History & Heritage

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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.

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 Bunny. In 1914, just over one hundred years ago at the start of World War I, Bunny, a strawberry roan gelding from the Toronto Police Mounted Unit, was called upon to serve his country.

Clydesdale horse, Delvin Szumutku, Clydesdale Creeks Conroy, Clydesdale Creeks Princeton, Terragold Farm, Boulder Bluffs Maxwell, clydesdale breed, equine giants

Delvin Szumutku was stressed. It was 1983 and he was living on the family farm in Saskatchewan where they grew grain and had been breeding Clydesdale horses since the 1960s. But his father was sick and in urgent need of heart surgery. He had been ordered by his doctors not to lift even so much as a suitcase, a tough call for a farmer.

Clydesdale horse, Stan Carruthers, Gordon Carruthers Sr, Clydesdales, Eastern Regional Clydesdale Association, Clydesdale breeding program

Born in 1940, Stan Carruthers of Carp, Ontario, was predestined to work with Clydesdales. “My grandfather was a stallioneer in Carp, and he used to have Percherons,” explains Stan. “In 1922, he sold his Percheron and bought a Clydesdale stallion. That’s how the love affair began.”

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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.

A sensational discovery was made recently of a completely intact prehistoric foal that lived in Siberia between 30,000 and 40,000 years ago during the Upper Paleolithic. The foal, a colt, is believed to have been about two months old when it died. It has been so exquisitely preserved in the permafrost that its skin, dark brown hair, hooves including the frog, mane, tail, internal organs, muscles, and even the tiny hairs in its nostrils and the hairs around the coronet band are all completely intact. It is just 98 cm (38 inches) at the shoulder.

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