Building a Passion
By Carol Watterson | Photos by Brian Argyle
The manager of Paradise Acres Ranch, Katrin Bakshi, walks us over to the summer pasture to meet the horses. They’re at the far end of the 60-acre pasture grazing, but a shake of Kat’s grain bucket entices them closer. Like a scene out of a Western film, thundering hooves gallop across the large field, Mount Arrowsmith and Mount Moriarity looming behind them. There’s a beautiful mix of colours and spots in the cloud of dust as the herd heads our way. These are horses that are happy in their element – tame yet holding a bit of wildness in their hearts.
While there are many hobby horse farms in the area, arguably, the beaches are the main draw. It might come as a surprise then that just south of town, tucked between the HWY 19 and the Englishman River, there’s a 125-acre ranch where horse lovers come from around the world to hop on a saddle and ride the open range. There may not be any cattle to rustle at Paradise Acres Ranch, but there’s no shortage of big sky, open country, and trails to ride.
Bev and Gerd Voigt bought this little slice of horse lover’s heaven in 2006 as a place for their family to live and enjoy their four-legged friends. “At the time it was just myself, Gerd, and our daughter Allison along with our three horses Bridget, Dawson, and Geronimo – plus our dog and cat,” she says. “It was just raw land with open fields and forest surrounded by barbed-wire fences.” While there were no buildings, there was a hint of a very old ‘homestead’ with eight (now heritage) apple trees and some well-preserved logs that may have been part of an old cabin or barn. “We preserved these and use them to highlight areas as our little nod to the property’s heritage,” Bev adds.
Their home is a classic mountain ranch style with rugged design features and well positioned windows to take in the breathtaking views. “For the first couple of years it was ‘just us’,” Bev says, “but then we encountered some friends who needed a place to keep several horses, so we said ‘come on over.’”
These friends brought a few horses and sold them to other friends who then boarded them at the ranch. That trend continued and soon more friends were boarding their horses while Bev and Gerd purchased more of their own. “With all of this beautiful land to ‘fill up’ we just continued to grow our herd of wonderful horses,” she shares. “Luckily there were people discovering that we had great horses to offer for rides and they told their friends and the business continued to grow and grow.”
Trail riding is the mainstay of Paradise Acres Ranch with rides going out several times a day in the summer and continuing all year-round. Trails wind through their own property and the adjoining River’s Edge Parklands with plenty of open areas for trotting. Word spread and visitors started coming from far and wide to saddle up and ride the trails. When their daughter grew up and moved away, Bev and Gerd took a couple of rooms that were ‘going to waste’ and converted the upstairs into B&B rooms. “It turned out to be a big hit,” she says. “People were able to have a real ranch vacation on the Island.” For many years, guests were treated with the cuisine of Gerd Voigt – a ‘Certified Chef de Cuisine’ originally from Switzerland. Gerd has since retired from his culinary duties and guests have a kitchenette and access to an outdoor kitchen to prepare their own meals.
They also carved out a dedicated campground with multiple fully serviced RV sites that’s opened year-round. Many of the campers bring their own horses to ride the trails and enjoy the scenery and the local area. With a paddock for the visiting horses and showers and laundry (powered by solar panels) for the ‘human’ guests, the ranch attracts a steady stream of horse-loving campers.
Everything about the Paradise Acres Ranch is rooted in the Voigt’s passion for horses and sharing their property. The horse-boarding business has continued well beyond their friends and they’ve added a monthly lease program that matches experienced, confident riders with one horse that they can take care of and use for lessons and trail rides. “We are quite a ‘relaxed facility’ and just enjoy having people enjoy these wonderful animals that roam and graze freely on our ranch,” Bev says.
PASSING THE REINS
Recently, Bev and Gerd handed over the day-to-day running of the ranch business to Katrin, who’s been with them since last summer, and Angie Roodenburg who arrived last year from Salt Spring Island. In addition to their management duties, Kat takes out the trail rides and Angie teaches riding lessons.
Kat, originally from Germany, moved to the ranch from Golden with her 5-year old son and her two horses. “I grew up on a dairy farm so I love it here where there’s more space and freedom to move,” she says. Her son also loves the ocean so she was happy to accept when Bev offered her the job. “I love this job,” Kat exclaims. “Horses are my passion and it just doesn’t get any better than this.”
Both Kat and Angie live on the ranch full time so that they can be available for the horses at all times. “There are plenty of predators in the area,” Kat reveals. “Just the other day a momma bear and her cubs passed by the house and we often hear cougars.”
WHERE HORSES CAN BE HORSES
There are currently 45 horses at the ranch, 18 of them dedicated trail horses, and according to Kat there’s plenty of room for more. While the boarded horses are kept in their own outdoor paddocks, with their owners primarily responsible for their care and exercise, the ranch horses roam free on the acreage day and night, year-round. With such a large property, the ranch has always promoted having their horses living in an environment that is ‘natural’ to them. Their slogan has always been, ‘Where horses can be horses.’ Kat explains that for healthy physiology, if possible, horses should graze freely and live outside in their herd culture. “Horses have a hierarchy,” Kat says, “and they’ll fight, but here they have plenty of space to get away from each other if they need to.” Kat explains that the social interaction – play, fight, play – also keeps their minds nurtured and prevents them from getting bored and developing bad habits.
As we take in the stunning mountain scenery, the horses’ loud approach grabs our attention. First to reach the bucket is Stormy, a stunning Gypsy Vanner, an athletic breed with a gentle patient temperament. Stormy has a personality as big as his frame and is one of the ranch’s best trail horses. There are a variety of breeds of different sizes in the herd and Kat explains that they have horses for all levels of riders. “You could put a complete beginner on Stormy or Cricket, one of our quarter horses. ” Kat explains, pointing to a smaller brown and white pinto. “We have other horses, such as Ratatouille who was previously a performance horse, or Taiko our Ahkal-Teke breed, that are fun for more experienced riders.”
SADDLE UP & RIDE
The Ranch offers riding lessons in all disciplines. Allison Voigt, who taught lessons in the past, has returned to teach and run the lesson program with Angie. Students can work through the four Rider levels (beginner, intermediate, strong intermediate and advanced) in a low-pressure environment where the focus is on both enjoying and learning. “We have students who have been with us for years and welcome new students all the time,” Kat says. “As instructors, we never stop learning and also take lessons from experts.”
We meet Juliette, a white speckled pony with a sweet face and a big personality who, according to Kat, is kept in a separate paddock as she gets pushed around by the bigger horses in the fields. Juliette is the lesson horse for children, and at 22 years old, she’s still going strong. “She’s our little superstar,” Kat explains. “So many local kids, even some as young as two-years old, have learned to ride on her.”. Kat is most excited about growing their lesson program. “Age doesn’t matter,” she says. “We have all ages from three years-old up and recently had a new student who was over 80!”
With the business in good hands, Bev and Gerd can take time to sit back – on their porch or in their saddles – and savour the little Utopia that they’ve created. “We love living here and enjoy sharing this unique mountain-view paradise with other horse lovers or anyone who would just like to better get to know our wonderful four-legged friends,” Bev shares.
1085 Paradise Place, Nanoose Bay | paradiseacresranch.ca