Interview with Horse Country Campground
We recently had the pleasure of chatting with Walter Willett, partner at Horse Country Campground. Horse Country Campground brings a unique horseback riding and camping experience to the Ottawa Valley. Horse Country Campground allows you to cowboy up and ride high in the saddle.
I first met Walter at the Ottawa Outdoor & Adventure show in March of 2015. What impressed me most was the approach he explained that Horse Country Campground takes with regards to horse and rider. I’ve been horseback riding many times and most times you are paired with a horse, you hop on and ride for an hour or two. It often feels more like a pony ride at the fair than an interactive experience…just get on and go. Walter explained to me that at Horse Country Campground the trail ride begins with time taken to make sure that you and the horse get to know and are comfortable with each other. Following that, you are led through exercises to ensure you know the basics steps of riding and maybe you can learn a few more. Once everyone is comfortable and confident, it’s off to the trails through beautiful Ottawa Valley back country. GIDDY UP!
Could you tell us a bit about the history of the company or how the experience began?
The concept for Horse Country Campground originated from a similar type of horse-friendly campground located in Washington State, USA, that one of the founders of our company had experienced in the late 2000’s. The original objective was to bring a similar concept to the Eastern Ontario region which did not have such a facility.
In our search for suitable locations we were introduced to Wilderness Tours Resort in the Ottawa Valley and were able to develop a partnership to locate our campground and access the trail system and resort offerings to create a very unique horse-friendly camping and trail riding destination.
We began site planning in late 2012 and by July of 2013 had opened the campground to the public. Our business plan involved first establishing services and facilities for horse owners to bring their horses and go trail riding, providing camping facilities that would accommodate them and their horses. In summer 2015, we brought in our own horses and began offering guided horseback riding experiences to the general public.
We have become increasingly collaborative with Wilderness Tours Resort, Canada’s premier whitewater rafting company. In 2015 we launched our “Raft & Ride” vacation packages as a first step to providing a total outdoor adventure experience to resort clients. The concept was to combine a whitewater rafting trip and a horseback riding experience into a 2 or 3 day adventure vacation, including meals and a range of accommodation options from tent camping to cabins, trailer rentals and luxury cottages.
In 2016 building upon this, we are launching several new horse riding experiences including a “Sunset Dinner Ride“, “Couples Horseback Riding Escape” vacation and overnight excursions that would be similar to “dude ranch” style experiences. All of these packages can be combined with rafting, kayaking or fishing experiences via Wilderness Tours into a three or four day outdoor adventure package.
It’s a unique concept for an experience. What would you say is the best thing about the experience you offer?
I would say the number one unique aspect is educating our customers about horses. We have designed our horseback riding programs with true beginners in mind, including people who have never ridden a horse before. Our program is not just a “trail ride”. It is a total experience that includes teaching our customers about the horses’ world, how they think, basic safety principles when working with horses, movements and core riding techniques such as stop, turn, go up and down hills, and about building confidence when riding. Our goal is to share these beautiful animals with others while educating our clients and making our experience rewarding, fun and in some cases, the first step on a journey into the pleasurable world of horseback riding.
We believe our facility is quite unique not only in Ottawa but throughout much of North America. It is rare to find facilities offering a combination of horseback riding experiences, camping facilities along with all of the amenities of a full service resort (rafting/kayaking, restaurant, beach, hot tub, activities and live entertainment), all in one location.
What makes your experiences unique and special for customers?
The overall setting and location. This particular trail system of roughly 40+ kilometers of trails runs through pristine Ottawa Valley countryside with multiple access points to the last preserved stretch of Ottawa River that is undeveloped. It is this landscape and setting that makes experiencing this last wild stretch of Ottawa River on horseback a most memorable and thrilling experience to connect with nature in a profound and meaningful way. The land remains in a state similar to what French explorer Samuel de Champlain would have experienced in the early 17th century. From the headwaters to Montreal and all the way down the St Lawrence River, this is the last wild stretch of that glorious waterway to visit and cherish.
Are your experiences suitable for everyone?
Horseback riding is a physical activity and like other similar outdoor activities it may not be for everyone. So being physical fit as well as not being allergic to horses are two basic factors we look to identify upfront. In terms of restrictions, our age limit for children is 9 years of age or older, and children and youth under 18 must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian. We also have a weight restriction limit of 250 pounds in order to maintain the proper and safe weight ratio of rider-to-horse.
What’s your personal favorite thing about your experiences?
The joy on people’s faces when interacting with horses. These creatures are truly special and their ability to bring out the best in people, sharing the happiness of being around horses, and, in some cases, overcoming fear or a barrier through horses, is the greatest pleasure we derive at our facility.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
This experience is only a 90 minute drive from downtown Ottawa, and we believe an escape to a whole other world. For people in Ottawa who live and work in the city daily, we offer a break from the hustle and bustle of busy streets, noise, technology and stress.
What awaits you is the opportunity to connect with nature, to experience horses, to enjoy a peaceful break from the pressures of everyday life and to slow down the pace for a little while
Thanks so much Walter for taking the time to speak with us!
Follow the links below to purchase your Horse Country Campground experience: