Rain was falling in sheets as I carefully guided my trusty steed along the muddy (not dusty) trails near the Williams Reindeer Farm in Palmer. It was one of the wettest days on record for Southcentral Alaska; so wet, in fact, that even my raingear couldn’t keep up with the steady deposit of water on an already-saturated ground. But it didn’t matter, because I was back on a horse.
Alaska is not usually the first place visitors think about for a trail ride. Usually, flightseeing, glaciers, and hiking uncharted wilderness get top billing as opposed to sitting astride an unfamiliar horse in even more-unfamiliar territory flush with wildlife. But for families with horse-crazy daughters and sons, even the most placid equine outing can bring squeals of joy as kids are mounted up and enjoying their very own riding experience in the Last Frontier. Williams Reindeer Farm is just such a place; unassumming, unfluffy, but definitely authentic, even in the pouring rain, because we horsey-people don’t care about that. All we want is a happy horse to create a happy rider, and that’s what I got.
It’s tough being a horse person in a non-horse household, just ask my parents. Even my Montana-born mother didn’t carry forward the love of four-footed friends as I would have expected, so it was just me who scoured the library for the latest Black Stallion or Misty books; who begged for riding lessons for every birthday and a horse for every Christmas. When both finally arrived, so did heaven as I rode the back hills near my home with other equally horsey friends. We weren’t fancy, but we had fun; plodding through the dense forests of the Pacific Northwest, stopping whenever a suitable meadow became a good place to lie back and enjoy the delicious feeling of ultimate childhood freedom.
No wonder an hour on board a horse filled me with such joy, even in the pouring rain.
What makes the Williams Reindeer Farm trail rides great is opportunity; a chance to ride alone, a chance to climb hills and go back down again without someone else doing the driving – huge for a kid. At a mere 60 minutes, this is the perfect length for most children (and many uninitiated adults) to get a sense of riding the range, herding doggies, and feeling the gentle, rhythmic swaying of four feet moving in natural synchronicity.
Trail rides are designed for all ability levels, Williams Farm hands know not everyone has ridden before, and a quick safety/skills orientation helps nervous participants become more at ease with both the horses and the terrain. Take note, however, riders must be eight to participate in the experience so as to maximize the feeling of independence, which I find very empowering for this ‘tween age group. Younger kids can take part in a pony ride at the farm, however, for $5 per person, just right for the smaller rider. The guided rides wind around the farm’s back fields and up the switchback trails of the Butte, a rocky, sandy chunk of Alaska mountain where the horses spend their nights and mornings before being rounded up for another day of pleasing guests. It’s beautiful up there; full of lush forestland and green grass, and once up top, even in the rain, we could see the expanse of Matanuska-Susitna Valley land.
Full disclosure: AK Kid wanted NONE of this. Despite all begging and pleading and promising of treats, he refused to climb aboard, so I took my Daybreak cohort James Gaddis with me. He was a sport, too, not having ridden in some time and facing such bad weather and all….
Trail rides are $65/per person for one hour and depart Monday-Saturday at 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1 p.m., and 2:30 p.m. Sunday departures are 11:30 a.m., 1 p.m., and 2:30 p.m. Wear closed-toe shoes or boots with a heel of some kind (hiking boots or rubber boots are fine), long pants and long sleeves, and a hat. Add raingear if the clouds begin to sprinkle, and don’t forget a camera, either.
I got the happy horse. I was a happy rider. I could have cared less about the rain.
That’s what a trail ride can do for a person.