Having completed her review of a few basic riding skills, Mandy checked back and forth, matching rider with horse.

“You can go with Nakinaw.” She indicated a white mare to one member of our small group, a 40-something fellow who hadn’t ridden since he was 30-something.

“And I think Cecil for you.” He was a lovely dark brown horse, tall, and only 12 years old.

Tethered to their posts at Yukon Horsepacking Adventures and ready to go, the horses waited patiently as the wranglers made sure everyone was comfortable in the saddles, adjusting stirrups to suit shorter or longer legs.

“At least on a horse you aren’t as high up as on an elephant,” piped up a girl who had recently returned from a trip to Thailand.

It was a calm, green evening. Recent rains had turned the stretches of pasture a fresh emerald colour. The distant mountains held only a trace of snow on their peaks. The air was fresh as we set off. A couple of dogs decided to come along.

Mandy’s mare, Casey, looked back at the rest of us as if to say, “Just follow me.”

Once through the gate, the pasture soon gave way to the woods. A well-marked trail meandered between the trees, narrower here and wider there.

Cecil was fairly avant-garde about the trail issue. Perhaps to show his individuality, he preferred to walk beside the trail rather than on it, like the other horses. That wasn’t a problem … until we hit one of the “narrower here” sections and came a little too close to a few trees.

Cecil responded to a gentle nudge, grudgingly stepping back onto the trail … for a few minutes at least.

Light conversation could be heard up and down the line as riders tended to pair up, one leaning forward and one turning back.

“Watch for this low branch.”

“There are fallen logs here; the horses will take their time stepping through them.”

The trail took an upward turn and, after a very pleasant hour of riding, we arrived atop a ridge, the halfway point and rest stop. Riders dismounted to stretch their legs and each horse was tied to a nearby tree. The dogs ran around visiting everyone, thoroughly enjoying the whole thing.

The view was spectacular. The earlier rain clouds had disappeared and the sky was clear blue; a huge rainbow arched over distant mountains. Fox Lake spread out below us. Wildflowers waved their colourful blooms in the evening breeze. Looking back toward our starting point, the ranch appeared miniature.

Refreshed and heading for home, the horses sauntered along at a relaxing gait.

Approaching a thick stand of willow, Mandy told the story of the time she came across a bear right at the very spot we were passing, vividly illustrating why the area is called Grizzly Valley.

The second half of the ride completed the trail’s loop. Plenty of whinnies and neighs from the horses still at home welcomed us as we arrived back at the ranch. Cecil tossed his head.

Yukon Horsepacking Adventures offers trail rides (with a delicious salmon bake), one to seven-day horsepacking trips and log cabin rentals.

Located at the south end of Fox Lake on the Klondike Highway, they are a half hour drive from town. Phone Tom and Mandy at 633-3659 or visit www.yukonhorsepacking.com.

PHOTO: MURRAY LUNDBERG www.yukonalaska.com