exposition, Red Deer’s annual summer fair.www.westernerpark.ca
When you bring your family to enjoy the minis at Westerner Days Fair & Exposition, you can also take in the adrenaline-charged North American Pony Chuckwagon Championships, which run for all five days of the fair. Featuring professional teams and drivers from across Western Canada and the United States, these races are sure to keep you on the edge of your seat.
If you prefer a more relaxing experience where you can bond with horses, then a trip to Heritage Ranch is definitely in order. Located just off the Queen Elizabeth II highway beside the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame & Museum, Heritage Ranch offers pony, trail and carriage rides, as well as romantic carriage rides followed by candlelit dinners.
Heritage Ranch provides numerous year-round opportunities to enjoy. From May to October, take a hay ride or guided trail ride through beautiful, lush meadows. Little ones too young to trail ride can opt for a pony ride, offered daily. During the winter months, get into the winter spirit by taking a sleigh ride through gorgeous spruce treed woods, then warm up by the roaring fire on the patio. www.heritageranch.ca
Alberta Downs is a state of the art thoroughbred, quarter horse and harness racing entertainment centre located on the east side of the QE II highway near Lacombe. Alberta Downs features the only one mile dirt track and 7/8 mile turf track in Western Canada. www.albertadowns.com
Ranch Vacations – Stay at a western ranch and enjoy western hospitality while you become part of the community. The ranches give you a first-hand view of life as it really is, and trail rides, barn activities, and ranchers give you a true taste of the west.
Rolyn Hills B&B / Valley Meadow Ranch
Red Lodge Outfitters & Guest Ranch
Horse Shows and Rodeo represent a very unique lifestyle and tradition handed down to us from our pioneering forefathers. They developed the various events and evolved them into competitions of individuals and animals competing against their neighboring ranches. The tradition, although more finely regulated today, continues just like in other sports.
April – Mane Event
May – Parkland Spring Horse Show
June – Red Deer Classic Horse Show
August – Alhambra Summer Event
September – Canadian Supreme Horse Show
Alhambra Fall Event (Provincial Championships)
October – FCA Rodeo