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Working guest ranch… what's that, you ask? It's an authentic working cattle ranch that opens its doors to guests from all walks of life. Unlike many of the expansive "dude ranches" where horses play second fiddle to the resort activities, at Ride the Wind Ranch you experience the life of a true cowboy. Find out why this family-run ranch might be the perfect destination for your next vacation in our interview.
AH: Thank you for taking some time out of your busy day to participate in this interview. Let's begin with the most obvious question: who are Hans and Kathy Rissi? Can you share a bit about yourselves?
Hans: Kathy (36) and I (40) moved to Canada from Switzerland in 1993, found a cattle ranch with a beautiful view of the Rocky Mountains, built two guest cabins, renovated the house and built lots of wooden fences and gates and were ready to welcome our first guests the following year. Our lives changed a lot!
Back in Europe we used to live in a city in a small apartment and worked for the Swiss Railways. Then we fulfilled our dream of living in "the Wild West," surrounded by nature, peace, terrific horses and impressive Texas Longhorn Cattle. Our sons Joe (7) and Ben (2) were born in Rocky Mountain House. They too love living on a ranch. The four of us appreciate the abundance of space, being with animals every day and meeting so many interesting guests from all over the world.
AH: You have both indicated on your website that moving from Switzerland to Canada to start up Ride the Wind Ranch was the fulfillment of a dream. I can understand why those who love horses and the country life would want to own a cattle ranch, but why did you also decide to open your ranch to visiting guests?
Kathy: A lot of people from all different countries including Canada share our own fascination of the Cowboy Way of Life. We truly enjoy sharing our dream of being a rancher, our enthusiasm of good partnerships with horses and longhorns and our understanding of nature combined with running our family business. What an excellent and rewarding way to live and operate our own business.
AH: Both of you have trained your own ranch horses, so this next question will deal with training. If you could impart one, and only one, piece of advice to an aspiring horse trainer, what would it be?
Hans: Spend time with your horse, non-training, just watch him on the pasture and visit with him and build a good bond.
Kathy: Always remember that the horse doesn't just need to learn from you, but you also can and will learn a lot from the horse.
AH: What would a visiting guest look forward to during the average day at your ranch?
Kathy: After a good nights sleep in the cozy cabins, guests come the short walk to the ranch house. The morning sun will throw a mellow light over the pastures and paint the forests in the valley with a golden glow and lets the Rockies on the far horizon stand out against the deep blue Alberta sky. Getting up the stairs onto the ranch house porch, sitting on the log benches, there is a bit of time to have a chat with the other guests. But soon, the taste of fresh baked buns and jet another delicious hot breakfast draws them to the long pine table in the Western Style home with hand made native and cowboy artifacts. This is always the best time to sit and enjoy good food and company.
Soon after a change of clothes is on the list, since we always recommend good clothing to go on the horseback rides. The guests come to the corral and Hans or I tell them which horse can be their riding horse for their stay. They lead the horse to the hitching post, brush, saddle up and get acquainted with their mount.
We are always there to help and instruct if needed. We show the guests the basics of western riding and explain the horses' way of thinking. Our horses are all well trained ranch horses. They willingly obey all commands and love to work for their rider.
The horseback rides lead us through Canadian Forests. Some trails are beautifully going through dense bush, others through open pine forests. There are some trails that allow a trot or a lope. Some days we practice a small barrel race or we gather the cows. In spring and fall we pack in lunch and stop at a creek or beaver dam, in summer we beat the biting bugs and are back on the ranch by noon.
We always meet for dinner in the ranch house and tell each other about the discoveries of the wonderful countryside they made that afternoon. Playing a round of boccia or cricket after the meal and later on sit around the campfire. Or jump on the back of the pick up truck and ride over the pastures to go watch the Longhorns graze in the evening sun and learn lots about their interesting history from Hans.
AH: Some ranches require that visitors have significant riding experience if they plan to participate in any horseback riding, but you also welcome novice riders as long as they are comfortable around horses. Do you find that ranch vacations appeal largely to experienced horsemen, or do you host a good share of new riders too?
Hans: We have had guests with all levels of riding experience. There are guests who have their own horses at home and truly love horses and want that to be a part of their holiday. We had guests that have been taking riding lessons for a couple of years or so and are looking forward to have a week filled with riding. Then there are always beginners - some have never ridden a horse before. We take time to instruct them and they always learn very fast. Some beginners seem to have lived a cowboy life in previous lives, they are so good on horseback!
There are also some guest that rather not want to do any horseback riding, yet just enjoy nature on foot or sit on the porch and read a good book until the riders are back.
AH: While reading your guest book I was impressed with the diversity of your guests - you've opened your ranch to folks from North America (as would be expected) as well as many countries within Europe. Having visited Europe previously, I know that horses remain a way of life in many areas - probably more so than America. Why do you think European guests are drawn to your ranch when there are probably plenty of horses right in their own "backyard?"
Kathy: The nature we have here in Alberta in abundance is not just fascinating and relaxing and calming for European guests, but it is also calming for any horse. The guests are speechless how calm and relaxed our ranch horses are, how sure footed and cool they are about rough terrain. How an extremely good and trusting relationship there is between rider and horse and all on what seems almost no commands compared to the standard style riding most Europeans practice.
AH: Exciting and/or amusing stories and tales about life on the ranch or frontier are a part of Western tradition, which isn't surprising since animals and the rustic lifestyle provide many opportunities for humorous encounters or mishaps. Do you have any memorable or amusing anecdotes to share about an event that has occurred on your ranch?
Kathy: We are sitting around the campfire on a warm summer night. Guests from Europe and Southern USA are having a good talk about the time they spent with the horses and what wonderful summer weather we are having. They start wondering how it would be like in winter. How the horses can stand the cold. So they ask Hans: "how cold does it get here? What is the coldest you ever had?" Hans throws another log on the fire and replies in his quiet, calming way: "Well there was one winter a while ago I remember it got really, really cold. We had a campfire just like tonight, and it was so cold that the flames froze, a wind picked them up and blew 'em over to the wooden fence and in spring the frozen flames thawed and set the fence on fire." "Uuh, Ooh!! Wow!!" was the guest's reply. They sat for a couple of minutes to try to understand just how cold it must have been until all of a sudden they looked up and realized this was a Cowboy's tale.
AH: What living accommodations can your guests expect?
Kathy: The accommodations makes the guests feel very pampered. The rooms in guest cabins are bright and big with private bathrooms with tub. They feature hardwood floors, log beds made by Hans, table and chairs and their own fridge, coffee/tea maker. The cabin's porch is just a few yards from the horse pasture, with mature, tall poplar trees towering on the back and from the front a view into the valley, over the never-ending forests all the way to the Rockies.
AH: And now one of my favorite subjects: food. After all, riding horses and working a ranch can work up quite an appetite. What types of delicious meals might I expect on your ranch?
Hans: That's definitely the one thing guests come back for. They beg Kathy for recipes. She has an awesome way of cooking well-known ranch food in an interesting way. Everybody loves her roast dinner: the special curry leeks vegetable, the pot barley and paprika mashed potatoes. Another favorite is her delicious beer chili with enchiladas and fresh, warm bread sticks. She can easily cook for any dietary requests. Made a pizza for a cheese allergic person before and it tasted as good as ours. Her desserts are a big hit with guests too, they are delicious yet light and low on calories. The cowboy pancakes are always one of guest's favorite breakfasts. Not the thick, modern ones people make out of the package, but the real stuff that cowboys used to make over the open fire - thin and good.
AH: Are there any local attractions or sites that might interest your visitors?
Hans: Our ranch is 20 km Northwest of Rocky Mountain House. And West of Rocky is "Where adventure begins" (Rocky's slogan). So we have everything right nearby - wilderness and nature to the West and ranching and farming to the East. Our ranch borders Crimson Lake Provincial Park, which offers hiking and swimming. Within minutes to Twin Lakes, rivers and creeks for hiking, fishing, swimming.
Under half an hour drive to museums, a historic site, a golf course, a small town with Alberta's biggest Western Store and Local /Native Art Store, a public pool, bowling lanes, movies and miniature golf.
Within an hour drive West to the Rocky Mountains or towards East to Red Deer with lots of shopping or Sylvan Lake, a Beach Town. It is just a 2 1/2 hour drive to Calgary or Edmonton, only a 1 1/2 hour drive to Banff and Jasper National Parks and a good 2 1/2 hour drive to either the towns of Banff or Jasper.
AH: Before we close this interview I would like to give you the floor. Is there anything you would like to share with our readers about yourselves, your ranch, or anything else?
Kathy: We are looking forward to all the interesting and nice people we are going to meet this spring, summer and fall. Some bookings are from repeated guests and we are so excited to see them again, it feels like friends are coming back and want to share all what we love: the relaxing time on the ranch, the beautiful horses and the very calming surrounding and fun company. And then there are always new faces and how interesting and fun it is to meet people from all over the world.
We run our guest ranch as a small family ranch and will keep it like that in the future as well. It's perfect to truly enjoy all the moments and be a part of each guest's vacation. We love to tell our guests about Alberta's ranching history and about wildlife and nature.
AH: Thank you Hans and Kathy for sharing some of your time to take part in this interview.
If you would like to learn more about Ride the Wind Ranch please visit their website at http://www.ridethewindranch.com.