Coming the other way (the not from town way) to Charlie Horse Shoeing and Equine Adventures where we would find Charlotte Ruse was a bit of an adventure, one that took a turnaround and a little backing up. But once we were on the driveway (is this the way? do we turn left or right?) it was obvious that we’d arrived in horse heaven.
Turning the truck down the gentle slope off Crescent Bay Road that opened up into a farmyard with hay stacked in a giant hill of white plastic marshmallows next to a barn and paddock of horses, Charlotte Ruse and three horses greeted us, as did the two dogs Luna and Dakota. And Spud the pig came out too and obliged us with his trick to “sit” for a treat.
Unlike many businesses in town, Charlie Horse’s trail ride was unaffected by the morning’s power outage, and up on the farm you couldn’t tell the difference between having the grid switched on or off. Ruse and her son Hunter waved as we climbed out of the truck and walked over, ready for our adventure.
Neither my riding companion nor myself had seen or been on the back of a horse for years, although my pal’s most recent equine experience had been during a trek in Mongolia only half a dozen years ago. We really were both virtual newbies, but both eager to get back in the saddle again.
Chico, Brian and Chester were already geared up and ready for our newbie new butts, and after a quick assessment of who felt comfortable with what (I took Brian and my companion chose Chester, who had a reputation as a lazy walker, but more on that later), we clambered up.
Goal-oriented Brian was soon walking over to the paddock to visit with his buddies, with me seated in his saddle like a sentient sack of potatoes. Fortunately, Ruse caught up with us and herded us back like spastic cats to where my fellow equi-naïve adventurer was sedately seated on Chester.
“’Whoa’ is the first thing I teach,” said Ruse, although Brian had reacted to my pronunciation of the word as though it were some foreign phrase he didn’t understand.
Ruse gracefully pulled herself up onto Chico and we were off, like a shot of meandering horses. Chester immediately tried the paddock-visiting manoeuvre too, but with a little prompting we were on the road.
For those of you who know, riding a horse isn’t about holding on for dear life. In fact, horses are very sensitive and can suss a stressed-out rider in a moment. Good rider and horse combos are like centaurs, a smooth fusion of human and mount that move as a single entity. Balance, grace, and wordless communication: these are qualities my friend and I were generally lacking, and Ruse kindly let us know when we were lurching over to one side, or hauling up on the reins rather than straight back.
Experienced riders can move their mounts with subtle pressure and movements, and both horse and human tune into the alignment of the other. People can experience a therapeutic realignment by riding a horse, said Ruse, and experienced riders can feel if there is a problem with the horse too.
Our mixed species troupe (Dakota the dog came with us too) made our way up the road and past another field with horses, which socialites Chester and Brian both wanted to visit. But, once we tugged on the reins, and Chester had had a few mouthfuls of grass, we were soon on our way again.
Ruse, a natural horsewoman, told us about her how her plans to become a lawyer changed in the third year of her criminology degree. Originally she wanted to be a lawyer so she could afford to have horses and ride, but she decided to cut out the middle step.
“I quit. I realized I couldn’t wait to get out of school to go shovel poo at the stables,” said Ruse, having found that what she really wanted to do with her life was work with horses.
Although she loved the work and was able to pay her bills, Ruse knew she’d need to make more than minimum wage to have horses of her own, so she went to school at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Richmond and learned the fine art of farriery. Farriers learn all about horse health from the waist down – their legs – and Ruse learned how to shoe and take care of hoof and leg problems.
Ruse not only learned how to help horses, she also learned early on about the healing power of horses. One of the most profound teaching experiences for her was giving riding lessons to an autistic girl who didn’t say a word or look at Charlotte, in the beginning but would talk and interact once she was at ease up in the saddle. It was an ‘aha’ moment for Ruse who saw the therapeutic power of horses in action and decided she wanted to get horses and riders together.
And so there we were, horses and riders pulling on reins like tangled yarn and ineffectually nudging on our horses who were more interested in eating grass and visiting. But even the short ride made an impression about the wonders of working together with (or against) a horse, as well as an impression on muscles being acquainted with sitz bones in a new way via the saddle.
After a short ride down one route Ruse has available for trail rides, we headed back to the farm, a good decision for two dudes not used to stretching their legs over the sides of a horse.
Trail rides are just one aspect of Ruse’s new horsey business. As mentioned, the young woman is a farrier and will bring her portable forge and anvil to shoe horses, and she also offers both English and Western riding lessons to both adults and kids.
Quite the entrepreneur, she’s considering branching out into the manufacture of horse cookies, which are like granola bars for the equine set. Ruse’s source of business inspiration like many others around in the area was the Community Futures Program which she said helped her immensely with the financial and business end of things. Not only did it help, but she enjoyed it and found it motivating.
Ruse is keen to introduce kids to horses, and will be offering a second three-day summer camp for kids this August if there’s enough interest. Considering the first one sold out almost as quickly as it was organized, it’s a very likely proposition.
Back at the farmhouse, Ruse explained how to get down off our horses in a way that will ensure you don’t get dragged under and stepped on. My slapstick effort at a dismount, a sideways belly flop down the side of Brian, drew a chuckle from Ruse. My riding companion chose a more dignified route down. Now back on solid ground, walking was a bow-legged cowboy swagger, a side effect I hoped would eventually wear off or I’d have to start investing in spurs and chaps.
Ruse isn’t just a horse lover; she has a menagerie of rescued animals that includes a peacock, ducks, goats and an ever-increasing population of bunnies. Walking off the inner thigh muscle stretch we just received, we fussed over the six-day old bunnies and a half-angora fellow who was hard to let go.
As we were standing talking about the inner lives of horses which compare with humans in terms of complexity, the phone rang. The power was back on, and people were calling to book trail rides at Charlie Horse. Soon she’d booked two rides for the upcoming Sunday, and my riding companion was asking about lessons.
Looks like Charlie Horse will be available for adventure for the foreseeable future.