Horseback riding and the Kispiox Valley have gone hand in hand for generations, so it’s no surprise Gene and Joy Allen have built part of their business at Bear Claw Lodge around the connection between humans, horses and the land they live on. For Joy, Gene and their family, this relationship is particularly important, so keep reading to find out more about the unique history of horses at Bear Claw…
Bear Claw: Joy, tell us a bit about your connection with horses. Did you ride from a very young age?
Joy Allen: My Mom said I could ride before I could walk. My Dad was a cowboy and we did everything we could on horseback, ranching, herding cows, mountain pack trips, horse shows, rodeos, gymkhanas and trail rides. I trained my first horse when I was ten years old.
BC: Horses have always been a big part of life for you and Gene here in the Kispiox Valley, even before the lodge existed. Can you explain a little bit more of that history?
JA: We were both serious rodeo competitors. We competed in several events and won a lot of championships over the years. I competed in horse shows for many years, an entirely different discipline of riding. We raised genetically bred bucking horses for nearly 40 years, with up to 240 head of horses. For several years our horses won top selling bucking horses at the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas. I liked to think they were so good because they were raised where they had space to roam, like wild horses, in a natural habitat. We had four children and all of them share a love of horses and that has passed down to our grandchildren.
BC: Now you have an opportunity to pass that love and appreciation on to your guests at Bear Claw. Can you describe how you feel when you see visitors finding their own connection with the animals?
JA: Watching people of any age overcome their fear of horses is great. When I ask someone if they have any horse experience most times their answers are, “yes, my horse ran away with me, my horse kicked me, my horse rolled with me or similar”. Our horses are older mountain horses that have seen and done everything. Within minutes of going down a trail, the rider relaxes and begins to enjoy their surroundings. By the end of the ride, they love the horse and can’t wait to ride again.
One of the best moments I’ve ever had with kids and horses was with a boy from Switzerland with autism. It was just him and I so we rode to a spot under a big spruce tree beside the river and shared lunch together. We were facing each other on our horses and he took my hand in his and looked me in the eye and said, “You make me so happy”. This from a kid that barely spoke and was afraid to get his hands dirty. He couldn’t wait to ride again. Horses can and do change people’s lives.
BC: What is it that you love most about horse riding here in the Kispiox Valley?
JA: It’s pristine here, it’s very rare to ever encounter other people. What you do see are mountains, rivers, creeks, river meadows, canyons, old growth forests and trails that have been here long before the arrival of settlers like the Telegraph Trail or the Grease Trail. It’s amazing to see glaciers and spawning salmon and to always be learning about our culturally rich history. Then being able to share that with others.