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Voluntourism in Central Alberta: Faith, Hope, charity

“Here’s a heavier winter blanket and this one has a fly mask,” Hope explained, as we unloaded horse blankets at Bear Valley Horse Rescue, south of Sundre.

“My horses lived to 26 and 38 and they needed thick blankets. Now they are gone and I would like the blankets to keep another horse warm.”

Looking around, I could see several horses that could use the blankets.

Created out of the generosity of Kathy and Mike Bartley, Bear Valley Horse Rescue helps horses that have run out of options: seniors, who have to give up their farms and their horses, people facing financial hardship or good horses that have lost their families.

“This guy is blind and partially deaf,” Kathy says, pointing to a mahogany-coloured gelding. “We bought him at an auction because he was destined for the packers. You can tell he has been well-trained and was probably somebody’s horse at one time.” Now he lives at Bear Valley, where no one knows his story but people care about his future.

Bear Valley is home to several pigs and goats, and around 130 horses.

Last year, 72 horses found new homes.

Some go to experienced riders willing to train a green horse. Those looking for more riding and less training snap up well-broke horses quickly. Around 30 horses have gone into the tourism industry, working as trail horses for Timberline Tours in Lake Louise.

“They sent us a picture of one pack line and it was all horses from Bear Valley,” Kathy says with a smile, her pride at finding a second chance for these horses clear on her face.

Support from the community is extremely important to keeping the rescue open.

“We got $40,000 in hay donated last year; when the farrier comes, he stays for three days,” Kathy says.

Covering the bills is a challenging proposition.

People who cannot adopt a horse can sponsor one for $600 year.

“My lifestyle does not allow me to own a horse anymore,” Hope mused, “but I would love to sponsor one of these.”

As we walked through the herd, curious horses came to shake us down for treats. Kathy told us a little bit about each horse.

“This one is called Faith,” Kathy said as a handsome buckskin rubbed her head against Hope’s hand, closing the deal for sponsorship.

Laughed Hope, “I think this is the horse for me. After all Faith goes with Hope. And charity is part of it too!”

If you would like to learn more, try voluntourism close to home. Instead of flying overseas to help out, spend the afternoon grooming horses at Bear Valley.

There is no jet lag and it’s a great chance for young people to connect with horses without the cash outlay.

Visit to make arrangements.

Carol Patterson helps businesses and people reinvent themselves through adventure. When she isn’t travelling for work, Carol is travelling for fun. More of her adventures can be found at



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