Not a lot of people want to ride a horse in minus-15C weather but for Zoe Mosimann, it’s all in a day’s work.
Mosimann, a ranch hand at Spring Lake Ranch, has spent the past year leading tourists and locals on one-hour trail rides or sleigh rides across the ranch.
“It’s kind of the same routine all year round, it’s just you have more rides in the summer because not many people want to ride in -15C weather,” Mosimann, 17, said.
Run by John and Myrna Barkowsky, Spring Lake Ranch is one of the few winter tourist guest ranches in the South Cariboo continuing to operate year-round. Tourism numbers are down this year, due to COVID-19, but the ranch is still doing steady business with the occasional guest and locals coming out to ride.
Rides are done by appointment only, as part of the COVID restrictions the ranch put in place last year. This also includes not providing meals to any guests as all cabins are equipped with refrigerators and kitchens.
John Barkowsky said Spring Lake Ranch is fortunate to be located in a wide-open space during the pandemic.
As it is part working ranch and part resort, this means they are in a fairly strong position financially but are thankful for whatever business comes their way, he said.
“COVID-19 has definitely taken a bite out of our income but (running this place) has always been fun for Myrna and me, both to meet new people and to accommodate them,” he said.
When it comes to locals coming out to Spring Lake to try horseback riding for the first time, Barkowsky joked they’ll give beginners “a horse with no experience as well.” In seriousness, he said the ranch has a variety of horses for all skill levels and people enjoy riding them into the area and “seeing nobody.”
On a brisk Saturday afternoon, Mosimann led a small group of locals out for an hour-long trip around the property, a picturesque spot located a half-hour drive from 100 Mile House. The group was small – a handful of experienced riders and one – a Free Press reporter – who had never been on a horse before.
Mosimann acknowledges it can be daunting for first-time riders getting on a 1,200-pound animal. As part of her job, she encourages newbies to try spending some time with them before getting on. This will help them get a feel for what a horse is and demystify them, she said. As a horse can feel the emotions of the rider and will sense their nervousness, she urges riders to take a few calming breaths and centre themselves.
Mosimann, who lives in 108 Mile Ranch and will graduate high school this year, said horses have always been a big part of her life. When she’s not leading a ride, Mosimann helps around the ranch, burning waste wood and old Christmas trees, cleaning out the guest cabins, and helping Barkowsky run sleigh rides or the cows with calving.
After high school, she hopes to attend Thompson Rivers University’s Applied Sustainable Ranching Program and eventually start a ranch of her own.
“You kind of do your job and you just fall in love with all of it. I’d never done any guest rides before and those can just be fun. Sometimes you have people who want to go fast or people who just want to go slow,” Mosimann said. “I enjoy spending time training some of the horses, going out and doing some branding on the cows and seeing them when they’re calving is super cute because the calves come out fluffy and adorable.”
She urges everyone to try a ride if they haven’t already. “There are so many things that you could do that you wouldn’t even imagine doing at home,” she said. “Everyone leaves with a smile on their face.”