Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Home (and luxury) on the range

There's plenty of horsing around at all-inclusive B.C. ranch

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‘Every horse comes with a story," Allyson Rogers says as she peers over the back of her brown-and-white mare. Her tiny frame is all but hidden behind the Palomino Paint and you can barely see her eyes under the brim of her cowboy hat, but you can’t miss her grin—wide and warm.

Rogers is introducing us to the horses we'll ride at Siwash Lake Ranch, a luxury dude ranch a couple of hours north of Kamloops in the central interior of British Columbia. You drive an hour or so past the nearest little cowboy town and well beyond the paved roads and power lines to find a big log house by a little lake, a muddy corral, a barn and a well-populated chicken coop just behind it.

And there are horses, about two dozen in total, a few of which are tied off waiting patiently to head out for a day's adventure with the latest guests.

A couple of decades ago, there were no horses here, or luxury suites or people. There was just 65 hectares of raw wilderness smack dab in the middle of 325 hectares of crown land. Rogers fell in love with it on sight.

She was 29 when she bought the Siwash property. There was no grand vision to start a guest ranch, no business plan back in 1991, just "a yearning for adventure, to be close to nature and the wild--the cowgirl," she says. For a few years she would just come and camp. "Everybody thought I was totally crazy."

Rogers got to work. "We had no barn and no corrals and I had this wild herd of ponies -- there was no way you could put guests on them, so I had to cultivate a herd." She learned to drive a grader and started to clear a road. In 2001, 10 years after buying the land, she welcomed guests to Siwash Lake Ranch.

These days, guests have their choice of staying in a room in the house, in the suite above the barn or, for those who are into glamping -- glamorous camping -- there are several luxury tents tucked up on a ridge, complete with heated floors, showers that open to the sky above and sweeping views out the canvass doors.

Rogers, 51, her two teenage children and her partner, Roy Grinder -- a cowboy who used to ride the bucking bronco -- work alongside a staff of 16 to deliver luxury blended with environmental consciousness. She finds just the right organic toiletries, decorates the rooms and scrutinizes every meal served to the guests in the dining room: three squares a day -- and each dinner paired with the perfect B.C. wine. The meals are all delicious and locally sourced -- sometimes very locally, with the breakfast eggs coming straight from the chicken coop.

Most guests -- such as the ones we met, a California couple celebrating her 50th birthday and the Texans up to escape the summer heat -- find the ranch over the Internet. The website makes it clear what to expect -- a little adventure combined with more than a little luxury -- as well as a few rules: boots off at the door and Internet only in your room or in the little library off the kitchen (and then only for important emails).

Before any guest sets a cowboy boot on the ranch, Rogers has sized them up with a questionnaire. She asks about food preferences and equine experience, but she's also reading personalities to make sure every guest is put on the right horse.

Rogers' herd is made up of former work horses from ranches and rodeos -- Belle, who is "bomb proof," Pepper, who true to his name is a little bit spicy, Smoke, who is smart and cool and Soda the shy, wallflower.

Outside the barn, Rogers takes her latest guests through the drill: watch the horses' ears to see how they're feeling, give them sweet talk and treats at one end and embrace the other end with your whole body as you move past. Brush their massive backs and knobby knees, tap their legs so they'll lift their feet for cleaning and finally, haul out the right saddle from the barn and heave it on.

By the time you grab a handful of mane and swing yourself up, you definitely feel like you and your horse understand each other. "People are surprised at the connections they can make with the animal," says Rogers "People don't realize how deep these creatures go. But it's not just about the horses, it's about horses in nature."

We head out on the trails, sometimes abreast, sometimes single file, always marvelling at the pristine wilderness around us. We see stumps the bears have turned over looking for bugs, a fox hole, coyote den and countless grouse. We ride through glorious summer meadows, over trees that have fallen on the trail and eventually to a bluff that looks out over a sea of forest. After a full day's ride (with a gourmet lunch packed in saddle bags), the horses are put to pasture just outside the house. Other nights, the horses go to pasture up the road. In the morning, they run back into the corral, a display of strength and beauty, manes and legs flying.

"They've taught me patience, they've taught me to be humble -- definitely humble -- and they've taught me to be present in the moment, totally," says Rogers. In no time, even the city slickers see what she has always known about these magnificent beasts -- their gentleness and power, personality and spirit.

"I'll miss Sir Lance, my big baby." "Take care of Annie." The ranch guest books record equine love letters from Europe, the U.S., China and South Africa.

"I get tickled pink by the fact that here I am in my ranch house in the woods in B.C. and somehow people from all over the world are finding their way to us," Rogers says with another huge grin.

-- Postmedia News

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 22, 2013 E3

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