Gilbert Roy and Le Cheval Canadien


Gilbert was riding and driving Canadian Horses at a young age.

This year marks the 350th anniversary of the arrival of the ancestors of the Canadian Horse in what is now Canada. Horses sent to the French colony by King Louis XIV eventually became the distinct breed we know as the Canadian Horse. Gilbert’s experiences with the breed, sometimes called Le Petit Cheval de Fer, or Little Iron Horse, goes back to his childhood on a farm in Matapedia, Quebec. In that part of Quebec, life on the farm was much the same as it had been in the early years of the twentieth century, especially for Gilbert’s mother, Monique, who had been left a widow with six children when Gilbert was only three years old.

From a very early age, Gilbert loved working with harness.

From a very early age, Gilbert loved working with harness.

Gilbert loved working with harness from a very early age, an attraction that would stand him in good stead when working with Canadians. As soon as Gilbert was able, he would harness the farm’s horse to do much of work done today with tractors, ATVs and snowmobiles. One of the most hardworking farm horses he remembers from those days was a little Canadian (unregistered, of course, since papers were of no value to a farmer at that time) named P’tit. Gilbert and P’tit would haul water from the creek for his mother’s big garden, bring hay in from the field, and the many varied chores required on a largely self-sufficient homestead.

Gilbert and P'tit with a young work crew hauling hay.

Gilbert and P’tit with a young work crew hauling hay.

Gilbert’s first horse was a Canadian cross mare. Since they had no trailer, he had to ride her home to the farm, a distance of several miles, and although she wasn’t well broke when he picked her up, she was doing much better by the time they reached home. Because she was a red roan, he called her Rosie, and she was put to work logging and hauling, as well as being his saddle horse.

Gilbert and Rosie.

Gilbert and Rosie going hunting.

When he got older, Gilbert went to live with his brother, Albert, who had a riding stable in Joliette, Quebec, and was head wrangler for his brother’s string of about 40 horses. Every spring, Gilbert would make sure both new and old riding horses were schooled enough for their clients of varying skill levels to ride. Many of their string horses were Canadians, because they were inexpensive and easy to find in Quebec. Around the same time, Gilbert was competing in various rodeo events, from bronc riding to barrel racing. One of the best barrel racers he rode was a Canadian stallion belonging to a friend.

Fast forward to 2001. Gilbert had moved west to BC in 1980, spent some time working with thoroughbreds in Osoyoos and Maple Ridge, bred, raised and trained Quarter Horses for many years, and now worked as a farrier and horse trainer in Langley. He lived at the ranch of Jim McCrae, founder of the Back Country Horsemen of BC and a diehard mule man. Gilbert used to help him take clients and gear to his camp on Snass Mountain, and worked with his mules. Jim was giving a Stock Management clinic to a group of Back Country Horsemen members and Gilbert was helping out.

Gilbert riding Cherry Creek Danzon Gina at her first show in 2002.

Gilbert riding Cherry Creek Danzon Gina at her first show in 2002.

One of the students at the clinic was Ruth Donald, a rather inexperienced horse owner who owned a young Canadian mare. Gilbert was saddling up Jim’s mule for Ruth and they got to talking. When she realized that not only was Gilbert a skilled horse trainer, but that he was from Quebec and familiar with the Canadian Horse breed, she asked him if he would work with her mare. He rode the young mare in her first Canadian Horse breed show in 2002, just after the Canadian was declared Canada’s National Horse.

Gilbert was one of the founding members of the Canadian Horse Heritage & Preservation Society  (CHHAPS) in the fall of 2002, and went on to show Gina in a number of CHHAPS shows. The CHHAPS shows included various events that showcased the versatility of the breed, from performance and in hand classes to driving and pulling. The Little Iron Horse Competition required a horse to compete in a Trail Class, a reinsmanship (driving) class, a timed 1/4 mile trot under harness, and a stone boat pull. In 2003 at the Historic O’Keefe Ranch in Vernon, B.C., Gilbert and Gina won the Little Iron Horse competition. By that time, Gilbert had adopted both Gina and her owner as family.

Gilbert and his Canadian mare competing in the stoneboat pull at O'Keefe Ranch.

Gilbert and Gina competing in the stoneboat pull at O’Keefe Ranch.

Gilbert and Gina cattle penning.

Gilbert and Gina cattle penning.

Gilbert also taught Ruth’s Canadian mare to work cows, and competed in the weekly cattle penning competitions in Aldergrove with her. He even used her to demonstrate cattle penning skills at the Cowplay clinics he was giving at Twin Creeks Ranch in Aldergrove at that time.

Since then, Gilbert has also worked with Canadian Horses belonging to other members of the Canadian Horse Heritage & Preservation Society, mainly to get them started under saddle or harness, although he used another Canadian mare, Nisa, as his “demo” horse during his Cowplay clinic in 2013.  His help with little Pistachio was in a previous post, as was his participation in the Northwest Horse Fair in Albany, Oregon, with John Hartley’s stallion, Kurt.

Ylacey arriving at Proud Horse Ranch, Feb. 2015.

Ylacey arriving at Proud Horse Ranch, Feb. 2015.

Now in 2015, Gilbert is once again getting a young Canadian mare ready to be ridden in her new home. Ylacey, a sweet mare belonging to Hayley Bouzek of Langley, is at Proud Horse Ranch learning how to be a calm and accepting riding horse, and Gilbert is looking forward to watching Hayley get to know her in the near future.

Here are more photos of Gilbert working with Canadian Horses.

The Canadian Horse has survived in North America since 1665, but it is still a breed at risk. View this Canadian Horse Heritage & Preservation Society article for more information, and if you love the breed, spread the word and encourage others to support this wonderful heritage breed.

Highland Pony meets French Canadian Cowboy in the Cariboo

Frank and his Highland Pony Lairg

Frank and his Highland Pony Lairg

The Cariboo is a melting pot. Here on Watch Lake Road, Ann Armann has a herd of purebred Highland Ponies at Circle H Ranch. Gilbert lives just down the road, and it turns out the French Canadian horseman’s first client in the Cariboo has a Highland Pony from Circle H Ranch.

On one of the many occasions when Gilbert was shopping at the 100 Mile House Timbermart, he was talking to Frank at the service desk when the conversation turned, as it often does with Gilbert, to horses. Frank mentioned that he was having a little trouble catching one of his horses, and that it had become almost impossible to get a halter on him. The young gelding’s name is Lairg (named after a town in the Scottish Highlands), and he’s one of Ann’s purebred Highland Ponies.

Horse and handler both have to be comfortable with each other

Horse and handler both have to be comfortable with each other

Gilbert immediately recognized it as a communication problem, a very frequent problem between horses and their owners. Once the spring mud dried out and the footing became good enough, Gilbert went over to Frank’s to help him learn to converse with his Highland Pony. How would a French Canadian know Lairg’s language? Horses, it seems, have a universal language, and Gilbert learned to speak it long ago, living with horses since he was barely able to walk.

Working on the lead line

Frank working Lairg on the lead line

First Gilbert worked with Lairg in the corral while Frank watched, explaining to Frank as he went along just what he was doing and why. Gilbert wants to make sure the horse is comfortable, and even has fun during a training session. It wasn’t long before Lairg was allowing himself to be caught and haltered, then happily following Gilbert around. Then it was Frank’s turn to work with the horse, while Gilbert watched and continued to give him pointers.

Good communication starts on the ground, so even if a client has been riding their horse already, Gilbert always starts with fundamental ground work to improve the horse-human relationship. That means lots of work on the lead line to establish the horse’s respect for his handler. After the first session, Frank was able to catch and halter his horse. He learned how to get Lairg’s respect, and to correct him firmly and fairly when they had a difference of opinion.

Fundamental groundwork is essential for establishing good communication

Fundamental groundwork is essential for establishing good communication

Gilbert took the photos on this page at the second session, during which Lairg was even learning how to stand quietly “ground tied”. They’ll keep on working together until Frank and Lairg are able to safely hit the trail on their own. Stay tuned for updates!

Note: Click on any photo to enlarge. Thanks to Frank for allowing us to share Lairg’s story!


Does this Highland Pony look hard to catch now?

Does this Highland Pony look hard to catch now?

How to play with cows in one easy lesson

A few riders took advantage of the opportunity to learn how to play with cows last Sunday at the Anderlinis’ arena in South Langley. Gilbert first introduced “Cowplay” to Langley about 10 years ago at Twin Creeks in Aldergrove, back when Ralph & Sharon Caravetta owned the place and held cattle penning and sorting competitions on a regular basis. Gilbert gave about one clinic a month over a period of about 6 months, and quite a few riders cut their teeth on cows, so to speak, at one of his full day clinics.

Cows looking for something to do

Cows looking for something to do

Well, around ten days ago, he found out there were some cattle at Anderlinis’ looking for something to do the following Sunday, so he talked to Ralph and Sonja about it and they decided maybe a cowplay day would be a good thing. Turns out it was just that.

There were enough riders to make it worthwhile and give each one their money’s worth in terms of time to play with the cows. There were four more experienced riders who’d done cow work before. This was a good opportunity for them to spend some quality time with the cows, helping to move them around and practise their sorting and cutting skills with Gilbert there to give them pointers. Then there were another five riders who were new to cows – or should I say, cows were new to them – and their horses hadn’t worked with cows, either.

Herding the cows

Herding the cows

Gilbert always starts out with safety checks. He checks everyone’s tack, then gives the riders some exercises to do while he assesses their horses’ temperaments and the riders’ skill levels. They have a good warm up, and then practise the moves they’re going to need for working cows. The Anderlinis have a mechanical flag, which is a stand-in for a real cow, and gives riders a chance to learn the right positions and practise the turns.

CowplayThen the cows come out, a few at a time, and the riders get their horses to track the cows, just following comfortably behind, getting used to pushing them around. When all of the horses are comfortable being around the cows, Gilbert coaches each of the new riders to approach the herd and pick out one of the cows, which he then helps them to cut out of the herd and push down to arena wall to the other end. Each exercise gets a little more difficult and teaches the rider and horse just a little more about working cows.

Gilbert on his Canadian Horse mare and Kelli Lee on her Arab

Gilbert on his Canadian Horse mare and Kelli Lee on her Arab. She’s set on cutting out that beige-y cow with the dirty bum.

Judging from the tired horses and riders at the end of the day, they played with the cows long enough to make everybody happy. If there are more cows looking for someone to play with, there might be another such cowplay day in the future. Who knows?

Anyway, there’s a short video from the clinic on YouTube. Feel free to check it out.

A few clips:

A visit to Timber Ridge Trails

Gilbert, Ruth & Snickers at Timber Ridge Trails

On the Monday of the August long weekend, Gilbert, Ruth and Snickers went to check out Timber Ridge Trails in Lumby, BC.  CHHAPS (Canadian Horse Heritage & Preservation Society) is planning a September retreat there so we wanted to take a look at the facilities.  We were lucky enough to run into our hosts, Darlene & Laverne Wolney, at a  restaurant in Lumby, so we followed them out to the campsite.

Coffee on at the fire pit.

It was just after an exciting display of thunder and lightning, accompanied by a heavy rain, and we’d had a long day followed by a good meal, so we had a quick tour of the campsite, then retired to the cabin for the night.  After a very quiet night – we didn’t even hear the coyotes that Darlene asked about the next morning – we woke up to a relatively cool, overcast morning.  As the first one up, Gilbert started the fire in the big firepit before Darlene arrived to make coffee. (Note: click on any of the photos to see larger version)

The huge frypan and old woodstove in the cowboy kitchen.

Darlene at the fire pit at Timber Ridge Trails.

Our hostess Darlene made cowboy coffee and pancakes for us, which we ate at the kitchen’s skookum wooden tables, built by Laverne.  Laverne has made almost all of the furniture and structures at Timber Ridge Trails using wood from the area mostly milled on his own equipment.  Very impressive!

The kitchen structure and furniture were made by Laverne Wolney

Campsite at Timber Ridge Trails

There are 10 campsites at Timber Ridge Trails, spaced around the grounds.  There’s an outhouse at each side of the camp, and a cute little shower house where you can take a shower using sun-warmed water.  For those who don’t have sleeping quarters in their horse trailer, a camper or a tent, there are three options.  There’s a cute little shepherd’s hut (again, built by Laverne), with a small double bed that sleeps one or two, and a cozy cabin with two sets of bunk beds that can sleep four.  They also have a travel trailer that they can bring in, which will sleep up to six.  If there are too many trailers for the ten campsites, visitors can overflow into a nearby meadow.

The charming shepherd’s hut, made by Laverne from larch trees cut near the site.

The horse stalls at Timber Ridge Trails

As far as accommodations for horses are concerned, the camp is equipped with fourteen solid panel stalls arranged adjacent to each other in double rows.  Their proximity helps keep damage to the natural forest floor to a minimum.  There’s a bin for manure, again to keep the camp’s landscape as natural as possible.  There are hitching posts near most of the campsites for ease of tacking up.

There are plenty of trails to ride, from one or two hours to a full day if you choose.  The trails are marked with color-coded markers, but Darlene makes sure all the riders have a color-coded map and her cell phone number in case they get lost.

It’s a peaceful spot, away from any sign of human habitation, yet an easy drive from Lumby.  There’s no electricity, but lots of non-electric amenities.  We’re really looking forward to our “retreat” in September 2012.

Timber Ridge Trails is located at 81 Kerby Road in Lumby, BC.  The hostess is Darlene Wolney, and she can be reached at 250-309-3544 or via email at

More photos below (click on any photo to enlarge), plus see more photos and the trail map on a separate page.

Sun warmed shower at Timber Ridge Trails

The water wagon at Timber Ridge Trails

This little bunkhouse sleeps four

Bunkbeds in the bunkhouse

Inside the bunkhouse

Gilbert in La Belle Province

In April 2012, Gilbert decided it was high time to return to his home province of Quebec to visit with family.  He flew in to Pierre Trudeau Airport (formerly Dorval) on the “red eye” from YVR, and was met by his older brother, Albert Roy, a well known horseman with a ranch in St. Jean de Matha, Quebec, north of Joliette.  Once there, Gilbert was caught up in a whirlwind of activity related to Albert’s business of boarding, training, selling horses and running a tack shop.  Albert is known for his involvement with the RTPQI (Regroupement Team Penning Quebec International) and was on a team that finished 5th in the world championships in Germany.  (There’s a photo of Gilbert on the “bienvenue” page of Albert’s website – can you find him?)

Albert Roy’s shop in St. Jean de Matha. He has his own line of Western saddles under the AR brand

Soon after his arrival, Gilbert’s “healing hands” were put to the test when he worked on two of the horses in his brother’s barn.  One was a trail horse who had started kicking out when asked to go forward and didn’t want his face touched.  Gilbert understood that it was a pain issue and went to work massaging the horse.  The owner, a chiropractor for humans, told Gilbert, “Merci Gilbert pour le temps que tu as pris pour m’enseigner à relaxer l’esprit et le corps de mon ami-cheval Vegas.”  (Roughly translated: Thank you for taking the time to teach me how to relax the spirit and body of my friend, Vegas.)   The other horse was a reining horse belonging to Gilbert’s sister in law, Debra Roy, who is a top level “coach for coaches” certified by the FEQ.  Her horse was high-headed, worried and wouldn’t let anyone touch his head, so he was very difficult to bridle, let alone ride.  After two hours with Gilbert, Chunky Monkey was so much improved that Deb said the change in her horse was like night and day.

By the next weekend, they had loaded up Albert’s trailer with equipment to take to a horse expo in St. Tite, Quebec, north east of Trois Rivieres.  Unfortunately, partly due to the cold weather, the attendance was down, but Gilbert enjoyed checking out the famous rodeo town of St. Tite.  He had competed there himself many years earlier in bareback bronc riding, and again in 2000 in the team penning finals against competitors from around the world.

It’s an attractive town, with many interesting old fashioned buildings.  One of the things St. Tite is famous for, is that it’s home to the internationally known Boulet cowboy boots.

A rodeo town

Back at St. Jean de Matha, Gilbert enjoyed some shopping at the store run by Albert’s daughter Natalee, and watching some of the boarders at Albert’s barn, including a young girl who had trained her pony to lie down and play dead, among other great tricks.  Sadly, it was indoors and most of the photos didn’t turn out very well.  If it had turned out, one of the best shots would have been the pony giving her a “high five” as he lay on his back and she straddled his belly.

The trick pony

Then Gilbert, Albert and Natalee drove all the way to Matapedia on the Gaspe peninsula to visit their mother, who was recovering from a stroke.  They had a great visit at the old farm where they had lived as children, although it had changed a great deal since they lived there during the 60’s.  Some of the old horse drawn farm equipment that Gilbert had learned to use as a child is still there on display.

Back at Albert’s ranch, it was time to prepare for an auction.  When Gilbert was in his early teens and even smaller than a jockey, he used to make a few dollars riding horses for people who wanted them to look good at the weekly auction.  He was such a good rider he could make almost any horse look good, and the auctioneer could point out that even a child could ride the horse.  Now Albert decided to challenge Gilbert to ride one of the horses he wanted to sell   The young Quarter Horse mare had never seen a rope, but Albert challenged Gilbert to do a roping demonstration on her at the auction.

Gilbert worked horseback with Royale, the mare, for a few hours, getting her used to having the rope whirl around her head, then used to him throwing the rope and catching things from her back, and finally to dragging odd things, including a plastic barrel, around the arena.  Next day at the auction, watching Gilbert warming up the little mare outside, a woman made a good offer on her before the auction even started.  Gilbert went on with the demonstration, however, in order to publicize Albert’s own upcoming auction, and had the crowd whistling and stamping their feet as they enjoyed his cowboy roping demo.  Albert could have sold the little mare four times over!  He was so pleased that he’s planning to fly Gilbert out to prepare horses for his own annual auction next spring.

All too soon it was time for Gilbert’s return flight home.  He had enjoyed visiting his family and was not only proud of his brother Albert and what he’s accomplished as a horseman in Quebec, but also of his niece Natalee Roy, who is now the fourth generation of Roys to be successful horsemen, or in Natalee’s case, a horsewoman!

Gilbert and his niece Natalee in front of the AR booth at the horse fair.

There’s an interesting thing about Gilbert and his older brother Albert, who was almost like a father to Gilbert since their dad, Valmont Roy, died in a tragic accident when Gilbert was only 3 years old.  Unbeknownst to each other, they both got Jack Russell terriers a few years back.  Gilbert’s little JR, Snickers, used to ride Rambler, the farm’s palomino gelding.  Albert’s little JR, Cowboy, has a full vote at family meetings when they’re gathered around the dining table.  He sits on a chair with his paws on the table, and if anyone says “let’s vote”, he raises one little paw!

Albert’s Cowboy on the left, Gilbert’s Snickers on the right

All in all, Gilbert says he’s proud to be a trans Canada cowboy!

Oregon in the early spring: A Canadian Horse adventure

Nisa learns to hold the herd – solo!

Back in October of 2011, at the time of the Mane Event in Chilliwack and the CHHAPS(Canadian Horse Heritage & Preservation Society) AGM, CHHAPS chair Ken Morris stayed a night or two at Tickety Boo Farm.  Ken’s one of our favorite people, and the former owner of Naro Haras Nisa, a little Canadian mare that Gilbert is training to work cows.  Ken and Gilbert got to talking about the Northwest Horse Fair in Albany, Oregon, and they decided it would be a great idea to have Gilbert travel to Oregon for the Fair in March of 2012 and participate in the Canadian Horse demo.  The plan evolved to where Gilbert would be riding John Hartley’s Canadian stallion Ranch Samaguy Dream-Boy Kurt in the demo.

Canadian Horse display

Part of the plan was also for Ruth and Gilbert to transport the beautiful display panels for the Canadian Horse booth.  The panels were donated to CHHAPS in 2011 by Kim Reid, who had them made about 10 years previously for the now defunct BC Canadian Horse District.  So Ruth and Gilbert rented a truck and camper large enough to transport the 4’x8′ panel, and to serve as their home away from home while in Oregon.  Having been in Oregon for the NW Horse Fair back in 2004 when Nisa was a yearling and enjoying some lovely warm days, they fully expected spring to be well under way in Oregon.

Ken with Nisa in 2004

Ken with Nisa in 2004

Snow and puddles in Oregon

Surprise!  Much of the drive through Washington and Oregon was in pouring rain, which didn’t let up after they reached Albany.  They arrived two days before the Fair so that Gilbert and Kurt would have a chance to get to know each other before the demo.  They parked their camper under a big tree at the barn where Kurt’s trainer, Kristina Eckert, had been working him.  By morning the camper was being bombarded by clumps of wet snow falling from the branches.  Yes, it snowed overnight!  This was not something they had come prepared for.  Cowboy boots and sneakers do not do well in two inches of slush.  Gilbert seemed oblivious to the weather, however, as he put a couple of rides on Kurt and got him used to rope work.

Gilbert and Kurt warming up before the demo. Photo courtesy Mandi Chestler

By the start of the Fair, which ran from Friday to Sunday, the weather had improved somewhat, but it was still slushy during the setup on Thursday afternoon.  The Oregon crew of CHHAPS members and Northwest Cavalry Association members did a great job putting up the display and other decorations in the horse barn.  Fortunately thanks to JR and KC Robinson (long story), there was a space for the camper on the fairgrounds.  Thursday night Kristina Eckert competed in the Breed Challenge, riding John Hartley’s mare Berthiaume Kurt Praline to successfully advance to the finals, while Gilbert and Kurt competed on Friday against stiff competition.

Gilbert and Kurt after the breed demo. Gilbert is wearing a Habitant sash and toque.

The CHHAPS demo began with two Canadians being ridden in historical costumes by Ken Morris and Terri Papineau, followed by a dressage pas de deux by trainer Bernadine Diers and student Natalie Pond riding two chestnut Canadians owned by Mandi Chestler, Ken on his mare Priceless and Michelle Heffner on her gelding Jeff, then French Canadian cowboy Gilbert riding Kurt and Kristina Eckert riding Praline in an English saddle and taking her over jumps.  Here’s a video from Saturday.

Over the three days of the fair, in addition to the daily Canadian Horse breed demo, Canadian Horses took part in the Northwest Cavalry demo in the big arena.  This was a real crowd pleaser, featuring swordplay and gunfire, and telling the exciting but tragic story of the horses in the U.S. Civil War.  Unfortunately, Gilbert had no Civil War uniform, but he was recruited to help with setup and safety during the cavalry demo.  Without the uniform, it was hard to tell whether he was a Union soldier in the 10th New York, although, given his Acadian roots, he could just as easily have been a Confederate from Louisiana.  Ruth made a video to share with the world.

Gilbert and one of the Storybook stallions

After a very successful Northwest Horse Fair, Gilbert and Ruth headed to Yoncalla, Oregon to visit John Hartley’s Storybook Horse Farm.  It’s the largest Canadian Horse breeding farm in the United States.  John and his fiancé, Alexis, were very gracious hosts.  The weather had improved enough to allow a Kubota tour of the ranch, visiting the various bands of horses, including the cheeky yearlings, gorgeous stallions, and of course, the mares.  One had a little filly, Zoe, by her side, and they hoped that another one of the mares would foal during the visit, but she held on until several days after their departure.  The Kubota eventually got stuck in the mud with Gilbert and John aboard, thanks to weeks of unrelenting rain, and so did the John Deere sent to unstick it, but a helpful neighbor showed up with a come-along and everyone was back to the house in time for dinner.


Gilbert and John horsing around with the yearlings at Storybook Farm

The trip home was uneventful, and 2012’s trip to Oregon is now a fond memory.   Gilbert and Ruth made some great new friends, both Union and Confederate soldiers as well as fellow Canadian Horse enthusiasts, and had a wonderful time.

Conquistadors of South Langley

Who would have thought that a French Canadian cowboy on a Canadian Horse would be a conquistador in 16th century Peru?  If you’ve seen the National Geographic Ancient Megastructures film about Machu Picchu, you’ve seen Gilbert ride Canadian mare “Gigi” into battle as a Spanish soldier.

One day Gilbert got a call from his friend, Dean Kucey, who told him to hurry over right away and bring his black mare.  They spent an hour or two getting costumed in tights and Spanish armor and made up with fake beards so they’d resemble the conquistadors who invaded Peru around the middle of the 16th century.  Then there were a couple of hours of riding their black horses in front of the cameras (along with fellow black horse owner and friend, Darrel Gatter) brandishing their spears and swords.

The end result was a few short seconds near the end of the film.   Here’s a clip:

Here’s a photo of the three of them:

Left to right: Darrel Gatter on his QH mare, Dean Kucey on a Canadian filly belonging to Kevin Washtock, Gilbert Roy on "Gigi" (Cherry Creek Danzon Gina)

O’Keefe Ranch and Pistachio, the little Canadian mare

Over the years, Gilbert has seen many horses with behavior issues and movement difficulties that cannot be fixed by training alone.  He is very sensitive to energies in the horses he gets to know, and can often sense their pain.  From his many years of experience, he has learned to help many of these horses through manipulation, stretching and massage.  Some people say he has “healing hands”.

Gilbert and Soleil

Gilbert and I went to the Canadian Horse Heritage & Preservation Society’s summer event at the historic O’Keefe Ranch in Vernon.  To join in the fun, we brought our big Canadian mare, “Gigi” along with “Soleil”, a friend’s young Canadian gelding that Gilbert had recently started under saddle.  Gilbert rode Soleil in a number of classes, and the little gelding did very well considering his inexperience.  The weather was very hot, but we had fun with the horses, and camping and visiting with many of our old friends from CHHAPS.

The costume parade at O'Keefe

While there, Gilbert was approached by another friend from CHHAPS whose little Canadian mare had some problems with her movement.  Gilbert could see that she had an alignment problem in her spine, and worked on her for a little while.  A few weeks later he received the following email from the little mare’s owner:


I am speechless about Pistachio!  I have been concerned about the vertabrae on her back since we got her as a two year old.  It was only earlier this year that we were able to determine it was from an old injury of some kind and not her conformation or the way she was born.  I tell you no lie, I have had this little mare looked at and treated by three different vets, chiropractors, acupuncturists and massage therapists.  The last vet told me to send her to the States for an MRI, I was devastated.  You, have performed a miracle on our pony that I cannot even begin to express my gratitude.  We only rode her today for the first time since O”Keefe as we all took a week off of riding, then I took my girls away to the lake for a week.  Her back is straight and no longer has that hump on it.  Her movement is fluid, flowy and sound.  There is no more stiff looking movement, choppy, short striding, or dropping her hind end.  She moves into the canter on the correct lead and without any effort.  I am awed by all of it! 

From the bottom of my heart, and Charlotte and Pistachio’s too, thank you so very much! Here’s a picture of her and the girls to put on your “cured” trophy wall.  

Take care,   Liesa”

Uncle Gilbert and the Flying Mules

Po Lin Buddha

In April of 2004, Gilbert got a call from a company called Instone Air Services in Durango, Colorado.  The company was responsible for the transport of six mules purchased from Terry Aris of Tired Ass Ranch in Alberta, and destined for a cable car construction project in Hong Kong.  The mules were to be used to carry construction materials and supplies up the mountain to the Buddhist monastery where the upper cable car towers were located, because the company was unable to build a road through the environmentally sensitive area and had to use either helicopters or pack animals.  The cable car would bring visitors to see the Po Lin Buddha.

The mules were being held at a quarantine farm in Surrey, awaiting their departure by air to Hong Kong.  The farm was used to dealing with thoroughbred race horses, not mules, and the mules were used to being turned out in a field, not confined to stalls.  This led to a very difficult situation: the government veterinarian charged with examining the mules had been kicked by one of the mules, and so had the farm’s manager, Danny.  No one at the farm was able to handle their new guests, and in fact, the farm employees were afraid to even enter the stalls.

Instone had received Gilbert’s name from Jim McCrae, a well known “mule man” from Aldergrove.  Gilbert had lived at Jim’s farm for a couple of years, and in that time had learned a lot about mules to add to his wealth of experience with horses.

Chris at Instone asked Gilbert if he would be willing to help get the mules ready for their flight.  It was important that the mules be safely examined by the veterinarian and blood taken for testing prior to their departure, and it was also necessary that the mules could be safely handled to load them on the aircraft.  In fact, the mules’ lives depended on them being well behaved in their stalls on board the aircraft, as the Instone employee had been instructed to administer a lethal injection should any mule become uncontrollable during the flight.

Of course, Gilbert was up to the challenge!  At his first visit to the quarantine farm, he had a good laugh over how the barn staff was managing to clean the mules’ stalls.  The mules were in a set of stalls on one side of the barn aisle (shedrow) and the stalls on the opposite side were empty.  The barn staff would lay out a trail of feed from a mule’s stall, across the shedrow into the empty stall on the opposite side.  Then by opening the stall doors on either side, they would create a “chute” between the stalls and let the mule follow the trail of feed.  Once the mule was inside the fresh stall, the employee would slam the door behind it.

Gilbert’s first job was to meet each mule inside its stall so he could get them haltered and on a lead rope.  Each mule had a numbered halter, and a loop around its neck that held a tag with its name and sex.  The mules’ names were Larry, Katie, Oscar, Chappy, Denny and Duffy.  Katie and Duffy were molly mules (females) and the others were all, I believe, johns (males).  (Most mules are the progeny of a donkey stallion and a female horse.) Haltering was easier said than done, because the mules would turn their butts to anyone entering the stall, and threaten to kick.  A mule’s kick is swift and hard!

First of all, Gilbert had to make the mule stand quietly and face forward.  His quick reflexes, skill at reading and communicating through body language, and unshakeable confidence as a leader were critical in getting the mule to face him and let him approach.  He would enter each stall with a lariat, and use it to keep the mule moving away from him until it was ready to stand and face him.  One by one, he worked with each mule in its stall until it would trust him and allow him to approach.

The next step was to get each mule to follow quietly on a lead rope.  This wasn’t new to the mules, but the handler and the environment were, so some of the mules were a challenge.  One of the mules, possibly Chappy or Larry, had Gilbert “skiing” down the shedrow on the end of the lead rope when he first took it out of its stall!  But he did soon have all of the mules willing to follow him quietly up and down the shedrow on the lead rope.

Duffy following Gilbert

Gilbert had to work with the mules six days a week for over two weeks in order to get them ready to travel.  Teaching them to lead quietly was only part of the job.  The mules were used to running freely in a large field, and standing in a 12 by 12 stall all day left them with no way to release their pent up energy.  They all had to be exercised daily to help keep them fit, as well as use up some of their excess energy, but they couldn’t be turned loose in a field while in quarantine.  That meant that Gilbert had to take them out, singly or in twos, to lunge them in the quarantine farm’s hog fuel corral.

So that the mules could be safely confined when the veterinarian came to draw blood, the farm built a chute behind the barn.  Gilbert also made it part of the mules’ program to get used to entering into the chute and standing quietly while someone worked beside them.  The photo shows Gilbert and Danny, the farm manager, with Katie in the chute.

Finally the day came when the mules were scheduled to fly to Hong Kong.  Gilbert accompanied the mules to the airport.  He’d become very fond of them, as he does with all the equines he works with, and was especially fond of Duffy, the big molly mule.  At the airport, he helped to settle his six charges in the “stalls” that were specially designed to load in the belly of the aircraft.  He said a sad goodbye and away they flew!

The mules became minor celebrities in Hong Kong.  Soon after, we even came across a photo of a t-shirt that was being sold in Hong Kong with Duffy’s picture on it.  You can still find dozens of references to the mules on the internet, when they talk about the Ngong Ping 360 cable car to the Po Lin monastery.  The trail they used is still in use by hikers and referred to as the “mule trail”.

The mules at work in Hong Kong

Soon after, Gilbert received a postcard from Chris at Instone Air Services that read: “I want to personally let you know how grateful I am for your work with the mules.  You were informative all the way through and clearly relayed your intent as to how you were planning out their handling.  Your assistance on this project and your humble, generous, honest work attitude was a pleasure.  The work you did made for a safe situation for the mules and anyone with hands on involvement.  Thank you, Gilbert.”

I’m sure the mules would thank him, too.

Katie and Larry