Canadian HorsePlay on the Niagara Peninsula
Combine Toronto with Riding the Niagara Peninsula for a Weekend Getaway.
by Caroline Maffry
Fall is in full swing this October morning as I land in Toronto. With only a few days to explore, I have a few must see items on my to do list. I'll first explore the shores of Lake Eire and southern Ontario, known as the Niagara Peninsula… by horse, of course.
About an hour and a half drive south of Toronto on the Queen Elizabeth Highway, or QEW as it is know in these parts, I drive through the heart of Ontario's wine country, flanked by vineyards and trees ablaze with vibrant reds, yellows and oranges as I navigate my way towards Horseplay Niagara. A steady, but peaceful rain pelts my rental car as I gaze out at Lake Ontario to my left, as I head to Port Colborne in Southern Ontario.
Upon arriving, I am greeted by the owner, Kathy Kathy Buttigieg, a former competitor and instructor now devoted to managing HorsePlay full time. As my horse is prepared for the ride, Kathy speaks to me about the horses and the family business and explains how they have trail rides available for all levels, from no experience to advanced riders, as well as private rides and everything in between.
I opt to take the two hour trail advanced adventure beach ride through the adjacent farms and fields, neighboring forests and then end with a beach ride on Lake Erie, on the southern cost of Ontario. I set off with the owner's daughter as my guide, the lovely Tina. We spend the ride talking about our love for horses, her family's horse business, and the Canadian seasons.
As we navigate the narrow paths between the trees, Tina points out the soy bean fields and Rose tea trees, wild grape vines and trees. I ask about the wildlife and learn that there are often deer, coyote, and fox that come out to greet the guests as they pass through on horseback.
Tina's favorite season is summer, when lilac grows at the edge of the trails and herons soar overhead. The rain continues to fall and despite being soaked to the bone, I hardly notice being wet as I take in the landscape around us. In between our chats, we take short trots and then canters down long stretches of path. Tina points out that these paths were once railway tracks that had been made into local trails for hiking and bikers as well as we horse folk. The path and former railway stretched all the way to ￼Buffalo and back. Known as the Trans-Canada Trail, the world's longest netwokr of recreational trails, the Trail, when fully connected, stretches 14,000 miles (23,000 kilometers) from the Atlantic to the Pacific to the Arctic oceans. The network of the Trans Canada Trail is made up of more than 400 community trails.
We eventually arrive at a clearing and can see Lake Erie in the distance. Tina explains that the winding road that we will soon cross is Lakeshore Road, an original American Indian trail that hugged the coast of Lake Erie, later to be paved over to make the road we see ahead. Known as world's longest network of recreational trails, the Trail, when fully connected, stretches 23,000 kilometers (14,000 miles) from the Atlantic to the Pacific to the Arctic oceans. The network of the Trans Canada Trail is made up of more than 400 community trails.
Crossing the trail, the trees open up to the vast beach and Tina points towards the point of land in Ontario called Fort Erie, one of the most historic sites from the War of 1812 and today well known to ships as a marker for navigation. We walk the horses on to the beach and into the water and pause for some photos. The horses enjoy the break for a cool drink in the lake. Across the lake, far distance, is New York State and Pennsylvania–– difficult to see on this windy and rain filled day but surreal all the same to be in Canada looking out onto the shores of the United States.
We walk the horses back on to the beach and Tina asks if I am up for a gallop. As the horses pick up speed, we gallop side by side along the beach. I turn to Tina as we gallop along and I say, " this is why I ride".
As we take the path off the beach and head toward the road back to the farm, Tina continues to point out the local wildlife and nature, complete with a fox's den. The rain stops and the sun begins to dry us out. We enjoy another canter along the path home and pass another group from Horseplay on their way out to the trails. I thank Tina and my horse and set off on my next adventure of the day.
Niagara Falls: Canadian Style
A short half hour drive from Horseplay, and I am at Niagara Falls. Parking is easy and I set off to explore the Canadian falls. Having worked up quite an appetite from my morning ride, I lunch at the appropriately named Edgewater Tap and Grill directly looking over the falls. Quite a view I must say! A warm Canadian chowder with a side of sweet potato fries are perfect choice to warm me up.
After lunch I walk along Niagara parkway and the white water walk with spectacular views of the American falls and New York State just a few hundred feet away. Also visible is the adjacent horseshoe falls. The popular tourist Niagara cruises travel up and back on the waters below to the base of Horseshoe Falls.
It's fun to see the Canadian cruise tourists on one boat in their red raincoats while the American cruises came and went from the US in their blue ones. Other fun tourist attractions include the journey behind the falls, only available on the Canadian side, and the view from above from the skyline tower or the Niagara sky wheel. I marvel at the proximity of the U.S. and the steady exchange of cars coming and going from one country to the other over the rainbow bridge border crossing before heading back to explore the casino resort galleria shops.
I make sure on my drive out of Niagara to take the road towards Toronto. An easy wrong turn and I might have ended up in the queue to the U.S. border crossing!
Next stop: Toronto and a trip to the top of The CN Tower, Toronto's most famous landmark. Standing 1465 feet above the city, I take the daunting 58 second elevator ride traveling at 15 miles an hour to the base camp and lookout level for a thrilling view. A member of the seven wonders of the modern world, the CN tower has views that stretch over 100 miles and as far as Niagara Falls and the USA.
I walk the windy outdoor lookout level admiring Lake Ontario and sit on the world famous glass floor but only for a few seconds as it is a frightening notion to only have a piece of glass between me and the city below. The outside-no railing edge-walk harnessing you to the exterior of the tower was not for me, but something for the adrenalin addict seeking additional excitement.
Once safely on the ground, a casual stroll up Front Street takes me to the 200 year old Lawrence Market and Toronto's Old Town. Housing over 120 specialty vendors showcasing crafts and a variety of foods including fruits and vegetables, meats, fish, and dairy products to name a few. Recently named by National Geographic as the #1 food market in the world, my mouth is inclined to agree as I drool over the selection of olives and meats available. With my taste buds fully activated by the market experience, I end my trip with dinner at the nearby French bistro, Le Papillon. Named the best classic French restaurant of Toronto in 2012, this old town building, complete with lofted ceilings and exposed brick walls, is the perfect spot to relax and reflect on a memorable first visit to Canada and the Toronto area.