History & Heritage

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"You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed."-Antoine de Saint-Exupéry - When Dorothy Brooke, the wife of a British army major general, arrived in Egypt in 1930, she became aware of the fate of thousands of former war horses that had faithfully served the British army during World War I. Born in the United Kingdom, these horses were shipped overseas to serve in the war and had not returned home. Those that survived were now living a life of crippling hardship as working horses on the streets of Cairo and elsewhere in Egypt. She decided to do whatever was necessary to ease their suffering.

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Queen Elizabeth II passed away on September 8, 2022 having been the longest serving monarch in British history. In the short time since, much has changed. Her son, Prince Charles, has become King Charles III. Canada’s Royal Anthem is now God Save the King. Eventually, the King may replace the Queen’s visage on Canadian coins. But for the horse world, the Queen’s unceasing passion for horses will remain a lasting legacy.

Clever Hans, Wilhelm von Osten, Carl Stumpf, Clever Hans Effect

In the late 1800s, a German high school mathematics instructor and amateur horse trainer, Wilhelm von Osten, had a horse that he claimed was able to perform arithmetic and other intellectual tasks. Clever Hans, an Orlov Trotter, was said to have been taught to add, subtract, multiply, divide, work with fractions, tell time, spell, read, and understand German. Questions were asked orally and in writing, and the horse answered by tapping his foot.

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It used to be thought that using tools was one of the things that set us apart from the animal kingdom. However, it is now known that some species use tools. Reports include chimps using sticks to reach food, sea otters using stones to break open shellfish, and even elephants deactivating an electric fence by dropping rocks on it.

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The sacrifice of the ten million men who lost their lives during the conflict, which endured from 1914 to 1918, is well known. Less well known is the price paid by the estimated eight million horses that perished in the Great War, a fact lamented by Private James Robert Johnston, a horse transport driver who served with the 14th Canadian Machine Gun Company, in his memoir, Riding into War: “Very little has been said about the horses and mules that were used and what they suffered is beyond all description.”

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In the National Army Museum in London, U.K., a special exhibit features a curious box. The walls on the inside of the box are mirrors, each one reflecting another. Placed inside the box are dozens of cut-out horses. They are all white, unnamed, undefined. But as they reflect back and forth on the mirrors, the little cut-out horses are multiplied into infinity. The image, so simple, is a profound reminder that over eight million horses on all enemy sides died in the horrors of the First World War.

Midnight horse, Jim McNab Cottonwood Ranch, remarkable canadian horse Midnight horse

In the July/August 2017 issue of Canadian Horse Journal, we celebrated Canada’s 150th anniversary with stories of 20 exceptional horses that have reflected our values and fired our national pride. One of those horses was Midnight.

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1930. The Great Depression. Money wasn’t flush anywhere. But savvy and successful businessman Conn Smythe had become the newly minted owner of the Toronto St. Patrick Hockey Club, or Toronto St. Pats. This hockey club was no slouch. It had won the Stanley Cup in 1922.

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Today, the piercing clamour of a fire truck’s alarm brings excitement and awe from people gathered on the street. We admire and even gawk at the skiny red and chrome mechanical beast, carrying its dark-suited riders as it winds its way through the city. But once, when the streets were still dusty, our cities relied on much more than the cold steel of a fire engine; they relied on the courage and heart of the fire-horses. Then as now, people would line the street to admire the beauty and bravery of these public servant horses.

Inspiring horse stories, equestrian Juliet Graham, equestrian Nick Hlmes-Smith, equestrian Sandra Donnelly, equestrian Bruce Mandeville, equestrian Rob Stevenson

Representing Canada at the Olympic Games is the Holy Grail for many riders, but not every rider has the good fortune to get there. Those who represent Canada at the Games all have very different stories about how they qualified, the experiences they had, and the exceptional horses they were fortunate to ride. Canada’s top-placed three-day event riders from the 1976 through 2008 Olympic Games have had many years to reflect on their Olympic experiences and fortunately, five of those determined men and women were happy to share some of their life lessons, anecdotes, and wisdom with those who want to follow in their hoofprints. These are their stories.

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