History & Heritage

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Life for a 19th century cowboy was a steady routine of guarding cattle, moving them to grazing ranges, and driving them to market, often on long and difficult trails. But in those open range days, cattle belonging to one outfit would mingle and graze with cattle from other outfits. Twice a year in spring and fall, ranchers joined in a round-up of hundreds of cattle to sort out the different brands and reclaim their herds.

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In the summer of 1381, Anne of Bohemia, only 15 years old, left her home at Hradschin Palace in Prague in the Kingdom of Bohemia (modern day Czech Republic). Ahead of her lay a 1,100-kilometre trip on horseback across Europe to Calais, France, where she and her entourage would take a boat across the English Channel to England, to her arranged marriage to Richard II, the King of England, also 15 years old, whom she had never met.

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The relationship between horses and people in Canada is rich, deep, and ancient. And the story of horses in our country is as old as time itself. To understand the horse’s place in our lives today, we need to look back through the pages of history.

Ever since the wheel was first invented around 3,500 BC in Mesopotamia as a wooden disc with a hole in the middle for some form of axle, creative Sumarian minds were buzzing. They were, after all, already planting crops, herding animals, and had a pretty impressive social order. But getting the wheel contraption right took a bit of creative genius. The holes in the centre of the disc and at the ends of the axle had to be perfectly smooth and round in order for the wheel to fit and turn. Otherwise, too much friction would cause breakage.

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Horses and oxen have been used to haul logs since pre-industrial times. Much of it was small scale harvesting, but it was hard and hazardous work. Unstable and snagged trees, falling branches, and loose material were the “widow makers” of a rapidly growing but dangerous industry. But as settlers arrived in Canada, more land had to be cleared for home-building, farming, and travel. Ultimately, horses and oxen were replaced with machinery and logging trucks. But today, some people have kept the heritage of horse logging alive.

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It would be some 700,000 years before Duane Froese, an earth sciences professor with the University of Alberta in Edmonton and his team excavated a metapodial (cannon) horse bone from permafrost in the Thistle Creek gold mine in west-central Yukon in 2003. The team was hunting fossils embedded in permafrost while gathering data on the sediments that preserved them. Many other horse fossils found in Yukon had been pony-sized, but Froese and his team knew this find had come from a larger horse.

Norwegian Fjord, Asiatic wild horse or Przewalski horse, Highland Pony and the Icelandic Horse. Horses used by vikings, Beaver Dam Farm in Nova Scotia, American Driving Society (ADS), Wallace Point Fjords, Blue Raven Farm, and McKinnon’s Neck Farm

The Norwegian Fjord is considered one of the oldest pure breeds of horse. While they bear a striking resemblance to the Asiatic wild horse or Przewalski horse, they are in fact more closely related to the European wild horse, the Tarpan, as the Przewalski horse has 66 chromosomes while both the Fjord and the Tarpan have 64.

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