What shall I say about 2021?
I’m familiar with intentionality, with living on purpose, knowing what comes next, and planning how to reach the next objective, be that personal, for the ranch or the Equine Venture. The past two years of pandemic have upended everyone’s ability to know what comes next. Will we be sick or healthy, will we able to meet in-person, can we travel, by what means, can we see our family and friends??? I live a rather fortunate life, being a rancher who goes out in nature every day, and has an opportunity to connect with many critters and even some humans. My sympathy goes out to those who have no such opportunity to connect. Connection is what we are missing, I think we could handle the uncertainty, if we could lean on others, connect with them over a meal or give/get a hug. I’ve bent the rules and given hugs when I should have been socially distanced. I’ve fed people at my table because they needed to have that connection. I’ve felt sorry that others would not come in and join me around the table. Our Grandmas knew that having “a bite to eat” was a great way to create connection.
The annual Winning Ways Update was created to help those who were interested, know what happened in the past year at Winning Ways. Usually, I pick a theme and use the stories from the preceding year to highlight that topic. This year I struggled to be intentional, to know where my Update was going; I suppose that’s all in keeping with the general malady that besets our culture these days. I endeavored to write simple stories and let inspiration guide me.
The Holiday Season was much subdued last year, but we did have Christmas dinner, (that story is recorded in the Blog for 2020) and visitors for the New Year. Amanda F. & Dylan joined the Winning Ways Crew in the final days of 2020 and helped with chores, enjoyed the company of horses, calves, dogs and cats, as well as played crib and board games. New Year’s Eve we held a Fire Ceremony to burn what we wanted to leave in 2020. Then we had a Pizza Party that was delicious! We Zoomed with the McLeans and Kelton, played Kahoot and Balderdash until it was 2021 in Ontario, Saskatchewan, AND Dawson Creek.
Apparently New Year’s Day must always have some adventure and a few laughs. I drove Velvet on the sleigh/cutter, and we had a couple nice rounds out to Poppa Kim’s and the Bale Yard with different passengers. Amanda B. had damaged her right arm shortly before Christmas, however, she really wanted to drive, so I turned the reins over to her. OOOPS! Velvet bounced ahead and I went over the back of the sleigh (literally “ass over tea kettle” as the old saying goes) onto my head. THEREFORE, I will wear my helmet from now on, whenever driving or riding on the sleigh!! We enjoyed a steak supper with Brownie and then played board games and card games for the rest of the evening. My daybook says that Amanda F. won all the games!!
Winning Ways had volunteers “from away” in the winter and all through spring. Many thanks to them for all the oats they fed, strings they cut or bales they unwrapped, miles they walked checking fences and cows, horses they groomed, and a countless other chores they carried out.
During the spring, summer and the fall, Winning Ways was blessed with “local” volunteers that made it possible for Winning Ways to continue to deliver the camps and schools the ranch has become known for. The generosity of so many folks was truly awesome, the students, all the critters and I are so appreciative of the hours our local volunteers contributed.
The schedule for both spring and fall lessons was full of many students of different ages learning horsemanship. Camps and Summer Schools were again popular and had a variety of students; during those events students did more than learn grooming, saddling, bridling, riding and untacking. One group put on hilarious skits, others painted horseshoes and ponies, and yet another family group created gratitude branches. Winning Ways was crafty and creative this summer!
I and several local people, who are interested in Equine Assisted Learning (EAL), worked together to support youth and adults of our community, who were struggling with the situations they found themselves in. We had many different ages and motivations appear at Winning Ways, where clients enjoyed connections with the barnyard animals as well as the horses. Some clients groomed and did groundwork, others learned about riding, everyone was “taught” by an equine. We humans merely assisted this learning.
The horses on the ranch continue to grow older, as do we all. However, most of the old faithfuls are still teaching the human population about life and horsemanship. Tango, at 26, can be a cranky old curmudgeon toward other horses. Slim suddenly decided he was going to be bossy, very bossy; Slim ran Tango away from the feed, the water, and the other horses in a terrible display of dominance. Slim decided that he was a stud, and he was going to have the girls all for himself! But the mares weren’t even in the same paddock!! It was bizarre and meant that Slim and Tango, who traditionally hung out in the same paddock, could not even be tied close to each other. Try explaining to students who have been riding here for several years, that now, they must be very careful to not allow Slim near Tango.
One evening, during a lesson, Tango and Scooter did the “dinosaur screech.” That is a very unnerving sound for horse people, because it usually means a fight is about to start. It utterly terrified Tango’s rider, who was all for never riding again. Thankfully we got her on another quiet horse, and she continued until the end of the lesson. Meanwhile, the rider of the quieter (noise-wise at least) horse, got on Tango and showed the other ladies what a talented old fellow he still is. She had him doing smooth canter departures and lovely halts. I think she thoroughly enjoyed showing off!
This spring Vawn bought a small black mini mare. Why would she do that? My daughter aspires to having a “team of mules”. She didn’t want to try raising a big team (not just yet), so she started with the mini version. She shopped on-line, looking for a proven momma, that was approximately the same size as Missy. She checked out a few and decided that Maggie would be a good choice. She picked up Maggie on her way to Winning Ways in May, when Vawn and her daughters came to get horses and help with branding. Maggie and Missy went to visit Donkey from mid June to mid August. It was Amanda B’s job to check on them regularly since they were in a pasture where there was no one around. Of course, that meant that Amanda only had Mr Big to play with here on the ranch while Missy was “visiting.”
When the mini mares returned, it was Teddy who became very, very bossy and chased Maggie! I thought Teddy was going to die of a heart attack because he was puffing so badly, or he was going to drive Maggie through a fence! More sorting of horses so that there could be peace and safety on the ranch once again.
This fall, while the McLeans were at Winning Ways, I had arranged to take the mini mares, along with 3 ewes, to Dr Ed, to pregnancy check. Everyone was very curious to know if Vawn’s plan would be under way. Dr Ed uses an ultra-sound wand to detect the fetus and wears a pair of “goggles” in which he can see the results. He knew that he had a very excited crew watching him as he did his exploratory search. “Does anyone want to see the baby?” That got several thrilled “Yes” replies and the crew lined up to look through the goggles to see Missy’s baby. Then they could do the same thing with Maggie’s. Vawn was very happy with her plan and the two mini mares went home with the McLeans to Dawson Creek. BTW The 3 ewes were not pregnant (as I had hoped) and we checked them the same way the mares were done, apparently that was a first for Dr Ed.
The McLeans continue to lead very busy lives with Chris still doing on-line services because of the COVID restrictions in British Columbia. Vawn devotes part of her time to ensuring that the clients of the legal firm where she works get funds properly distributed. She also provides taxi service for her daughters, as well as acting as a 4-H Leader during the past 4-H year. Caslyn was involved in the Lamb 4-H project and Elissa took the very pretty bunny, Dulcinea, for the Rabbit project.
Later the girls decided they would like to raise a litter of kits, so they took the very pretty doe down the road to the neighbour’s buck for a short visit. The resulting offspring were very cute and I was the recipient of Burrito. She is all sass and very opinionated. I didn’t know rabbits could get angry and throw tantrums!!
Earlier I mentioned that Vawn and the girls were here for our May branding and their help was greatly appreciated. Vawn got to try Flynn in the pen, roping calves, and he acted like a pro. The grandgirls got to be good with a vaccination syringe or an Ivermectin syringe. The McLeans took Flynn, Scout and Atlas (a project horse that Vawn bought on speculation, who did not turn out well) back to Dawson Creek in May. The girls had fun with the horses, going to gymkhanas and the local horse show in the fall.
Scout even learned to be a cow chasin’ pony when Vawn took him on a cattle drive. One of Chris’ parishioners asked if the McLeans could help him bring his cows home. ‘Just a couple hours’, ‘the cows will follow the tractor and wagon’, ‘all you have to do is bring up the rear’. Many hours and miles later the cows did indeed get home, but not on the route the owner had planned. Oh yeah, it was raining the whole time Chris and Vawn trailed after the scattered herd. Vawn was so busy herding errant cows she never had time to get cold, until she was waiting for Chris to bring the trailer.
Mr Brown continues to be our handyman who cleans the driveways with his “Digger Dan” snowblower, takes out the compost, burns the mountains of twine from the bales, fixes doorknobs, chairs, flipper handles and cutting boards. Brownie does a regular run into Meadow Lake, although COVID has made him very careful, he wears his mask from the time he leaves until he returns in solidarity with all those who are obliged to wear masks in stores and other businesses. Brownie’s had his COVID booster and his flu shoot, so he’s as protected as he can be.
Recently Brownie’s brother, Bob, made a vehicle trade with Brownie. Bob’s Nissan truck just came off lease, and Bob wanted to buy it out. He told Brownie that he needed some financial assistance to do this, and being the good-hearted, older brother, Brownie agreed. When Bob arrived this fall with a Bill of Sale for the truck made out to Brownie, there was a great deal of surprise on Brownie’s part. Bob insisted he was going to drive the Mustang and the old white van just like Brownie had been doing, good driving with no snow was for the Mustang, all other times the van would carry him where he wanted to go. Initially Bob took the Mustang to Edmonton along with the van, but Bob soon realized that it might be a big temptation to thieves, so the Mustang has been returned to the ranch where it will be safe for the winter.
At the beginning of December, Brownie and I ventured out in his “new to him” truck, in a snowstorm. We went to Spiritwood to visit Granny. In the spring, Granny had several falls, it became too dangerous for her to be on her own anymore. Initially, while the Health District was seeking a long-term-care bed for her, Granny stayed in our local Meadow Lake hospital. Finally, a bed was located in the LTC facility in Spiritwood. Daryl moved Granny there and she has been well taken care of in that setting. I have visited her on several occasions and Daryl and Fritz drop in on weekends.
COVID has played havoc with all such facilities, and now they have very strict restrictions in place to keep the virus away. Brownie and I are not allowed to visit Granny IN the facility, but we could take her out for lunch. That is just what we did when we drove through the snowstorm. I even managed to have the chef prepare “liver and onions” which is Granny’s favourite item to order at a restaurant. Granny was delighted to have her favourite and wasn’t going to waste a bite. Perhaps when our new LTC facility is completed here in Meadow Lake (tentatively scheduled for early in 2022), Granny will return to her home community, where family and friends can visit more frequently.
At the beginning of November, I received word that my 100-year-old Aunt, who has been one of my role models, had passed away. Although I was unable to attend the funeral, through the courtesy of the funeral home, I was able to view the service on-line. A week later Kelton let me know that Carolyn Lighthart had passed away in Sarnia, Ontario. Kelton has been assisting Carolyn and her husband, Doug, since the passing of Carolyn’s two sons left her without family. Carolyn’s health had been rapidly declining, and she was unable to care for herself, so Kelton was instrumental in having her placed in a Long Term Care facility in September.
I decided that I would travel to Ontario and support Kelton as he made the arrangements for Carolyn’s funeral. I left Winning Ways in a horrible blizzard and thanks to many angels/saints I arrived at the Edmonton International Airport on time, to fly to Toronto. I was the eulogist and read another remembrance from one of Carolyn’s long-time friends. Carolyn’s grandson and his mom were able to come from Victoria, so Kelton and I spent some time with them as well as Doug.
I took the opportunity, since I was in the neighbourhood, to visit my cousin and her daughter at the riding stable where the young lady hangs out. Kelton and I also went down to Port Colbourn to visit Peggy, Charles and the rest of the cousins. We had a wonderful afternoon of visiting and enjoyed a great deal of good food. Aunt Jo would have been very pleased!
One evening, after we had visited Doug, and I said my Goodbyes to him, we visited Kelton’s friend, Marie. She was kind enough to cook us a shrimp dinner which I absolutely love; very tasty. Marie lives about an hour from Hamilton on a little acreage with her two boys. She is an accountant and works with Women Victims’ Services. Apparently, she filled Kelton in on some of the horrible trafficking stories that we never hear in our media. Most human trafficking in this country, is not offshore, but right here in our own communities!
Kelton continues to work at McMaster university in the Engineering Department’s research division. His immediate superior, Dr. Cotton, is in charge of a project that “includes both experimental and computational investigations of heat transfer, thermodynamics and fluid dynamics and topics addressing fundamental issues in the thermal sciences as well as integrated technologies for real life thermal management problems.” (Did your eyes glaze over reading that?) When Kelton talks about the project, he’s kind to me and uses farm/ranch related examples to make the technology clear to me. Kelton is very passionate about creating a difference in the way heating and cooling are accomplished in large urban areas. The McMaster project can have a great impact on reducing the effects of global warming. Lord knows we need that!
I hope everyone realizes that global warming is having a big impact on our everyday lives. Here’s how the weather affected our little piece of the globe. After a frigid February, March and April were much warmer but right through both months the temperature dipped below zero at night. Nothing grows when there are several degrees of frost every night. During May about half the nights stayed above zero but there was still occasional frost at night until May 30! Oh yes, then there was the night, June 21, the summer solstice, when frost warnings again appeared!! Frost that late into the growing season would have been catastrophic. Thankfully that disaster was averted.
Shortly after the frost warnings the weather went to the other extreme. HOT! At the end of June and beginning of July we, and much of Western North America, suffered under a huge heat wave. We fared better than many places, because we had a 20-degree difference between the day-time high and the low night-time temperature. Even August had several days in excess of 30o C. It was possible to sleep upstairs with the fans running on full speed. I am sure that I have not experience +36o C before, and I don’t care to again. So grateful that my fan made it bearable at night.
Along with the high temperatures, much of Western Canada suffered with drought. It was great for my riding lessons and camps—not a cloud in the sky. I don’t think we had to hide from the rain all summer. Drought conditions guaranteed the grass did not grow lush and thick as it usually does in this part of the world. Crops looked thin and burnt, or if there was a rain shower the canola tried to send up new shoots, only to have them burnt shortly after. I kept water bottles at the ready. If someone didn’t bring their own bottle, I supplied water and reminded myself and those around me to drink plenty! Thankfully most hot days I remembered.
The one silver lining to drought was that swampy areas dried up and hay was made where it had not been possible to drive a tractor for many years. My fence lines, that were badly in need of repair but previously were too wet to reach, were suddenly dry. In the spring, Leonard and I had discussed the work that had to be completed. With Len’s leadership, a “fencing crew” spent a great deal of the summer rebuilding several miles of fence at the North Ranch. Thanks to their efforts only a couple of cows escaped to No-man’s-land, and the crew and I rounded up the annoying escapees and brought them home.
The fall colors in September, when the frost just touches the trees, did not happen until the end of the month. Fall waited until October to give us nights with frost. The mostly pleasant weather stayed until Thanksgiving when we got a downpour. Then it dried up, but the nights got much cooler, below zero, but not enough to freeze the ground with the day-time warmth. Then we had “winter” arrive in November with snow and cold temperatures. Lots of snow meant the ground did not freeze and I doubt it will this winter. The snow cover near Meadow Lake is just over 30 cm according to Environment Canada’s records. However, at Winning Ways I’m sure we have WAY over 30 cm, probably closer to 45 cm! The skies just keep snowing in a very undrought-like manner. It makes leg muscles ache as one slogs through the white landscape. It is beautiful though, as my photo-happy helper reminded me.
Winning Ways was very glad to host a few young ladies during October and November. They wanted to see winter, and Man ‘O’ Man did they get their wish! I mentioned I left for my flight to Toronto in a blizzard. The big old dually truck was not my first choice for traveling to Edmonton, but the poor little PT Cruiser couldn’t make it more than it’s own length in the snow drifts right in the driveway.
The amount of snow that came down was extraordinary and the wind whipped it into drifts. Right up over the fences. The cows that I thought would have lots of grass to eat while I was away, were suddenly able to walk right over the fence and venture out on the Highway. The helpers set out looking for cattle at dusk, because someone called and said they saw cows out on the road. Of course, by the time the girls and Mr. Brown reached the Highway there were no cows to be seen.
My friends, Tara and Loretta also got in on the cow chasing as the poor cows tried to find grass. Vawn came and led the volunteers, international & local, to bring the cows home. But when the crew arrived at the pasture, there were no cows in sight. Len rode around on his skidoo, scouting the different paddocks and found no tracks or other sign. The cows were in the bush somewhere, but they weren’t coming home that day. Many thanks to my volunteers and friends for trying to keep the cows out of trouble and for eventually helping them get home!
As I sit at my keyboard to create a sketch of the past 12 months to either enlighten or entertain those who follow the chronicles of Winning Ways, I am not sure that I can say 2021 was all that enlightening or entertaining. However, I do feel that there were many opportunities to study the situation we now find ourselves immersed in. Reflection on the reactions of governments, health organizations and individuals has left me befuddled, dazed, and upset on numerous occasions. But there is always a silver lining…….
More time for reflection has made me much more Thankful for all that I experience. Yes, even when I wince as I take a misstep over frozen horse poop, I am thankful that I am taking steps, getting my chores done and living where I do. Even when the thermometer shows -40o C/F (it doesn’t matter which) I am thankful that I get to feel the cold and then warm up in my house. Even when the sun beats down, and others hide in the shade, I am thankful that I am a sun lover who wears her cap, long sleeves and sunglasses and just keeps riding along!
I’ve told some stories, some of them may have brought a chuckle, others might have raised your eyebrows! I’ve told you that 2021 was a year of reflection and thankfulness. Now, I want to express my greatest thanks to all those who contributed to the well-being of Winning Ways clients, critters, crew and coach. If you led a pony, watered a horse, brought Easter eggs or roses you are the angels among us, and deserve the highest praise and appreciation. A huge Thank You to you all.
Here are four suggestions for those of you that have made it this far in the story:
1) Wave at those you meet, or smile, or nod, that will let them know you have noticed them, thereby connecting with them.
2) Tell your story in the most pleasant manner possible, and in this fashion bring more pleasant memories your way.
3) Minimize your news consumption, at least as much as you can.
4) Remember that gratitude is a feel-good emotion, so say “Thank You” whenever you can.
I wish you all the best stories to tell, the biggest smiles to smile, and more gratitude than you have ever felt. I also wish that those in need of help and healing receive those gifts. May you all be blessed with joy, health, abundance, contentment, and gratitude.
In much gratitude 'til our trails cross,