Toils of Winter - Debbie Atha owner of Free Rein Guest Ranch, BC speaks out

BY Jody Dahl | Sat 02 Apr, 2011

A guy might be forgiven for thinking winter must provide wonderful down time for the seasonal guest rancher and that ‘off season’ mainly consists of sitting in front of a roaring fire with a good book watching snowflakes drift by the window.

I can unequivocally tell you that the above statement is nothing more than just a beautiful dream!

Winter, although admittedly we don’t enjoy guests here at Free Rein guest ranch during the winter months, is a particularly busy time for us, plotting, scheming, planning and hopefully making the ranch a better place for the guests that will follow.

Our main challenge progressing with ranch projects during the winter here in the Canadian Cariboo is snow, and lots of it.

We are constantly thinking about and considering ways we can build up the ranch and guest ranch for its future success. The name of the game usually involves working out how many birds we can kill with one stone. Financial pressures can be extremely limiting when you’re a gal with big plans, and falling short of that big lotto win, getting creative with our investment of time and spare pennies becomes a fairly imperative skill.

Last winter for us, the building of our new guest ranch lodge was the main event. This winter, our focus turned more towards the way we were managing our horses. October saw the start of our snake fence project along our eastern boundary. This project is a fantastic example of one stone killing a couple of birds with one throw.

Bird 1, by safely fencing in another 100 acres of the ranch we ultimately provide our horses with more pasture to roam during the Fall months. Ultimately this reduces our yearly hay feed bill (which is always a good thing!).

Bird 2, by choosing to build snake fence rather than wire fence, we limit the cost of materials and utilise the materials nature provided.

Bird 3, hauling logs and building fence provides a girl with great exercise. It was a super way to trim a few extra inches from my waistline before my best friends wedding in November! 

Bird 4, our Eastern boundary runs through forest and the risk with building other types of fence in such terrain is trees falling in the wind and collapsing the whole thing. Since checking and fixing fence is not my favourite ranch chore, we have hopefully saved ourselves many future fence breaks and darts for freedom by our herd!

Bird 5, lots of the trees we used were dead pine, earlier ravaged by the mountain pine beetle, they had already been dead for quite some time and were becoming ‘danger’ trees.

Their removal from where our horses will be grazing and shading from the autumn sunshine will sure help me sleep better at night.

Bird 6, dead pine is lighter pine, easier for us to move and carry when using man power alone. I am constantly wondering how the cowboys of old managed to build the miles and miles of snake fence through the brush here years ago. It’s nothing short of miraculous to me. 

Bird 7, the clearance of trees and building of this type of fence has created a wonderful right of way along the length of our ranch perimeter. A fantastic new trail is born and a way for me to avoid checking fences is created (we can now get our guests to do it!).

Bird 8, we have built a fence of such fabulous calibre it will probably outlive me by a 100 years!  

So there you have it, one stone, eight birds. I love those projects!

The only problem was, by early January we ground to a halt. I stood at just 5 feet 4 inches and with well over 2 feet of snow to contend with, I think my ranch hand was worried he might lose me in a snow drift! Roll on springtime!

Debbie Atha owns Free Rein Guest Ranch in British Columbia, Canada. Debbie is full of life and is one of the best hosts you could find. She offers a superb guest ranch vacation with top quality, beautiful horses to ride.

On your Free Rein guest ranch vacation, you can bathe in secluded lakes, picnic by the shoreline or simply enjoy a snooze in the shade. Improve your riding skills in the arena or venture out to explore remote and stunning landscapes, encounter dramatic vistas, search for cattle on the range or simply hang back at the guest ranch and relax. Debbie really does give you "free rein" to decide how you spend your days. She feels that this is YOUR guest ranch vacation and riding holiday so you get to plan your days and choose the pace.

Whether you head to one of Top50's dude ranch vacations, guest ranch vacation, working ranch vacations or book a riding holiday estancia to South America, a working ranch in New Zealand, or go horse trekking in Australia, Top50 can help you find that ideal ranch destination.

TAGS: guest ranch, debbie atha, free rein guest ranch, british columbia, dude ranch vacation

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