Left photos (top & bottom): Irene Harding offers a treat to Patch

First day of winter: Change of seasons keeps local rancher busy

Irene Harding rewards her horses with a treat after returning home from a morning trail ride.

Irene Harding rewards her horses with a treat after returning home from a morning trail ride.

The owner of Harding Heights Ranch said winter is her favourite time of year to explore the mountainside. But with the first day of winter on the calendar, the animal lover sharpens her focus on her extended family to ensure her brood stay healthy throughout the colder months.

“You have to make sure your horses are in good health going into the winter, and the majority of that comes from observation,” she said. “In the cold weather, they burn more calories to keep warm, so they need extra food.”

Water is also key for the horses, donkeys, sheep, chickens, peacocks, ducks, rabbits and cats and dogs that live on the Oasis property.

”I can’t ever see myself without a horse or this kind of environment,” said Harding.

She considers her animals like her children, she knows them all too well, their personalities and quirks, and can tell when something is off.

“I have one horse that doesn’t like to drink from the tub if the heater is in it,” she said. “If I wasn’t watching him, he would have gone without water.”

She’s interrupted when her youngest of 16 charges at the oldest during feed time, but the pecking order is settled when a protective leader trots over to the vulnerable and her German Shepherd circles back through the field to organize the herd.

Her dog Tasha “oversees” the family-owned horseback riding business, which also opens up to the public for special events.

“She’ll herd just about anything,” Harding laughs, including children during birthday parties.

The Hardings have called their slice of paradise home since 1984 but started the business out of necessity in 2005 when a horse rescue led them to supplement their income.

The ranch life was not a stretch for Harding, who grew up on cattle farm but didn’t get her first horse until later in life and it just snowballed from there.

Now she cares for 16 horses, her youngest a spunky six-year-old and her eldest a hard working 25-year-old named Patch.

The latter is a Clydesdale in his element since the Horse Drawn Christmas Light Tours started this past weekend.

“When he’s in harness, he’s in his own world,” said Harding. “He knows exactly what to do: he knows how to back into all of his equipment, he knows when it’s hooked up … he knows everything.”

Pulling a wagon of up to 10 adults is no sweat for the horse that is well over 1,500 pounds. But Patch isn’t only muscle, “he knows where to walk when it’s slippery, and he knows to go around the manholes,” Harding adds.

Not all of her animals are quite in tune with adjusting to wintry conditions and that’s where keeping a watchful eye is crucial.

The temperature was expected to be mild today on the First Day of Winter with Environment Canada predicting a few flurries and the temperature steady near -1 degrees Celsius.

According to the Canadian Farmers’ Almanac, this winter is looking like a repeat of last year’s, at least regarding temperatures with unseasonably cold conditions over Newfoundland, Labrador, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Quebec, and Ontario.

Very cold to downright frigid temperatures are once again on tap for Quebec and the Maritime Provinces. Much of central Canada will see near-normal temperatures, including western Quebec, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. In these areas, Mother Nature will mix intervals of unseasonably mild temperatures with periodic shots of bitter cold. Farther west, over British Columbia, milder than normal temperatures are again expected.

Precipitation-wise, snowfall is expected to be above average for Quebec, Ontario, the Maritimes and the Prairie provinces.

Meanwhile, near- to possibly below-normal winter precipitation appears on tap for British Columbia and near-normal amounts of snow are predicted for the Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut.

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