Most of our posts are focused on the locations we are visiting rather than on the details of our accommodation. We are now in the beautiful village of Metchosin, just outside of Victoria, British Columbia, but it is our accommodation that is the adventure, thus the focus of this missive.
We are house sitting here. As with all but one of our house sits, it really should be called pet sitting. In this case, it should probably be called Pet Sitting (with a capital P and S!) as we are caring for 5 dogs (2 large oldies, 2 small middle-agers, and a tiny 6-month-old pup rescued recently from Vietnam) and 3 horses (all retired from the racetrack).
Though the animal contingent is far beyond our usual comfort zone–especially since we know nothing about taking care of horses–we applied for this sit for exactly that reason. We had been looking into opportunities to develop some equine skills (for example, volunteering on a ranch or farm). When this house sit was posted, we took a chance and reached out to the homeowners, Eileen and Will. We were upfront about our lack of skills but also about our desire to learn. They had previously had similarly challenged sitters and were willing for us to give it a go.
We arrived the day before the homeowners departed for their trip so we were able to go through some of the animal tasks including feeding the horses and walking and then feeding the dogs. Even when the homeowners are around, a horse trainer usually comes to exercise the horses 2 or 3 times a week. Eileen and Will arranged to have their trainer, Kristina, come early the first 2 days and show us how to halter and groom the horses. Before arriving we had watched many horse care YouTube videos and were pleased that most of what we had watched online aligned with Kristina’s teaching.
Our daily routine
Feed the horses
- Get up, showered, dressed, coffeed, and breakfasted by 8:00-8:30. When they’re awake get all dogs outside for a bathroom break to avoid accidents.
- Add a scoop of vitamins to the previously prepared horse feed buckets and head out to feed the horses.
- Unhook the hay nets and fill them up in the hay barn before returning them to their hanging rings.
- Collect the wheelbarrow and rakes and clean up a day’s worth of poop deposits from throughout the fenced areas and riding ring.
- Fill the horse’s water troughs.
- Rinse out the 3 buckets and then fill them up with the prescribed food and water, ready for the next meal.
- Repeat at about 6:00 for the evening meal.
Walk and feed the dogs
- Take the dogs for a walk. Since one of the dogs, Zoe, struggles with mobility issues, the first step is to wangle her into her lifting harness so we can assist her on the trail, if needed. Our temporary home backs onto (and partially encompasses) beautiful forest. Short and long walking trails are clearly marked with pink ribbons. The shorter trail is easier for the two oldies (dogs, that is, not us) as the longer one includes some long steep sections. Since the little dogs are all happy to chase each other into the bushes off the trail they get plenty of exercise.
- Feed the dogs. Puppy food in one bowl, adult food in the other 4 in various amounts, add a little canned food and previously prepped raw food, top Zoe’s bowl with meds and mix them all up. Serve each dog in her own corner and then pick up and clean the bowls as they finish.
- Prepare and serve a small medication bowl to Zoe.
- Repeat at about 5:00 for the evening walk and meal.
The horses need to be groomed every couple of days and have their hooves cleaned every day. If it is a trainer-visit day, we need to have the horse that will be ridden that day groomed and ready to ride by 10:00 or 10:30, depending on appointment time. Hobart, the oldest of the horses doesn’t get ridden as he is too arthritic, so we groom him on non-trainer days. Grooming involves haltering the chosen horse and bringing him or her out to the porch at the front of the house, and then currying, brushing, and pampering as Kristina showed us.
All 3 horses–Hobart, Bella, and Dante–are quite docile and patient, and allow us to halter, walk and groom them with little fuss. They are less happy about having their hooves cleaned. Dante, the youngest is fine, but the others are probably in a bit of arthritic pain or, in Bella’s case, remembered pain. Kristina has helped us with this a few times and Ken is very persistent and manages to get the job done, despite resistance from 1200-pound animals.
They all appreciate a little post-grooming grass nibble, so we lead them to a patch for treats before returning them to their corral.
Oh, and when 2 of the 3 escaped through a broken fence, we had to go into the woods to bring them back and then mend the break.
We brush the dogs every couple of days or once a week, depending on coat type. And every couple of days we wash the many blankets that cover each dog’s sleeping area. About once a week we wash the oldies’ bed cases as well. All of this helps to keep a houseful of dogs smelling fresh and un-doggy.
Home and gardens
We also have beautiful gardens here that need watering. Optionally we can do a bit of weeding and there were a bunch of seeds just asking to be started.
The hummingbird feeder needs to be cleaned and replenished, rugs (runners through the house to assist the arthritic furries) to be vacuumed every couple of days and, of course, the basic cleaning chores that are required for this large home. If we want to enjoy an evening fire (and we most definitely do), there is wood to chop.
This may sound like a lot of work. It certainly keeps us busy, but much of the work we are doing is pleasurable and in a beautifully peaceful setting. Walking the dogs in the forest, brushing them on the porch while listening to the birds chirping, puttering around in the spring gardens as they burst with new growth and blossoms daily–all of these tasks are a treat for this homeless/petless/gardenless couple. We are learning and appreciating the opportunity.
Talking to, petting, feeding and grooming horses is something we never would have had the pleasure of had Will and Eileen not given us the opportunity.
A week into this sit, we have found patterns in our day where we are almost completely free of chores between 10:30 am and 5:00 pm giving us plenty of time to relax in one of the many seating areas strategically placed around the property to take advantage of sun, birds or shade.
Once we’ve provided Saigon, the pup, with her lunchtime kibble we can head out to explore or pick up groceries if we wish.
When the dinner routines are over, we have the evening to ourselves (plus 5 dogs who hang out nearby).
If we were in an area that was new to us and where we were hoping to travel and explore, we would not take on this level of responsibility. In this case, though, we are familiar with this part of the island, and the property itself is a beautiful reflection of the region.
I am enjoying baking bread in the farmhouse-sized kitchen and we are both happy to cook with a variety of fresh-picked herbs.
The 5 relatively calm and gentle dogs and 3 patient and docile horses provide neverending entertainment and affection.
We are taking the time to savour this busy but peaceful place.
- Dog leadership: We heard about the online course, Dog Leadership for House Sitters, a few months before this sit. As we contemplated handling 5 dogs, we thought it might be a good time to learn some new dog handling skills (or, at the very least, refresh some old ones). Though we didn’t fully apply our learnings in this household, some of the basics like only rewarding calm dogs have helped to keep our human-dog relationships on an even keel.
- Horse trainer: Our homeowner’s horse trainer, Kristina Millar of Ocean Breeze Stables, has been really terrific with us, patiently providing enough support to these two city folk that we’ve been able to move around and care for our equine charges with comfort and at least a modicum of confidence.