Millen, Tania Articles

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Every spring, mare owners get excited about choosing a stallion for their mare, but many decisions need to be made before selecting the stud and breeding the mare. “Breeding is not for the faint of heart,” says Lisa Longtin. She owns Merrington Warmbloods in Kindersley, Saskatchewan and has been breeding warmblood horses for the dressage and hunter rings for 25 years. “When things go well, it’s great. But there are so many things that can go wrong.”

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Working and Playing Together - Operating family farms and ranches can be challenging, but according to these three Canadian families, there are plenty of benefits, too.

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Holidays on Horseback - Sven, the Haflinger pack pony, jerked his head up and snorted. I looked uphill towards our camp and caught a humpy flash of beige ducking behind a stunted fir tree. Grizzly, I thought. I was hand-grazing Sven and my paint mare, Jewel, on a frosty July morning in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park, British Columbia during a solo pack trip. When Sven jerked his head up again, a beige grizzly bear shambled downhill towards us. Just 20 metres uphill from the first bear, a second bear rose up on its hind legs out of the brush before dropping down onto all fours and following the frontrunner. As the two bears lumbered towards us, Sven danced around on his lead line while Jewel kept grazing, and my heart beat a little quicker. As I considered what to do, a third bear trundled out of the trees and followed the first two. They were all grizzlies, all full size, and all coming straight at us. I started to sweat.

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Climate change is substantially impacting Canadian horses, horse properties, and their owners. Almost 90 percent of Canadians in recent surveys say they’ve already seen climate change effects in their communities. Horses are increasingly affected by respiratory diseases from wildfire smoke and dust; skin disease and damaged hooves from variable weather; and unforeseen parasites and diseases. Horse owners are struggling to purchase hay, treat unexpected health issues, and adapt to weather-related riding limitations. Meanwhile, property owners are repairing damage from sudden storms, drought, excess water, and wind. So, it’s worth understanding how climate change will affect horses and properties into the future, and what you can do to prepare for these changes.

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Are They Good, Bad, or a Bit of Both? Colt starting competitions are wildly popular with audiences, imbuing a sense of wonder at what trainers can do with previously unhandled three-year-old horses (colts) in just a few hours. They’re judged events, where each trainer is paired with an unbroke horse and has just a few hours to start it under saddle. While the trainers work with their horses, they explain their training methods to the audience. On the third and final day of the competition, the trainers show off their horse’s skills over an obstacle course. The young horses are started by top-notch trainers, the spectators are entertained, and the trainers win prizes and kudos for their skills. So, what’s not to like?

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Sharing Costs, Spreading Risks - Racehorse syndicates have been around for a long time, but it’s only in the last 20 years that sport horse syndicates have become more common. In the horse world, a syndicate is generally a group of people who pool their funds to invest in a horse together and share the horse’s annual costs. Everyone who “buys in” is a shareholder and owns a portion of the horse for a set period of time, or until the horse is resyndicated or sold.

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For generations, riders and horse lovers have been enthralled by the mystique of horsemen (and women), but many struggle to define what a “horseman” actually is. Is a horseman someone with a laundry list of skills such as starting young horses, nailing on shoes, being knowledgeable about horse care, and having the ability to train horses to the highest levels? Or is a horseman someone who lives in the moment, has mastered their emotions, and understands a horse’s mind? Perhaps a horseman embraces all of these attributes; perhaps none.

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How Teamwork Makes the Dream Work - High performance riders often attribute their success to a team of committed supporters and professionals who help them achieve their best while keeping their horse’s best interest at heart. But successful teams aren’t simply a collection of farriers, grooms, owners, saddle fitters, sponsors, sports psychologists, and veterinarians. According to three top-level Canadian riders — amateur jumper rider Stephanie Valdes, 2020 Paralympian dressage rider Winona Hartvikson, and veteran three-day eventing Olympian Kyle Carter — there’s a lot more to it.

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Twenty years ago, the Oregon Horse Center in Eugene, Oregon held an indoor trail competition using log obstacles, water ponds, and dirt embankments to transform their arena into mountain trails. That event was the beginning of competitive mountain trail, where neatly dressed riders navigate an untimed, subjectively-judged course of obstacles typically found on wilderness mountain trails. In Canada, two organizations promote the sport — International Mountain Trail Challenge Association (IMTCA) Canada and the British Columbia Mountain Trail Association (BCMTA)— and each has their own rules, judging criteria, and obstacles.

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A Burgeoning Business - In the past eight years, stand-alone equine rehabilitation and conditioning centres that help horses return to health or greater fitness have been opening their doors in British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan. Depending on the business owners’ interests, skills, and client base each operation provides a unique suite of therapy modalities such as treadmills, pools, exercisers, saltwater baths, and solariums. Additional services and treatments such as bodywork, nebulizers, and product sales are also common.

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Canada’s prairie country always seems barren to me, as though something is missing and the ecosystem is incomplete. Probably because it is. For tens of thousands of years, as many as 30 million bison formed the cornerstone of a complex ecosystem, which dominated the Great Plains. In 1890, bison were perilously close to extinction, with less than 1,000 animals scattered across the continent. Today, largely due to conservation efforts by Parks Canada, bison thrive in parks and private herds, worldwide.

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Sooner or later, most horse owners have the unfortunate experience of dealing with an injured horse. It’s common sense to have a veterinarian assess what’s wrong as soon as your horse becomes injured, but a vet will also help create a rehabilitation plan, advise how long the recovery period will be, and provide post-recovery expectations.

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Regenerative medicine covers a suite of different technologies that enhance the horse’s natural healing process and help them heal faster. Equine veterinarians have been using regenerative medicine for the past decade to treat joint disease and soft tissue injuries; however, it’s new to many horse owners and only equine veterinarians specializing in sports medicine tend to offer the technologies.

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When it comes to purchasing hay this year, John Bland says, “[Horse owners] are between a rock and a hard place. This year, there’s typically nothing to cut.” Bland is a member of the Alberta Forage Information Network and has been producing and selling hay in Alberta for over 40 years. He says this year’s drought covers the majority of North America’s Great Plains region, so is different from other dry years such as 2001, 2009, and 2019 when droughts were more regional.

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Horsemen and women around the world are enjoying horses in more unique ways than ever, especially here in Canada. From mounted archery to combat and tent pegging, cowboy mounted shooting to working equitation, and Indian relay racing to skijoring, there are challenging horse sports for everyone. Many of the seven sports described are relatively new, but the skills these sports require originated hundreds of years ago when good horsemanship meant staying alive during battle.

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Grooming is an enjoyable way to bond with your horse, and most horses love to be fussed over, but cleaning a male horse’s sheath is an unpleasant chore that owners and riders tend to avoid. From potentially being kicked, to lack of knowledge or squeamishness, those with geldings and stallions often shirk the task altogether. However, veterinarians agree that cleaning and inspecting a horse’s sheath is a necessary and regular part of maintaining their health.

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The ASPCA Alfred B. Maclay Horsemanship Championship, known simply as “the Maclay,” is the most prestigious equitation class for under 18-year-olds in North America. Held every fall since 1933, the championship is considered a proving ground for future champions and many teens tailor their junior riding years specifically toward the class. The winners' list is a who’s who of the North American hunter-jumper world and includes American riders William C. Steinkraus (1941), Frank Chapot (1947), George Morris (1952), J. Michael Plumb (1957), Conrad Homfield (1967), Leslie Burr (1972), and Jessica Springsteen (2008), among others. Four Canadians have also won the coveted championship trophy — Laura Tidball (1980), Erynn Ballard (1998), Brian Walker (2001), and Sam Walker (2018) — and all four of them have subsequently represented Canada in show jumping competitions.

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Horses and their people can be found almost everywhere in Canada from the Pacific Ocean in the west to the Atlantic Ocean in the east, and every region offers unique opportunities for riding, driving, and horse ownership. So, when adventurous equine enthusiasts move across Canada for work, lifestyle, or adventure, they will undoubtedly need to navigate a new horse fraternity. Planning a new life on distant shores can be a massive undertaking, but no amount of planning will answer every question, and sometimes just going for it — enthusiastically gambling that moving across the country will work out — pays off.

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Spending all day with your horse, visiting with friends, and riding a variety of trails pretty much describes horse camping, so it’s no surprise that many riders consider horse camping to be the ultimate adventure. Although performance riders often haul to a different facility for a clinic or competition, put their horse in a stall, and camp out in their rig, trail rider-style horse camping is a bit different.

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The 21st Century Rider - Many Canadian riders are throwing their leg over horses well beyond the age when others are pursuing more sedentary activities. For example, about 19 percent of Alberta Equestrian Federation members were over the age of 56 from 2015 to 2018. In British Columbia, approximately 19 percent of active Horse Council BC members were over age 60 in 2018. Meanwhile, in Quebec last year, about 12 percent of Cheval Quebec members were age 60 and over. Nationally, approximately 22 percent of Equestrian Canada sport licence holders were older than 50 in 2018, and 10 percent were older than 60.

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