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Taking the reins in Canada

Taking the reins in Canada

Two young farmers have embarked on the adventure of a lifetime, leaving the green pastures of rural Southland to work cattle on horseback in Canada's western province of British Columbia.

Thalia Dean (23) and Janaya Anderton (21) met while working on neighbouring farms near Alexandra.

Thalia grew up on a deer farm near Te Anau and studied at Lincoln University, completing a Diploma in Agriculture after a gap year in Australia before working as a shepherd on a farm near Alexandra.

Janaya grew up on a thoroughbred racing stable near Mosgiel before heading to Scotland to work for three months, coming home to complete a course in high country farming.

Janaya then took up the position at the farm next door to Thalia, and the two met, discovering they both had a love for horses and a taste for adventure.

In April, they set out for Canada with no work lined up but a handful of contacts and a clear idea of the job they wanted: To work stock on horses on an authentic Canadian ranch.

They landed their first job on a ranch south of Calgary that doubled as a movie location.

While a good starting point, it didn't tick all the boxes.

"We were told the ranch had some cows and horses but also did Western movies," Thalia says.

"We are both pretty keen on stock work and horses, but we weren't able to ride horses much, and we didn't really get to do anything with cows."

With most of the work centered around filmmaking, the pair spent most of their time moving props on the film set.

While this was a novelty at first, they got bored after a month and decided to move on, buying a car and going on a road trip around South Alberta.

"We bought a car in Calgary and drove around for a while, and then we found a job in a horse trekking place through one of my friends back home.

"She used to work there and was over here on holiday, so she put in a good word for us.

"So we ended up getting that job, which was south of Calgary again, next to the Rocky Mountains."

The pair stayed at that job for a month before deciding it wasn't what they were looking for.

"We love horses, but we were just teaching people to ride every day.

"We wanted to be out there riding a horse with cows," Thalia said.

Determined to stick to their plan, they finally found their dream job at Danes Ranch in the Chilcoltin district in British Columbia through a stock agent.

The ranch is owned by Cordy Cox, who took over the farm from her family in 2007.

Dane Ranch runs around 1200 mainly Angus-cross cattle, and with horses being an essential part of daily farm life, Thalia and Janaya were in their element.

"The most amazing part for me is when you are in the mountains riding behind cows on a horse.

"Everything is so picture perfect; the mountains look like they're out of a photo."

A three-hour drive from the nearest city, Williams lake, the ranch is in vast and remote, where where farmland and wilderness meet under endless skies and rocky mountain ranges.

"It's pretty crazy in a sense being that far away from anything," Janaya said.

Opportunities to socialise off-ranch are few and far between, a far cry from the rural social scene in New Zealand.

"I miss the Young Farmer's meetings, going to the pub and seeing everyone from around the area," Thalia said.

"They don't have anything like that for young people to join like you do in rural communities at home."

With the wilderness comes wildlife.

"We haven't seen any bears yet, but we hear wolves howling at night and sometimes see a moose on the side of the road," Janaya said

"At home, we would run in the morning, but with bears, you just wouldn't do that here."

With 12 staff working on the ranch, Cordy hires accommodation for staff over the summer months.

For Janaya and Thalia that means a log cabin on the lake, which Janaya describes as "amazing, like being on holiday."

The plan for the next day's work isn't decided until late the night before, and at the moment, hay-making is the main focus.

"We've both had experience driving tractors, and I worked for a contractor back home,” Thalia said.

"If it has been raining and we're not making hay, we can ride with the cowboy.”

"Because we have had a bit more experience with horses and stock, we can do more than everyone else."

With women not as involved in agriculture as in New Zealand, the pair have had to prove themselves to gain the respect of other staff.

"The dynamics are different here compared to home; it's kind of a man's world," Thalia explains.

"Once we prove that we can do anything they can do, they are ok.

"It doesn't stop the girls over here, but there is a difference in acceptance, like an old cowboy mentality."

The experience of Canadian agriculture so far has given the pair a renewed respect for New Zealand's primary industry and the pride Kiwi farmers take in their on-farm maintenance.

"It has made us both realise how much we appreciate New Zealand farming.

"The way we farm is so much more efficient than anywhere else I've been.

"I feel like New Zealand is quite a few steps ahead with everything."

Thalia and Janaya plan to stay in Canada for two years and are hoping to get work in a ski resort over the winter months.

"Our motto for the year is to just play it by ear.

"If we don't like it, we have a car; we can find something else."

While the experience differs entirely from farming in New Zealand, they encourage young farmers who want to take on the challenge to give it a go.

"A lot of people put it in the too-hard basket," Thalia says.

"Go somewhere you want to go and do something you want to do.

"It's so worth it."

by Claire Inkson