New horseback tour takes riders to the bottom of the Bay of Fundy

·3 min read
New horseback tour takes riders to the bottom of the Bay of Fundy
Karen and Bill Gilbert enjoy a moment with Trigger in the barn. (Jon Tattrie/CBC - image credit)
Karen and Bill Gilbert enjoy a moment with Trigger in the barn. (Jon Tattrie/CBC - image credit)

A horse ranch near Parrsboro, N.S., is offering a new tour this year that lets people ride horseback all the way to the bottom of the Bay of Fundy.

Spirit Reins Ranch in New Prospect is a small business run by Bill and Karen Gilbert. His parents bought the farm in the 1960s and raised cattle and pigs for 20 years.

"My family has been here since the first settlers came here. My grandfather's place is right up here on this great big cliff and my dad settled out on New Prospect, where our farm is now, back in 1962. So we've been here a long time," he told CBC News on a recent visit.

Karen Gilbert, then known as Karen Yorke, grew up nearby and was drawn first to the horses — and then to Bill.

They married and raised a family on the farm. About a decade ago, they decided to start offering guided horse tours of the waterfalls and trails they both knew so well. Bill had been riding from a young age and when he was seven took his horse King to the town parade.

Karen and Bill Gilbert enjoy a moment with Trigger in the barn.
Karen and Bill Gilbert enjoy a moment with Trigger in the barn.(Jon Tattrie/CBC)

Karen grew up riding horses at her aunt's farm in the Annapolis Valley and learned more at the Truro Raceway from an uncle who raced there. Together, Bill and Karen began offering guided horseback tours from Spirit Reins Ranch in 2010.

"Traditionally, it had been Americans and people from Ontario who have ties to the Maritimes and they would come out," Bill Gilbert said. "But since the pandemic, it's been great having Nova Scotians."

The new route winds along Swan Creek Road, which was built in 1769 and is now maintained by locals. The narrow dirt track leads to the beach. From there, at low tide, the horses trot right out to the bottom of the Bay of Fundy.

Spirit Reins Ranch has been operating for more than a decade.
Spirit Reins Ranch has been operating for more than a decade. (Jon Tattrie/CBC)

If the trip happened six hours earlier, or later, everyone would be under 12 metres of water. But for the few hours in between, people can see clams and crabs crawling along the sand where the ocean had been. They'll also see dinosaur fossils, along with other traces of a world long gone.

"Here we have an example of some 200-million-year-old ripple marks on these rocks. At one time, this would have been like the ripple marks we're seeing on the beach behind us here," Gilbert said.

Bill Gilbert's family lived in the area when Swan Creek Road was built in 1769.
Bill Gilbert's family lived in the area when Swan Creek Road was built in 1769.(Jon Tattrie/CBC)

The new route was inspired by a story about a family member in the 1800s who would ride his horse along the same beach, studying the rocks.

"He would go out rockhounding, or looking for fossils," Bill Gilbert said. "He did it on horseback, so [Karen] thought it would be a great idea."

That early rider's name was Abraham Gesner and he would go on to turn crude oil into energy with the invention of kerosene, launching the petroleum industry.

The ranch has eight horses, including a stout Canadian, the national breed created to be strong enough to pull heavy loads and agile enough for riding.

Spirit Reins Ranch offers tours to novice and experienced riders.

Bill Gilbert rides Sonny along a beach at the Bay of Fundy.
Bill Gilbert rides Sonny along a beach at the Bay of Fundy.(Jon Tattrie/CBC)

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