White House Stables
By Jess Hallas-Kilcoyne
“If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing well.” – Nicki Wylie
Picture yourself driving down a country road in North Saanich on Vancouver Island, passing green field after green field when you see a wagon drawn by a perfectly matched pair of Clydesdales. Lest you think that you have driven around a bend in the road and into another, earlier century, this is Nicole (Nicki) Wylie, of local farm and feed store White House Stables, likely on her way to deliver hay and feed to a local farm. Or perhaps it’s Saturday morning, and Nicki’s on her way to the nearby North Saanich Farm Market with a wagon loaded with home-grown lettuce, potatoes, and raspberries from her garden. Regardless, it’s a pleasant reminder that life can exist at a slower, more sustainable pace than that many of us have become accustomed to.
Photo: Jess Hallas-Kilcoyne - Nicki enjoys working the fields with the horses, saying it allows her to “get in touch with the land.”
A commitment to this lifestyle, and everything that goes along with it, is the foundation of White House Stables and is evident in every aspect of its operation. Clydesdale mares, Quinn and Teagan, are the latest additions to White House, which in addition to selling top quality feed and hay, also runs a small scale livestock raising operation, breeds Thoroughbred racehorses, and offers educational workshops for individuals, families, and children. The environmentally conscious Nicki and husband Norman Wylie purchased the mares in October 2011 and now use them to make local feed and hay deliveries and work the White House land.
Learning how to drive the mares, whether they’re pulling a wagon or a harrow, has been “a steep learning curve,” Nicki laughs. “Fortunately, they were extremely well trained and they have excellent temperaments. If I’m fumbling to figure out what I’m doing with my reins, they just stand there.”
Nicki describes her delivery runs with Quinn and Teagan as “wonderful…people stop and talk to you and you meet people that you never would have done otherwise.” As for working the fields, Nicki estimates that it takes approximately 30 minutes by horse-drawn harrow to accomplish what a tractor could finish in 15 minutes. “But,” she points out, “they have four-wheel drive and they don’t run on diesel.”
Photo courtesy of White House Stables - Dozens of foals have been born at White House Stables over the past 27 years since Nicki and Normans began breeding horses.
As an added bonus, she says, “I can be a bit hyper. This helps slow me down and lets me get in touch with the earth…I get to know the land. For example, that large rock,” Nicki points to the offending boulder. “I might not have noticed that on the tractor. Now I know where it is and I can come back and move it. Plus,” she adds, “[Working with the horses] is a lot more fun!”
Aside from the environmental and personal benefits to working with horses over machinery, Nicki and Norman also have a strong desire to help preserve the traditions and heritage of the local farming community. “We’ve gotten so much advice,” says Nicki. “So many of the old timers know so much and tell us ‘do this, be careful of that’. It’s all knowledge that would be lost otherwise.”
Photo courtesy of White House Stables - Herbicides and pesticides have not been used at White House Stables in the 25-plus years that Nicki and Norman have lived there.
Sustainability, environmental and otherwise, is a big deal at White House. “We want to live life the way we were put on earth to live it,” says Nicki, speaking for herself and husband Norman Wylie. “I’ve been here 28 years and I’ve never used a chemical,” continues Nicki.
Nicki and husband Norman Wylie came to Canada three decades ago from a small town just outside of Liverpool, England, eventually settling on Vancouver Island. Nicki was a young rider with years of experience riding eventers, and her gutsiness in the saddle led to work breaking and exercising Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse racehorses at the local Sandown racetrack. “I would get on anything in those days,” recalls Nicki.
Two years after their arrival, Nicki and Norman stumbled upon the White House Stables property, so named for the century-old white farmhouse, and have been renting the house and land ever since.
Photo: Jess Hallas-Kilcoyne - The stables at White House were built by Norman, and now house the bustling feed and farm supply store.
Norman built the 10 stall barn that today houses the feed store, as well as horses and other livestock, and the pair opened their own Thoroughbred breeding, training, and racing operation. While they stopped the training side of their business in 1993, Nicki and Norman continue to breed racehorses to sell at the annual Thoroughbred auction, on the mainland of BC. In 27 years, horses bred at White House have made over 400 starts, averaging over 20 starts per horse, won 44 races, and have made over $830,000.
In 1996, Nicki decided to branch out and bred one of her Thoroughbred mares to Snowford O’Donnell, an Irish Draught cross. The result was Celtic King, whom Nicki decided to keep and breed. “We didn’t plan it,” says Nicki. “There are lots of things we didn’t know we were going to do, but it all worked out.”
Photo: Jess Hallas-Kilcoyne - The charming, century-old farmhouse for which White House Stables was named.
Celtic King, or C.K. as Nicki affectionately refers to him, was the top scoring stallion in BC at the Canadian Sport Horse Association inspection in 2002. “He was a cracker,” recalls Nicki fondly, “And his babies are lovely.”
Currently White House is home to two Thoroughbred mares, Mascaretta (barn name Maggie) and Aces over Queens (barn name Precious) both of whom have recently given birth to potential future champions. These two foals join a third, whose dam is an outside mare boarded at White House, as well as two yearlings that will be sold this autumn at the Thoroughbred auction.
But these are not the only youngsters on the property. “It’s a farm that does a lot of babies,” says Nicki. “It’s a fertile place.” With 150 baby turkeys, a new flock of ducklings, a litter of puppies, kittens, chicks, and piglets on the way, that’s putting it mildly.
While Nicki and Norman do raise livestock on a small scale, the focus of the business is on the feed store, which they opened 15 years ago. “It was the most wonderful business [around which] to raise the kids,” Nicki says. And the store has become well-known for its quality feed products and Nicki’s expert knowledge. “We’re the people that people can come to for advice,” she says. “It’s a great sense of community. We’re never going to be rich, but we’re rich in life.”
Main Article Photo courtesy of White House Stables - Recently acquired Clydesdale mares Quinn and Teagan are used to make feed and hay deliveries to local farms.