Ten years ago, our adult daughter, who lived with us in North Vancouver, announced she had just bought a wild colt in Fort St. John that was headed for the slaughterhouse. The owners of the ranch where she was working that summer had decided he would never be big enough to work as a pack horse.
“That’s nice, dear. We’ll tell our neighbours he’s a really big dog. We can easily squeeze him onto our 33-foot lot,” I told her.
We figured she would give up the whole idea after a while. We were wrong. She surprised us by hauling the little horse to Langley all by herself, organizing and paying for his board in Campbell Valley, and visiting him faithfully every weekend. Little by little, we became as attached as she was to the fuzzy, affectionate young animal who trotted to greet us at the fence every Sunday.
Next thing we knew, we were selling our low-maintenance, mortgage-free nest on the North Shore, and buying a money pit in South Langley so we could all live with the horse. Our city friends warned us the move would be disastrous, was probably related to a hormonal imbalance — and suggested we had left “normal,” big time. They were right about the last part, anyway.
As everyone but us knows well, you can’t have just one horse: so at the age of 50, I bought the Bluester, a beautiful, neglected Paint horse with enough issues to feed an army of trainers and vets for years. Our cozy, comfy, middle-class life retreated into a distant memory as our herd grew from one to three.
My long-suffering husband, filling wheelbarrows full of money to be spent on hay, farriers, saddles and lessons, decided if he couldn’t rein us in he might as well join us. Enter Mr. Bill, a rescued “husband” horse with even more issues than the Bluester, offset by the proverbial heart of gold.
The next 10 years were the happiest and hardest of our collective lives. It was never dull. Having a horse is a ticket to a world of lively, intensely opinionated animal lovers from all walks of life, some of whom became great friends.
Having a horse teaches even the wimpiest old woman to be brave, to stagger out cheerfully to do barn chores on the coldest, wettest nights.
Horses teach even the chattiest of people to communicate and to express love without words.
Writing about the Langley horse community for the past seven years has been a great privilege and a lot of fun.
It has been surely the most rewarding chapter in a long and boring career as a business writer.
At first we blamed my daughter’s scruffy little horse — who did grow big enough to make a great trail horse, by the way — for our drastic change in lifestyle. Then we thanked him for inspiring the best move we ever made.
Now, once again, we are leaving “normal” and have decided to sell our farm in Langley and move to an off-grid house and barn on 160 acres in the mountains above the Thompson River. Yes, the horses may have had something to do with our decision.
While most of our 60-something friends are downsizing to condos, buying poodles, and planning back-to-back cruises, we will be chopping firewood, learning to drive a quad, and adopting really big dogs to fend off cougars and bears.
The Rockin’ P Ranch, as in rockin’ chair, not rock n’ roll, is where we hope to live out the rest of our lives with our horses, who are free at last to roam and snack on hundreds of acres of grassland.
And, once again, well-meaning friends have implied that, as geriatric homesteaders, we will be committing financial and professional and social suicide. Everyone knows the world ends at Hope but us, it seems.
Mind you, this advice is coming from the same people who told us 10 years ago that life ended at the Fraser River. They were wrong then, and they may be wrong about the next adventure. We’ll keep you posted.
Happy trails and thanks for everything.
Anne Patterson has written the Accidental Rider column for The Times for the past seven years. Her insights have been appreciated by Times readers, and she will be missed.