Saskia Dockrill confesses that she has adored animals, and especially horses, since she was a young girl growing up in Utrecht, Holland.
In fact, during her childhood, her Dutch parents owned and managed a pet store that she would spend a lot of time in. The store sold a variety of animals – the usual fish, birds, parrots, and at one point…a monkey.
“I remember one day when a gentleman came into our store with a little white canary,” Dockrill recalled while sitting at her kitchen table, chatting about the adventures of her youth.
“He wanted my dad to help him figure out if this canary was a male or a female. At the time, my dad was standing near the cage that the monkey was in. Of course, the monkey was watching curiously. My dad held the little bird in the palm of his hand and gently blew on the belly feathers to identify the gender. Just at that moment, the monkey reached through the cage, grabbed the canary from my dad’s hand, and ate it immediately. The man and my father looked at each other, stunned. Finally the man said to my father… ‘I believe you owe me a canary!’”
Today, Dockrill, 61, is once again living a life surrounded by animals – both wild and domesticated. She shares her rural home in the RM of Keys (halfway between Kamsack and Canora) with three corralled ponies, two playful, shaggy dogs, a number of cats and a long list of surrounding wildlife.
Her secluded off-grid acreage has been lovingly named, LPine Meadow, (due to the shape of the property forming the letter L). It was chosen by her and her late husband, Ron. The pair had a romantic dream of building a homestead on the rolling pasture surrounded by trees, up until Ron ultimately lost his second battle with cancer in the fall of 2013.
In a blog documenting the lifestyle that has been a dream since she was a young girl, Dockrill paints a picture of the vision she had hoped to build with her partner:
“We dreamed of creating a simple homestead, solar and wind powered. We dreamed about beautiful gardens full of flowers and vegetables and herbs. We dreamed about a place where we could sit back and relax, watching the butterflies, birds, squirrels, deer, elk and moose and where our horses, dog and cats could have a healthy and happy life. We dreamed about making LPine Meadow the home of our Clicker Training Centre for Horses: Horses in Rhythm. We knew this was the perfect place for it, to rescue and rehabilitate ponies and horses to give them a second chance in life. So many dreams.”
Dockrill shared that she had met Ron through an online dating website called ICQ back in January of 2001. At that time, Dockrill was a divorced mother of three, living in Holland, and Ron was retired from the Canadian Airforce where he served as a Master Warrant Officer. After a few visits back and forth between the two countries, Dockrill described the quickly progressing love story as ‘intense and beautiful’ and said it came to the point they couldn’t spend any more time apart. After trying out a year in Holland, it became clear it wasn’t a good fit and the couple decided to make Canada their home. While her two older daughters decided to stay in Holland, Dockrill’s young son, Paul, made the final trip to start a new life in Canada with his mother and his stepdad. First living in Edmonton, the family eventually headed east in search of their ideal property, ending up buying a house in Canora for just $6,000.
“It was a great price. A couple of years after that, housing prices went up fast,” said Dockrill. “We made our little love nest in that house, but we kept looking for the place to build our dream life together.”
Today, their son Paul is 25 years old and living on his own just outside of Canora. He checks in on his mother often, helping out whenever he can and bringing her treats.
“My son and I are very close,” assured Dockrill. “And I am so happy about that.”
Despite losing her partner before they could share in their aspiration, Dockrill says she couldn’t be happier living alone among her pets and the nature that surrounds her. With no running water or electricity, her home is filled with a number of blue five-gallon water jugs that hydrate Dockrill and all of her pets year-round. One jug has a manual pump that she uses to access water for drinking, cooking, and bathing. During the winter months, once or twice a week, she loads the back of her pickup truck full of bottles and travels 10 minutes to a community well to fill them all. She then lifts the very heavy bottles one by one up a flight of stairs into her cabin. As soon as the threat of winter frost is gone, she switches to the practice of filling a large outdoor water tank and uses clean garbage bins for the water that washes her laundry. In her yard, she relies on a rusty, but functioning antique laundry press and a clothesline – weather permitting.
One corner of the rustic cabin features a woodstove for heating and cooking, along with a single burner propane stove. The opposite corner hosts three battery packs and an inverter that Paul has helped set up. The system is rigged so a small windmill and a group of solar panels outside can funnel enough energy to help Dockrill keep her phone charged and her small refrigerator running. While there is a generator sitting outside, it needs repair and Dockrill says it is not something she relies on anyway.
“My phone has everything I need. It is my computer, my entertainment, my music, as well as my connection to my friends and family. There is no W-Fi out here, but I do have data and cell phone service.”
At the foot of her front door, Dockrill keeps three cowbells handy in case she needs to make some noise and help her dogs scare away any threatening wildlife. She’s witnessed deer, moose, owls, bald eagles, coyotes, foxes and even wolves passing through her little homestead. Dockrill says her loyal dogs can switch from being ferocious protectors to happily chasing resident squirrels. And she delights in the tiny chickadees that sometimes eat straight from her hand.
“One time we had a bear come around the yard. He sniffed around and drank some water from the bird bath, then carried on. However, when he came back the next day, I grabbed those cowbells and banged them as loud as I could, yelling at him to get out of here. He took off running.”
Behind the cabin, Dockrill has constructed a number of raised garden beds and a pair of large rainwater barrels that she uses to water her vegetable and flower gardens throughout the summer.
“I love to eat from the garden all summer long,” she explained. “I am a seed saver. I hardly buy any seeds anymore since I have learned how to harvest them myself. I grow all kinds of vegetables and flowers. In the summertime, the meadow is also filled with wildflowers. It’s breathtaking.”
Although she admits it can be a lot of work, Dockrill is convinced the fresh air and exercise keeps her healthy and strong. She continues to work in the field she is most passionate about - as a certified horse clicker trainer, offering her services both online and on site. Clicker training is defined as a gentle, positive reinforcement animal training method based on a bridging stimulus (the clicker) in operant conditioning.
“Clicker training is my passion,” Dockrill says with a twinkle in her eye. “The horses really love it, which is for me the biggest reward. Nothing beats a horse that loves to work with you. Yentl was not handled much by people when I got her a few years ago. She was actually scared of people. I used clicker training to win her trust and do groundwork, including handling and trimming her feet. Now she can't wait to get her feet trimmed. Freya used to bolt during riding. We had a serious accident together. But with clicker training she changed into a calm, relaxed horse within eight months. I could ride her in a halter with loose reins. I have stopped using bits on my horses. I think it's healthier for them without a piece of steel in their mouth.”
Dockrill says that as a result of her quiet and peaceful lifestyle, she has become quite attuned to the sounds and behaviors of the nature and animals around her. She usually wakes early - when day first breaks, takes naps whenever she likes, and savors the magic of living on Canada’s wild prairie back country.
Within her blog entries, Dockrill shares snippets of her adventures in the lifestyle she describes as “absolutely wonderful.” The following excerpt is from a blog entry in 2016.
“Tuesday evening there were beautiful northern lights. I turned off all the lights in the cabin and had a beautiful show right from my windows.This week I also enjoyed many shooting stars. It's that time of the year again with meteor showers. So nice to watch. Last night during sunset, I could hear the drums from the Indian reserve nearby. The wind carried the rhythmic sound and the sound of singing all the way here. With coyotes howling in the background, the amazing colours of the sunset and the drums and singing......beautiful.”