When people see Joel Martens and his horse Hummer, they often start running — and for good reason.
The Red Deer rancher is the Ranch Tracker — operating his version of “Mantracker,” a Canadian reality TV show in which contestants try to avoid capture while traversing the wilderness to a ‘finish line.’
“It’s quite fun,” said Martens, who grew up in Saskatchewan on a cattle and grain farm and runs Heritage Ranch. “It gets very intense. Once I find them or locate them, then the chase is on. I’ve had guys run and put on some very good foot chases.”
And the adrenaline rush can be addictive.
“Everybody who has gone says, ‘We’re doing this again,’” said Martens. “Even some of the ones who I don’t cross paths with at all say it’s intense. Even though they don’t see me, they were expecting me around every corner.
“It’s quite an experience and the steak afterwards is awesome.”
Martens, who has a background working with horses, tried out for “Mantracker” when the television show was searching for its latest tracker. He made the top 12, but only four were invited to compete on the show. Still, the endeavour inspired him to bring tracking to the privately run ranch, located on 207 acres of city-owned land just off Highway 2 in Red Deer.
Participants start the game at head office and must find four flags that ranch staff have hidden on the property before Martens finds them. Players are given a map, and a 15- to 20-minute head start.
“They have a good chance to get themselves oriented and figure out where things are, and then I take off from the ranch and come looking for them,” said Martens, who isn’t told where the flags are.
Games typically last a couple of hours, and teams have ranged from couples playing together to corporate challenges of 50 people. For the latter, teams are divided into smaller groups, competing against each other and the Ranch Tracker at the same time. Whoever finds all the flags first sends Martens a text to let him know they’ve won.
This year, he’s looked for about 100 people during about 20 games. About one-quarter of the players manage to evade him.
“It’s a pretty fair competition,” he said. “I always try and play hard whether it’s a first-timer who wants to go for a walk versus people who come out in full camo. I work just as hard at it.”
Once Martens gets within 10 feet of a player, they know they’re caught.
“Sometimes they don’t run at all, and sometimes you surprise them on the trail,” he said.
Martens has one tool in his arsenal that helps him get his man (or woman) — his 10-year-old Morgan horse, Hummer.
“I pay attention to my horse,” said Martens. “He gets excited and he loves the hunt. He’s always looking. Either he or I will pick them up first.”
The ranch is a public park and there are people walking and biking through it all the time, so there are lots of distractions, and following tracks doesn’t always work.
“A lot of it is about a search pattern,” said Martens.
A game of Ranch Tracker costs $149 per person, which includes a steak dinner at the Heritage Ranch restaurant. Visit the website at heritageranch.ca.