Category Archives: Horses

HDR Moves North, Part Two

The Arrival:

Is this where I get out?

Having loaded the goats first thing in the morning before leaving Howling Duck Ranch, once Nick was installed in the rear, I was set to go. Originally, I had thought about over nighting in Williams Lake. I phoned the Veterinary Clinic there to see if this was possible. It was in theory but because it was a Sunday, I would have to get there before by 5 pm when they closed. In light of the fact I had to conquer The Hill and get 458 kms of rough road behind me, I just couldn’t see how I could to it. Also, I was still tired from the trip in and needed to visit a few more people before leaving town. I realized, talking with the clinic, that I was going to have to do the trip in one go.

Tens hours into the journey, I stopped in Quesnel for a Tim Hortons coffee. I wondered if Nick needed a break from being cooped up but worried about the wisdom of letting him out. After all, what would I do if I couldn’t get him back into the trailer? What would Claire do, I wondered. Rex (the Vet) had told me that I could safely drive with the animals for 36 hours. But, because I knew I had nearly 24 to do, and I worried that if I had a flat or some other vehicle trouble, we could easily get over that time limit and then what would I do? Finally, I decided to risk it.  I walked him around a field for about twenty minutes while he sniffed the night air and fed on the grass. When it was time to load him back up, again, lovely boy that he was, he went in without any drama.

Nick's first minutes on Couplands farm. I'm talking with Rex about how to integrate him into his herd.

Twenty-two hours of total driving time later, I was at Rex’s just outside Grande Prairie on Saskatoon Mountain. I unloaded Nick and introduced him to Rex’s herd, Dusty and Bo. Rex was certain that Dusty would create a fight, or at least a bit of a horse rodeo so Rex asked if I would stay for a while just in case. I assured Rex that I thought Nick would integrate nicely and not cause any fuss. I took Nick into the pasture and turned him loose. Just as Rex suspected, Dusty was the first to run up to greet him. She pranced around Nick trying to stir the pot. Nick put his ears back once and turned his bum to her. “Well, I think that’s all the show we’re going to see today Rex,” I said. Rex was unconvinced, “I’m sure there’s going to be some trouble. Dusty is a bit of a terror. She seems to get other horses whipped up. I’ve seen it before!” And so we waited. And, we waited some more. And nothing happened. Finally, Rex visibly relaxed and I headed to the next farm to unload my goats. “I’ll call you later to see how things are going,” I said before getting into the truck.

Within minutes of being let loose into the paddock with his new herd mates, Nick is happily integrated.

Not more than two miles down the road, I saw something odd. There was a vast number of deer bunched up along the brush line just off the road. I wondered why they were all clumped up like that until I saw a flicker out of the corner of my eye. Not more than 30 yards in front of them was a full grown cougar laying like a house cat in the snow. His tail flicking in concentration every now and then. I pulled over to watch the scene and called Rex. “Really? In nearly thirty years of living up here I’ve never seen a cougar. Trust you to see one in your first five minutes of being here!” I didn’t wait for Rex to get to the scene but moved on with my load. To this day, Rex still has not seen a cougar. He’d moved off before Rex got to the scene of the crime. A few hours later Rex called to say that Nick and Dusty and Bo were all acting like they’d known each other forever.

Thirty minutes later I pulled up to Russ and Brenda’s farm and unloaded the goats. I introduced my ‘Group of Seven’ into their herd, and then there were 60. Theirs had just had kids so there were goats of all shapes, sexes, and sizes in the mix along with one token guard llama, Gibbs. So devoted to his job was he that he would not let my goats into the feeding area. Russ eventually had to have a talk with him and let him know his job duties extended to the seven newcomers!

My 'Group of Seven' follow me like perfect little citizens into their new home.

Today, I farm sit at both places and look after my own and others’ animals. I have farm sat for Russ and Brenda a few times and gotten to look after their livestock. Before that I had never taken care of cows. It was a unique opportunity for me.  Presently, Rex and Debbie are away and I’m sitting their farm. It is a beautiful place on the mountain. Best of all, I get to see my horse every day. These opportunities not only make me happy but also they let me play farmer.

Fatty-Fat coming in for a pet.

I'm very happy to have my animal family united with me after 18 long months!

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Filed under Animal issues, Developing Community, Horses

Howling Duck Ranch Moves North, Part One

After conquering 'The Hill' and several hours of the poor Chiclcotin blacktop, it was time to stop for a much needed rest for everybody.

Here’s to good friends old and new–thank-you all:

Some would say I seem to have a knack for meeting interesting people. I would say I get terribly lucky with who shows up in my life! After many months of being alone here in Grande Prairie, Alberta, I finally have my beloved goats and horse with me. The are now safely installed and well looked after on two different farms. How did this happen?

One night around 2:30 am, one of the Nurses I was working night shift with leaned across the table and asked, “So what else do you do besides work here?” I couldn’t have asked for a better entree. Without a word I flicked on the computer and showed her my blog.

We spent the next few hours getting much work done (not) and learning a whole lot about each other. As it turns out, we are kindred spirits. She has married a farmer and despite her city background now finds herself  knee deep in cow poop, often. Cuz, life on a farm is always about poop! Hence the title of my book. But I digress.

I can’t remember if it was actually that night or soon thereafter that she offered not only a place for my goats to live but also the loan of her stock trailer to get them here.  I couldn’t believe my ears, or my luck. She then took me to her farm to meet her husband, her son, and her variety of barn animals: cows, goats, horses, and token llama. These folks lent me their stock trailer without hesitation or acceptance of payment. But they did wonder if I could perhaps look after their place when they went away later than month? “Later this month, later next month, and any other time you want to go!”

Once the idea of moving my horse and goats was transformed by my new friend from a fantasy to a real possibility, I asked my friend Rex  (who I’d met very briefly along with his wife years ago at another friend’s place and whose farm I moved up here to look after for 5 weeks last summer) if he was really serious last year when he said I was welcome to bring Nick to his farm. “Of course you can. I just can’t promise nothing will go wrong out here. It’s got older fencing and barbed wire and who knows what else in the field,” he cautioned, more I hope to console himself than to warn me. He does after all have two of his own horses on the land and it quite meticulous about keeping his place up. Moreover, he is a Vet. I decided I would risk  it and bring Nick here!

It was a whirlwind trip and I barely had time for two nights at Howling Duck Ranch. I did manage to get a visit in with a couple of  good friends from the valley, Clarence being one of them. We had a pancake breakfast reunion. Something a few of us used to get together to do when I lived there. It was too short a visit but better than no visit at all. The next day I was up early, loading the goats, and heading to the barn where Nick was kept.  I was looking forward to seeing my friend’s husband. I was not looking forward to not seeing her. Clare had developed Rolling Pigeon Ranch over many years in the valley and I met her when I decided to take up horse back riding lessons. Clare died far too young last December and I’d not been able to get to her funeral. She is the first friend that was part of my day to day life (up until leaving the valley) that I have lost. Coming to the valley and visiting with her husband was an emotional reunion for both of us. I finally got a chance to grieve her with someone who knew her and loved her too. It was a bittersweet, but much needed, visit for me.

How l like to remember Clare. She was at her best while instructing riding on her own hand made trails.

The only time I’ve ever trailered Nick, Clare was there to do the work for me. I could rely on her know-how and just be the heavy lifter! Today however I would be doing it for the first time alone and I was nervous about it. We had a long, long trip ahead of us and, to date, I’d only done a 5 hr journey with Nick when Clare was at the helm. Before I tried to get him in the trailer, I looked up at the sky and said quietly, “Clare, I’m going to need your help with this.” Then I opened the doors and walked Nick into the trailer. It was that easy. “Thank-you,” I whispered skywards as I closed the doors and latched them closed. And just like that we were on our way.

 

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Filed under Animal issues, Developing Community, Horses, Learning to Farm

Special features

Conversation with the writer/director of ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’

My ‘David Suzuki Digs My Garden’ audition video is–hallelujah–in the can. I would like to thank my cast and crew who worked tirelessly to get this done: David, Nick, Pavarotti, Elvis, Tui, Gordon, Malcolm, Fatty-Fat, Shiraz, Sundown, Coco, The Girls, and Martha. If I have missed anyone just tell me at next feeding time and I’ll add you to the list. Most of all I’d like to thank my ‘Best Boy’, Ahmed, who ransacked Vancouver in order that my production values were top notch, and my ‘Sound Engineer’, Buddy Thatcher. Thankfully, I saved on money by doing the location scouting, casting, catering, writing and directing myself, and the fact that the actors were willing to work for not quite peanuts–but close–helped keep us within budget. It was a very happy set except whenever I mentioned the word pesticide.

Although this was my first feature film, I found the whole experience so creatively stimulating, that I’m thinking of expanding into more short films to document my life and work here. I have spent this past year writing words and am now intrigued to write scripts and story-boards for this visual medium.

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Filed under Animal issues, Educational, Ethical farming, Goats, Horses, Just for fun, Preserving the harvest, Sustainable Farming, Vegetable gardening

Back in the saddle

Kit the wonderfully charming horse I leased while living in Regina last year.

Kit the wonderfully charming horse I leased while living in Regina last year.

I finally have my computer back and up and running and should be able to be regular again with my posts. Posting on the blog is not the only posting I’ll be doing on a regular basis again. Yesterday, I went to see a woman about a horse–my horse! I finally got my butt back in the saddle and took a much needed riding lesson. A lesson that involves posting–we’re learning dressage.

I have always wanted to ride horses since being a child but not really had a lot of opportunity to do so having grown up in the city. Consequently, I’m having to give this dream to myself as an adult. My aunt would take me trail riding every year for my birthday and I loved it. Until living here however I didn’t have the time, the money or the resources to support a horse–now they are part of my life.

Four years ago I finally got up the courage to buy myself a horse. Nick is now a 24 year old purebred Arabian with a personality that is larger than life, and not really befitting a horse. “He’s unlike any other horse I’ve had,” said the rancher that sold him to me. “I bet he’d sit on the couch and watch tv with you if you let him” he summed up as I handed over the cash.

Nick was born and bred right here in Bella Coola by a man who once raised cattle on the property I now own. He was then sold to a rancher down south who worked him with cattle before selling him to another rancher (the man who sold him to me) in the Chilcotin. When this fellow got out of the business, Nick made his way down to what he thought would be an easy retirement here in the valley. Until I showed up, he was getting fat and happy in the paddock with his friends.

Then, I began riding him. It was going to be an informal relationship. I was going to take lessons on him and he was going to get exercise, no strings attached. However, from the first day out with him I knew he was different–there was an immediate unspoken communication link that was palpable between us. Until meeting Nick, I had thought a horse was just a horse. I was wrong. After just one lesson on him I found myself feeling confident enough to buy him, and so I did. Finally, I had my very own horse and an Arabian to boot. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven: I still do.

A cross country ride up in the Chilcotin on Shelia.
A cross country ride up in the Chilcotin on Shelia.

Me and Nick ready for our lesson!

Me and Nick ready for our lesson!

Yesterday, we had a rough ride. He was persnickety and let me know he was less than happy about being ignored for several months and now expected to work. My instructor helped work him (and me) through his hissy fits and we ended off nicely together. Despite having a ranching background I think Nick really always dreamed of being a ‘girls’ horse. He seems to love the work of learning dressage and grows about two inches when in the arena. The wonderful thing about him besides the fantastic work ethic (and hissy fits aside) is that he’s a rough and ready 4 x 4 when he wants to be. All that ranching background makes him a nice sound ride when out in the bush: he’s faced down bears, thinks nothing of forging rivers, doesn’t go into a frenzy if a butterfly flutters by or a ruffled grouse suddenly explodes from its hiding place.  He’s exactly what I need in this country. He’s exactly what I’d have come up with if I’d drawn up a wish-list. He’s my one good horse.

Who says you can't teach an old ranch horse some new tricks?

Who says you can't teach an old ranch horse some new tricks?

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Filed under Animal issues, Educational, Horses, Just for fun