Family pitches in to help bring home the cows

What began as a necessary chore in the fall has turned into a working social gathering for this Saskatchewan family

CANDIAC, Sask. — “Grammy said she’s proud of us grandkids riding out here in the cold,” says Halle Balon as she eats her grandma’s puffed wheat cake in a pasture during the family’s annual cattle drive.

Mixed farmers Stan and Jackie Englot have been married for 40 years and they’ve been bringing their cows home on horseback for just as long. The annual fall cattle drive, which began with the farming couple and their four kids, has grown over the years and now includes four spouses and 15 grandchildren.

“When we started doing it, it was out of necessity,” says Jackie. “We did chores with horses for 20 years so that’s how our kids learned to ride as good as they do.”

The Englot children — Kristi, 39; Lacee, 36; Jaime, 34 and Cody 30 — were all on horseback almost as soon as they could walk and talk.

“We’d get them up on top of our old chore horse and that horse knew the routine so well that she’d just go on her route with the kids on her back and the lines hanging on the hames,” says Stan.

Nolan Balon’s horse keeps a keen eye on the herd. | Christalee Froese photo

Stan and Jackie grew up on southeastern Saskatchewan mixed farms and both have loved horses for as long as they can remember. Their mutual passion for riding was cultivated as they set up their own farming operation in the Candiac area in the late 1970s.

“In 1980, we got married and we had horses right from the beginning because, of course, I brought my horses from home with me,” says Jackie.

While using horses on the commercial cattle farm had a practical purpose, it also became the family’s main source of recreation. Time off the farm included many trail-riding weekends in Moose Mountain Provincial Park.

Kayla Englot watches her family’s horses during the lunch break. | Christalee Froese photo

“We didn’t always have money for holidays, but we had horses,” says Jackie.

“We’d go to the park spring and fall and we’d camp right out there and ride horses all weekend. We did that for lots and lots of years,” adds Stan.

Stan and Jackie’s four children have all chosen careers in the agriculture sector from operating grain farms to running a purebred cattle operation to owning a meat shop. And every single one of the four families has made sure that horseback riding is as much a part of their family lifestyle as it was when they were growing up.

Jaime, who lives in nearby Corning, Sask., with her husband, Nolan Balon, and three young children, says her mom and dad’s annual cattle drive is a tradition her whole family looks forward to.

Nolan Balon bridles his wife’s horse, Rio. | Christalee Froese photo

“I just love getting to visit with everyone and being with my horses,” says Jaime. “We never want to let it slide even for a year because we don’t want it to slip away. Every year this is just what we do, regardless.”

Her sister Lacee agrees.

“My son woke up early this morning and he said he couldn’t sleep because he was so excited,” says Lacee of her son, Emmett, age 11.

All of the 15 Englot grandchildren, aged four to 17, appear to have inherited their grandparents’ passion for riding. The diminutive Halle, age nine, can be seen unloading her parents’ large horses from the trailer, leading the pack of riders, and even standing on her horse for a leg-stretch as she rides behind the herd. As the 22-kilometre trek from the Englot pasture back to the home ranch unfolds, the Englot grandkids take turns riding the variety of well-trained horses that have been hauled by trailer to the trailhead.

Stan and Jackie Englot share a laugh. | Christalee Froese photo

If in need of some warmth or a break on this cool fall day, the younger children climb on the side-by-side and bundle up under a quilt next to an aunty, uncle or cousin, while the older kids switch between riding quads, motorbikes and horses.

“Long rides like this are actually very good training for the horses and if you do a lot of them, it’s what contributes to having good quiet horses for the kids to ride,” says Stan.

At lunchtime, the Englots pick a cozy sheltered spot in an old farmyard. Jackie and her four kids unload the bounty of coolers while the grandkids grab wieners, roast chicken, sandwiches, hot cider, Rice Krispie treats and the hands-down favourite of the day — puffed wheat cake.

Kristi Balogh, the oldest daughter whose husband and six children are also riding today, says the annual ride is all about having quality time together.

“We love our family and that’s what this is all about, having fun together and enjoying each other.”

Jaime Balon uses a twig to mix a hot cup of apple cider. | Christalee Froese photo

After five hours of riding, the family of 24 puts the cattle in their corral and heads in for the very best part of the day — Papa’s signature chicken wings grilled on his homemade barbecue.

Stan and Jackie hope the 40-year tradition they’ve created carries on for as long as they can ride because it’s one of the greatest rewards of their farming lifestyle. Jackie gets emotional when she thinks about what the annual cattle drive has come to mean to her.

“Our cattle business is a business, so you’re always stressed about markets, the weather and then you’re stressed about the cost of inputs … but then it seems like it just all goes away when you’re on the back of a good horse surrounded by family.”

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