History & Heritage

horses in canadian history, fire horses, horses used for fire trucks horse drawn fire engine

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.

riding with bison in canada, bison in the canadian wilderness, horse riding with bison, Bison in Grasslands National Park

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.

extreme horse sports in canada, archery on horseback, jousting on horseback, swordplay on horseback, Indian relay racing on horseback, shooting firearms on horseback

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.

maclay horsemanship, canadians at the maclay championship, canadian equestrian show jumpers, canada's history of equine athletes

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.

eric lamaze's hickstead, show jumping canada, best canadian show jumping horses, hickstead 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 Hickstead.

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.

bridle horse riding, tania millen, martin black horse trainer, spanish cowboys, stefanie travers horse trainer, straight up bridle, bosal two rein, roping

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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