Exploring the mountain on horseback

Riding to the bottom of the mountain where we began our ride up. Photo SPIN.

Arriving at the quaint Sun Peaks Stables, located underneath the Burfield chairlift, we are greeted by four relaxed horses waiting patiently with their saddles on.

Robert Taylor, owner of Sun Peaks Stables, is grooming his own mount but sets aside his brushes to welcome us. He introduces each horse, their name, their personalities, their best suited rider, and helps us choose our perfect match.

We have time to get to know them, giving them neck scratches, before putting on their bridles and carefully mounting. Taylor is soft spoken and carefully explains the order we’ll ride in; Tootabelle will be behind his ride and the other two will fall behind.

Taylor and his business partner Rebecca Spray have operated sleigh and trail rides in Sun Peaks for five years. He got his start working with carriage horses in Victoria, B.C. before being introduced to the mountain. He said just 30 minutes into a tour with then operations manager Jamie Tattersfield he was sold.

“Jamie really sold it,” Taylor said. “I was really impressed, he showcased Sun Peaks. He had this big smile and was obviously proud and so happy, I thought ‘I want to be like this guy!’”

He used his education in outdoor recreation and previous experiences in the industry to start the business and has learned a lot along the way. Starting with just a few supplies, they now have a tractor and have expanded into new spaces.

Tootabelle before the ride. Photo SPIN.

Taylor also spends time working at a nearby ranch, somewhere he said he learned important lessons, both practically and emotionally.

“I’ve learned a lot about farming but it’s made me learn a lot about myself and what I’m capable of. Sometimes things break and it’s not feasible to pay so you learn a lot of skills.”

Even when faced with the challenges that come with owning a business Taylor has been able to find that happiness when the snow falls, often skiing before the day’s rides to meditate.

Comfortable in well worn western saddles we head downhill and cross Sun Peaks Rd. before passing over the bridge that spans McGillivray Creek.

Before long we’re headed up Mt. Morrisey, quietly winding behind slopeside homes, crossing ski runs blanketed in flowers and passing gently flowing streams.

No one talks much as we climb higher, taking in the view as we gain elevation. We’re looking down on the village and it feels like no one else is even in the valley.

This route is their main trail. Groups can do the shorter trip we joined or ride to the summit of Mt. Morrisey in a few hours. Before and after the mountain bike park is open Taylor will guide groups on the other two mountains.

We reach our highest point and cut back underneath the lift to another spectacular view of the village and valley below us. On our ride back we trot downhill, the horses excited to return to their home and food.

Riders get to take part in preparing the horses and getting to know them before the ride. Photo SPIN.

Trail rides have been growing in popularity but in order to offset the seasonality of business in a resort the partners are offering horseback riding lessons on their 12 horses to locals.

Taylor would love to see students excelling in competitions in the future.

“I don’t see why we couldn’t develop equine athletes long-term,” he said. “We turn out fantastic athletes in other sports, I’d love to see a horse that can compete.”

For now Taylor would like to start offering trail rides in the winter, an experience he said many have requested. He just needs to find the perfect route.

After we made our way back to the stables to dismount we had more time to spend with the animals, rubbing their foreheads and patting them. Taylor said it’s important to him that people get to know them.

“We like everyone to meet their horse, we get a lot of people who have never really ridden or in a really limited way. We want people to really have a chance to connect with their horse.”

Time spent with the herd is one of Taylor’s favourite parts of the job too.

“The best sound in the world is standing and listening to the horses crunch their hay.”

With a lot of hard work and some help along the way Taylor has established himself in Sun Peaks as someone who’s here to stay. He has dreams of expanding and providing the best life for the animals who rely on him.

“What really keeps me going is actually the tours and the people and kids that love them. I can forget how amazing it can be to be around horses. I love seeing them so excited with a big smile. To me that really makes it all worthwhile.”