History & Heritage

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If a dog is man’s best friend, then the horse is his most loyal servant. – Joseph V. DiBianca, Loudly They Speak: The Memoirs of a Horse Listener - What is it that makes the vast majority of horse people love dogs? Dogs indeed possess some of the same admirable traits as horses and complement the lifestyle of a horse person very well.

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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.

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Down gravel roads in Chatham-Kent, Ontario, you can judge the changing of the seasons and the progression of time by the corn. Every July, throngs of teenagers head into the fields to detassel corn. It’s a rite of passage in Chatham-Kent — hats and gloves, thermoses full of water, corn rash, and heat stroke — all for summer wages. By August 1, Emancipation Day, the seed corn has been detasseled, and stands of sweet corn are speckled along roads and laneways to farms. A bell rings to signify the day, celebrating freedom. The rest of the corn in the area, mostly grown for silage, has reached toward the sun, and soon the harvest will come and the green of these fields will brown, marking the passage of time.

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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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Job Description: These sturdy horses and mules carry gear and supplies, usually in panniers or sidebags, typically across rugged terrain.

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Our group of 17 horses and riders had taken shelter from the brutal midday sun beneath a massive overhang created thousands of years ago when water roared through the valley, and our chosen lunch spot was also home to several rattlesnakes.

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A Treasure for Over 350 Years - Good things were happening in New France in 1665. The New World colony had been under the tight control of the Company of One Hundred Associates since 1627. It capitalized on the fur trade while expanding French colonies along the Gulf of the St. Laurence and the river valley. But they were sporadically under siege from either native Iroquois tribes disrupting the fur trade, turf wars with the British, or conflicts with Quebec settlers resenting the company’s monopoly on trade.

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The horse will teach you if you listen - Spanish cowboys (vaqueros) who came to North America over 500 years ago left a lasting legacy — not only in words such as chaps (from chaparreras) and rodeo (rodear) which are engrained in today’s Western lifestyle — but in their riding and horse training skills, too. In the early 1500s when Spanish cows and horses were imported into what is now Mexico, cattle ranching and bridle horses were introduced to North America. Vaquero bridle horses were highly trained, handy stock horses that worked as partners out on the range and were in tune with their riders’ every aid. Making a bridle horse was and is a multi-year process whereby horses are started in a hackamore (bosal), then advanced through a two-rein bridle (small diameter hackamore beneath a spade bit bridle each with a set of reins) until they are ready to be ridden “straight up in the bridle” in a spade bit.

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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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Little Horses of the Big Woods - Sitting in the trees, the boys could feel warmth in the air, the breath of the herd rising to their feet. Pounding hooves echoed through the oaks like a warning bell, chasing Bill and his friends into the low branches. Here they sat watching dozens of horses pass below. Through Ontario’s Carolinian woods, the boys often followed snake-like “miikaans,” the little roads created by the horses. Emerging from the trees, the herd would wade across the shallow waters of the river to a small island, cooling themselves while they escaped the bugs. When the drumming of hooves had faded, the boys would drop from the branches like apples in autumn and continue on their way.

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