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This Swiss woman and her horses belong to Canada’s open spaces

Nicole Ulrich always feels at home in the saddle. zVg

Nicole lives in the wild with her horses in Canada. It's a life surrounded by nature which also has its dangers, as she has discovered. 

This content was published on May 12, 2019 - 11:00
Joëlle Weil,

Only the munching of horses and the barking of dogs disturb the silence. It is fifteen degrees below freezing and the sky is clear blue. There has been snow on the ground everywhere for months. Hidden in their dens in the forest, the bears are hibernating. Nicole Ulrich chose to come to this remote, wild place and for 11 years it has been her home.

Swiss Abroad

Swiss journalist Joëlle Weil lives in Israel. In this series, she paints the portrait of Swiss women and men living abroad whom she has met through expatriate groups on Facebook.

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Nicole left Switzerland to build a new life in Canada, moving with her partner to Quesnel, in the western province of British Columbia. "In Switzerland if you have animals you quickly run short of space," she says. But in Quesnel she has 65 hectares of land for herself and her 20 or so horses. They are not only her passion, they are her livelihood. She worked as a groom in Switzerland and has now added another string to her bow: training wild horses for horse trekkers.

Men and beasts are tough here

In British Columbia, there are still thousands of wild horses.  While some are still completely free, others like Nicole's are closer to humans. They live in the wild but allow humans to give them food and care. But they are not at all tame. They are tough animals that are close to nature. That's what Nicole likes. "The horses here are not spoiled like in Switzerland," she says.

Nicole too is tough. Throughout the long Canadian winter, she rarely gets a chance to slow down. The colder it is, the more work there is to do. "When the temperatures are low like at the moment, the horses need more food, more energy." And it is even more difficult for completely wild horses, since they find it hard to find food in the frozen landscape. Those that have joined Nicole's horses are better off.

Wiide open spaces take on a new dimension in British Columbia. zVg

Her group currently includes five colts. They may some day make a big journey, because Nicole sells her horses mainly in Switzerland where there is high demand for sports and leisure. "In Switzerland, people like the robustness of my horses," she says. Nicole sends two or three a year and always makes the journey with them. Some buyers choose their horse by photo and commit from a distance, but some will only decide when they see the animal. 

Forest fires

Last summer, more than 500 forest fires upset the idyllic life of the region. Right to the last, Nicole remained hopeful she would not have to be evacuated. She and her partner had already put the horses in a safe place when they were finally forced to leave with their dogs. "Looking from the outside, people see only the beauty and the idyllic life. But they forget that a life close to nature carries dangers that are foreign to us in Switzerland," Nicole points out. She feared for her house, but was lucky in the end because it was spared from the flames.

However hard this life in the wild is, Nicole can no longer imagine a different one. She is convinced that once a person gets used to wide open spaces, they can never live in Switzerland. Here it is a different quality of life, but one that comes with hard labour. Nicole knows how to deal with that, otherwise she would have returned to Switzerland a long time ago.

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