I am sad to say I'm giving only 2 stars for this experience but if you look at my other contributions you will see I rate fairly and I am not one of those Tripadvisor users here to bash a company.
I was in Banff to visit my husband who was there working for a few weeks due to the floods. I was excited he wanted to take me horseback riding. He had researched the company, Holiday on Horseback, and overall as you can see great reviews. I of course said let's go.
We were the only two on our three hour ride. I rode Visa and my husband was on Francis. Sadly I cannot remember our wrangler's name, she introduced herself once and we made small talk on our 3 hour ride down a cobble/dirt utility road while mosquitos attacked not only our horses but also us.
1) Our guide (not sure I can even say Wrangler) had only been working since May. She was inexperienced. Not with the horses but rather with what is expected of a guide. When there is a low lying limb you are to tell your guests to watch out so they don't injure themselves. The only thing we were told was to stand up in the saddle when our horse was taking a leak, and to lean forward or back when going up/down hills. Oh and when we went through the rocks to allow the horse to go at it's own pace. Oh and not to let them eat.
2) The 3 hour ride was a joke. I had the awesome experience to use a company in Park City Utah called Wind in my Hair. The owner allowed only experienced riders on her beautiful Paso Finos, and we literally got to ride with WIND IN OUR HAIR. On this 3 hour journey though the Banff Forest it was not very magestic. You are on a utility road utilized by vehicles approximately 1 hour (not what I wanted to pay for), then you spend about 1 hour in the forest, 1 minute crossing the two bodies of water (not worth it) and then another 1 hour on the utility road back to the stables.
3) Both horses hoofs were very dry and cracked. They seemed overall well taken care of but if you are an animal lover or have ever owned or been around horses, this has to make you wonder. In addition my horse, Visa, wanted to eat ever chance he could get so I was constantly pulling on his reigns. If he had been properly feed a well nourished meal this wouldn't even be a problem.
4) Because you're in a National Forest I was told you can't trot, gallup, or run your horse - so you just get to ride at a snails pace - one a utility road for 2 hours while mosquitos attack you.
5) We were NEVER told how bad the mosquitos would be. I honestly feel bad for anybody who was on the 1 hour ride (17 people) who might have been wearing shorts and tanks as the weather was nice and beautiful. Whenever I ride I always have on pants, but if the weather is nice I have a tank on and bring a sweater/pull over. If we had been in direct sun, I would have melted because both my husband and I had to keep our sweatshirts on due to the SWARMS of mosquitos.
6) You're not allowed to get off your horse, although our guide allowed me to get off when my bracelet fell off. She asked me not to say anything but I do not think the company is even reviewing this. I am an EXPERIENCED rider, so getting on and off was a breeze. On that note for a 3 hour ride you should be allowed to get on and off your horse at least once.
7) This ride is not for anybody who has any small health ailments. My husband had knee surgery and walking on the utility road made it very hard on his knees. When your guide takes her feet (both of them) out of the stirrups and rides for minutes at a time without her feet in them you know even she is having knee pain.
8) If you want photo ops, don't expect to get any. You're riding down mostly an ugly utility road and we were never asked to stop and take a photo. A GOOD guide would have gotten off her horse while we were crossing the water and offered to take photos of us using our camera. It's the only outback excursion I've ever been on where I didn't take a single photo.
9) At the end of your ride you're asked to purchase a photo. They are $15 a piece. They were nice but I couldn't fathom giving anymore money to this company.
10) My husband w/o consulting me tipped $35 Canadian dollars. Far in excess of what should have been given. It was a very GENEROUS tip all things considered since our guide never asked if we wanted to stop and take a photo, never offered to take a photo of us together crossing the beautiful stream (which only took about 15 seconds), never told us to duck when there was a low lying branch (one of which smacked me in the head as I was trying to look for some excitement (like wildlife), etc ....
11) I almost forgot, usually when you horseback there are saddle bags on at least the guides horse with water .... oh no, we were out there for three hours without any water in 75-80 degree temperatures. A good company would have saddle bags so guests could store some water and even a light snack.
Again if you look at my other reviews you will see I write very detailed and usually 4 stars or above reviews. There are a few 2 stars due to poor service but truly save your $250 + tip and go water rafting or something where you will truly get your bang for your buck! I feel bad writing such a poor review but I equally feel I owe it to loyal tripadvisor users to be warned.
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
July 30, 2013
First we want to assure you that we take complaints and observations very seriously. Constructive criticism is often key information used in staff training and also important when putting a new brochure together that will better tell the story about a product. Below are responses to Heather’s concerns. Please feel free to contact us directly with any questions.
Report response as inappropriate
1) The summer season in Banff starts late April and runs through October. For this reason, Banff is a short-term home to many seasonal staff.
2) There is no vehicle use in any backcountry area of a National Park in Canada. You were on an old fire road (used to control wildfires before the days of helicopters) that has not been used for 20+years. You suggest that the scenery in the Banff National Park and the Canadian Rocky Mountains is not that special, while feedback from most visitors is very favourable.
3) You mention that the horses are well taken care of, but then continue to say the horses were malnourished. We are confused by this statement. Horses are very smart animals; if they know the rider will let them eat along the trail, they will take full advantage of the rider. Guests are instructed not to let their horse eat along the trail and are given instructions on how to keep their head out of the grass. Once the horse knows he can not sneak a snack, they will stop trying. Visa is a popular kids horse and valuable asset to our team. Our horses are fed lots of hay and high protein feed. The hoofs are well taken care of by our on staff farriers. Our horses are not put to work unless they are sound and safe for guests. We have been in operation for 51 years.
4&11) We have several rides available for riders of different capabilities and wishes. There is a 5 hour ride where stacks and a beverage are provided. There is a 7 hour ride where we provide a steak lunch along with juice and coffee. It is true that shorter rides do not have snacks and are not advertized to have snacks, drinks, or rest stops
5) Mosquitoes have a high population in Canada.
6&8) For safety reasons guests are not permitted to get off their horse without the help of the guide; guides will stop the ride in a safe location, dismount, and help the guest(s) dismount. Also for safety reasons, guests must stay with the guide at all times. A guide can not leave guests behind and have them ride by themselves. We are in a National Park where wildlife roam freely.
7) We trust that guests choosing to book a horseback ride are doing so because they believe themselves to be physically able to do so. As you can imagine, it is not possible for us to conduct a physical on each guest before the trail ride. Guides can be notified of any discomfort and stirrups can be adjusted.
9) The photography is run by another locally owned business. We are very sorry to hear you wished not to support them during the 2013 floods.
10) We’re happy to hear that your husband seemed to enjoy the ride, giving the guide a very generous trip.
We apologize for the length of this relay, but we felt it necessary to shed some light on these comments. We hope that we have defended Banff trail riding that is enjoy by many visitors on a daily bases.
This response is the subjective opinion of the management representative and not of TripAdvisor LLC.