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?

Sheena: The brave little mare who never gave up


Sheena, the brave little mare

In November of 2008, Gilbert made the acquaintance of Diane Robert, a fellow French Canadian who boarded her 24-year-old palomino Quarter Horse mare, Sheena, at a barn in Langley where Gilbert had a client. Thanks to Diane, here is Sheena’s story:

Diane had worked with Sheena as a foal, and she had been a little spitfire, very smart and spunky, showing a lot of promise. After her early handling, she was turned out to pasture to grow big and strong until she was old enough to ride.

When she was between 10 months and 2 years old (in about 1986), Sheena suffered severe injuries while turned out to pasture. What exactly happened, or how often, nobody knows. The end result, according to Diane’s vet, was a horse with semi-paralyzed hindquarters, a spine needing constant readjustments, tense neck, back and hip muscles, and a life of constant pain.

At 26 months, her resting position was all four legs within two feet of each other and back humped. When she walked, she would drag each hind leg and slap it hard on the ground, as if she had lost motor control. Her rump muscles had not developed normally for a Quarter Horse and she had problems with balance, so doing anything with her feet became a risky business.

Sheena was bathed and groomed regularly at Tickety Boo Farm

Diane bathed and groomed Sheena regularly after her move to Tickety Boo Farm

Around that time (in 1987), Diane heard about a chiropractor in Vancouver who was working with horses. The chiropractor did ten weekly treatments on Sheena, readjusting her spine. She also showed Diane some leg exercises which would help loosen up the muscles in Sheena’s rump and shoulder. The treatment improved Sheena’s condition enough that it became safe to work with her feet, and to train the little mare for light riding and driving, although she was still far from being rehabilitated.

For the next ten years or so, Diane and Sheena enjoyed each other. After 1997, however, Diane was subjected to the usual demands of motherhood, with less time for her mare. During that time, Sheena had to be moved to different barns, under the care of different farriers. Against Diane’s instructions and without her knowledge, the little mare was turned out with large groups of horses, left outside in the rain for days on end, and improperly fed and trimmed. Her initial injuries were exacerbated by being chased, kicked and bitten by the other horses, as well as being clawed by a bear and fighting rain scald. By the fall of 2008 when she met Gilbert, Diane’s little mare was in worse condition than when she came off the pasture as a two year old.

Sheena getting special treatment with a leg poultice

Sheena getting special treatment with a leg poultice

At that time, Sheena’s health and feet had deteriorated so badly that the vet’s prognosis for her was very poor, and Diane was forced to contemplate euthanasia. The little mare would lose her balance and fall, sometimes several times a day. But Sheena still had that spark, and Diane decided that if the little mare wasn’t ready to give up, neither was her owner. Determined to give her one more chance, she made the long drive from Port Coquitlam to Langley four or five times a week to make sure Sheena was getting extra feed, and to perform the strengthening and stretching exercises that would help her keep her balance. Then she met Gilbert Roy while he was shoeing horses at that barn.

Diane wrote that when she first met Gilbert, “Right away, I sensed that he was very knowledgeable about problem horses and took pride in his work. It took him well over two hours to trim my mare’s hooves and put two shoes on her front feet.” Sheena was so weak that she had to lean against the wall in order for him lift one of her feet. “Without any hints or clues from me, he told me that her feet had not been done properly for about two years,” she wrote, and that it would take several trimmings “to get her back on track.” He recommended a supplement to improve her weight, and showed Diane how to do some slow walking and turns with Sheena to improve her flexibility and her awareness of where her hind legs were.

Diane wrote, “After a week on [the supplement], I noticed a stunning improvement in her weight. Even the veterinarian noticed the improvement in both her weight and strength at each of her subsequent monthly visits.” Thanks to Diane’s diligence in following Gilbert’s instructions, Sheena did not need the wall to support herself during the second shoeing. After seeing the rapid improvement and how Diane was so willing to work with the little mare, Gilbert agreed to work on Sheena on a weekly basis to see how much she would be able to improve.

Sheena waiting to be set free after her bath

Sheena waiting to be set free to canter in the field at Tickety Boo Farm after her bath

In 2009, Diane wrote: “Gilbert combines physiotherapy, mind therapy, massage therapy, chiropractic adjustment, nutrition, shoeing and horsemanship, all tailored to the specific needs of my horse and myself. Each week, he adds a different exercise to improve her balance and flexibility. And he also trains me to spot when she had enough for the day. After just six sessions, her well-being is like night and day. She looks happier and feels less constrained in her movement.”

Soon Gilbert was able to put shoes on all four feet, and Diane could start working Sheena on a lunge line, something that had been impossible for many years. “Both my horse and I have learned tremendously from Gilbert.”

She wrote: “Gilbert Roy is a natural healer able to combine multiple disciplines geared towards the well-being of horses. He understands them from the ground up and inside out. His knowledge is phenomenal. I feel extremely fortunate to have met him and work with him on my horse. I have no reservations whatsoever in recommending him to work on any problem horses.”

Sheena eventually came to live with Gilbert at Tickety Boo Farm. Diane came to see her two or three times almost every week while she was there. Although she was never able to realize her dream of riding the spunky little mare again, she watched Sheena canter happily through the pasture and enjoyed pampering her with regular brushing and bathing. The little mare was safe in a cozy box stall with an adjoining sand paddock, where she would stand surveying the farm and other horses when she wasn’t turned out in the pasture.

Diane’s spunky little mare never lost her spark and plucky attitude, and it is a testament to her dedicated owner that she recognized and respected Sheena’s strong will to live and let her enjoy her final years in safety and comfort.

Sheena circle

Six months in the Cariboo

DSC04523At the end of February, Gilbert, Ruth and their animals will celebrate the end of their first six months in the Cariboo. They packed up and left Tickety Boo Farm in Langley at the end of August, and moved to a 124-acre ranch in Lone Butte, just southeast of 100 Mile House. There’s still lots to do before he can start “horsing around” the way he likes to, but he’s starting to feel very settled in at the new ranch. The ranch wasn’t well set up for horses, so before the onset of winter, he had to make sure there was a secure fence around a large turnout area, with continual access to shelter and unfrozen water. The barn had to be cleaned out and reconfigured so there was a safe place for an older mare. He had to find hay for the winter and clear out a place to store it.

First load of firewood in October

First load of firewood in October

Meanwhile, there were dead trees to fell and buck, and to be hauled out of the woods and stacked for firewood in a very short time. There was work to be done on the house to get it ready for the cold weather, and to make it feel like their very own home. There’s a very long driveway between two hay fields that is subject to deep drifts of snow, so equipment for snow clearing had to be sourced or repaired, or in some cases, both. There was the unpacking and organizing of many years worth of accumulated stuff, from nails and screws to saddles and harness, not to mention furniture, clothing and all those miscellaneous items that seem to follow people around in case they’ll come in handy one day.

Deer running across the front field

Deer running across the front field in November

Add to this a few trips out of town for work, plus getting to know the nearby towns and making new friends in the South Cariboo, plus entertaining visitors and celebrating Christmas, plus the everyday chores that are part of owning animals and a 124-acre ranch where the temperature can fall to 30 below Celsius, and it’s been a very busy first six months. It has also been a challenging, exciting and exhilarating time. There have been truck and tractor breakdowns and repairs, getting an old Arctic Cat in running condition (his first snowmobile since he left Quebec), digging out underground water taps to the barn, keeping the barnyard cleared of snow.

Cow and calf moose OctHe never tires of the views around the ranch or when driving into 100 Mile House to shop. There are animal tracks in the snow to examine, and sometimes the animals themselves to see, like moose, deer, coyotes, foxes and what-the-heck-is-that-little-critter at the edge of the field? He’s enjoyed getting to know neighbors and local ranchers.

Trail through the aspens

Trail through the aspens

When the snow clears, there will still be many fences to fix, or in some cases build from scratch. There are trails to clear of several years worth of windfall, and in some cases to widen and level enough for a horse and cart or sleigh. He has plans for a round pen and riding ring for training horses, and the riding ring will be large enough for teaching horses to drive as well. There’s a new woodshed and a chicken coop to build, and a garden plot to dig. There are pole corrals to build at a couple of nice spots where visitors to the ranch can set up camp with their horses.

A typical Cariboo sunset

A typical Cariboo sunset

When spring comes and the weather warms up, Gilbert hopes to be ready to start booking new clients in the Cariboo for both his horseshoeing and training. He’s looking forward to finding new riding buddies, and some places where he can put his cow horse back to work. In the meantime, he has more than enough to do. After all, he still needs time to sit back with a fresh mug of coffee and admire the view of that big, sunny, Cariboo sky.

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DSCF3232 Barnyard snow piles2