ALI MACKAY-LYONS - VET AND HORSE TRAINER
”Nova Scotia is a beautiful place to live. A hidden gem, once discovered, never forgotten.”
Ali MacKay-Lyons is a vet and horse trainer from Nova Scotia, a province on the East coast of Canada. Growing up in a small village on Nova Scotia's rugged Atlantic coastline, Ali always dreamt of one day owning her own farm and working with animals. Several years later, Ali has successfully created a lifestyle which involves working with animals and spending time outdoors every day. When she is not busy at the surgery, Ali can be found hiking, feeding her parent's sheep, or teaching riding lessons from her home at Sea Horse Farm, an idyllic spot a stone’s throw away from a fresh water lake and the ocean.
Please tell me about why you enjoy living in Nova Scotia, and specifically Upper Kingsburg?
Nova Scotia is a beautiful place to live. A hidden gem, once discovered, never forgotten. At any given location, around the province, you are never far from the ocean. This is one of my favourite things about living here. The beaches are not only numerous, they are also easily accessible. They change day to day and year to year. Strong tides and high winds move the sand and lead to large piles of rocks, accumulating along the shoreline. Living in Upper Kingsburg, we are fortunate to be a sixty second walk from a fresh body of water - Romkey Pond, and six minutes from Hirtles Beach. Ocean activities are incorporated into the way of life of many Nova Scotians. The beach is a social place, where locals and visitors gather to walk their dogs, body-board, have a picnic or just relax in the sun. Living close to the beach, I’m often contacted by friends to tell me the latest weather report for the area. Like the topography of the beach, the weather is always changing. In this particular region, we get a lot of fog. So much so that sometimes we can’t see ten feet ahead. Many people laugh about it, and understand that just because it’s sunny in Lunenburg (13km away), that does not mean that it will be blue skies at Hirtles Beach as well. But the fog grows on a person. It’s tranquil and refreshing. You can only move so quickly, when you can only see just a few feet ahead.
How did you end up living at Sea Horse Farm?
Sea Horse Farm has been in the works for a long time. Initially the idea of living on a farm and teaching riding lessons was more of a dream. Now it is a reality. Becoming a veterinarian was always a concrete goal.
As children, my sister and brother and I were lucky to spend most of our free time in Kingsburg. The landscape was less polished than it is now. My parents worked hard to clear land and fix up the old dwellings that make up Sea Horse Farm. The old farm house, now home to us, was built in 1754. The preservation of historic buildings has always been a priority for my dad, architect - Brian MacKay-Lyons. In 1986 he was awarded his first Governor General’s Medal of Architecture for the modern renovation of this cape cod style home. Until it underwent extensive renovations in 2016, it was open floor to ceiling and had a tower on top for sleeping.
How does living near the water affect your lifestyle?
Living near the water, I often come home from work on a hot day and jump in the pond. Or sometimes I will take the horses with me to the beach. They enjoy swimming as well, and our youngest horse, Jahina, will roll on her back in shallow water, like a puppy. It’s exhilarating to swim with a twelve hundred pound animal. When I was younger, I started swimming with my horse, Cody, at the public beach. Without any close friends or family in the area who were knowledgable about horses, I decided to experiment with what could be done with a horse. If a horse trusts you, they will be bold and welcome new experiences. This led me to start giving riding lessons, and encouraging others to bond with these gentle giants.
What is the most important part of your day?
Currently, my time is divided between veterinary medicine, family time and our three horses. Early in the morning, I enjoy having some one-on-one time with my 14 month old son - Henry - before heading out to the vet clinic. We read books, eat breakfast together and cuddle. This is one of my favourite parts of the day. Working as a mixed animal veterinarian, I see a wide range of species and am never entirely sure what my day will entail. I enjoy the challenge and diversity of working with farm animals, as well as the intimacy of companion animal practice. The time flies by, as this work requires focus, patience and problem solving. In the evening I make space to work with our horses and ensure they are well cared for. We have a sit down dinner together as a family, and my husband Nathan and I recap on the day.
What makes you feel at home?
The reason I feel most at home here has a lot to do with family and community. My parents live just over the hill and we like to drop in on each other. We share many common interests and enjoy being active - hiking, running, swimming, kayaking, skating, etc. Our neighbours are friendly and never turn down a cup of tea on a cold day. When our son was born, we were overwhelmed by the warm welcome he received.
How did growing up in Nova Scotia influence your love of animals?
For as long as I can remember, I've had a passion for animals. My mother said I would try to jump out of the buggy to touch a horse. We grew up with dogs and my horse, Cody. When I started vet school on Prince Edward Island, my parents were raising sheep and cattle at their farm, Shobac. During my final year of study at the Atlantic Veterinary College, my now husband and I purchased two horses with hopes of landing jobs in southern Nova Scotia. With much effort, we succeeded.
Over years of boarding horses in the summer months, it became obvious that three was the perfect number of horses. When one is ridden, the other two keep each other company. They make up their own little family unit, and this landscape is ideal for raising horses and teaching riding lessons. We live at the end of a road and are surrounded by fields. Sometimes we let the horses graze freely, and often find them waiting at the gate wanting to go back in around the barn.
How has your family influenced your work and where you live?
My family has always been firm believers that passion and work should be integrated. For me, veterinary medicine is a lifestyle. Animals and the outdoors are a part of my day to day, and I spend all my free time with them and my family. As a young child, my dad would say “design your life”. So far, I’m very happy with the outcome.