History & Heritage

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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Let's Talk - On May 25, 2020, 46-year-old Black American George Floyd was killed while in police custody, after it was alleged he passed a counterfeit bill. A Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes while Floyd lay face down, handcuffed, and pleading repeatedly that he couldn’t breathe. Floyd ultimately succumbed. The tragedy struck a chord and protests flared against police brutality and racism — I can’t breathe their rallying cry, leading to an ongoing resurgence of the global Black Lives Matter movement.

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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 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. The Canadian military needed suitable horses to send overseas and the City of Toronto offered to donate mounts to the Canadian artillery. Major McDougall, the officer commanding the 9th Canadian Field Artillery, inspected all their horses and picked 18 of the best. Four of the unit’s officers, including Constable Thomas H. Dundas, enlisted with what became known as the Toronto Battery.

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These days, importing European horses generally means flying expensive horses with high-performance Warmblood pedigrees over to North America. But importing horses to North America isn’t anything new. Horses were brought over from Europe when Spanish explorers and conquistadors sailed the ocean blue in the 15th century.

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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 Nijinsky.

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In 1968, show jumping trio James Day, Jim Elder, and Thomas Gayford surprised the world by putting Canada on the podium when they won Canada’s only gold medal at the Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City. It was the first time Canada had ever entered a team in the show jumping and, going in, the Americans, Germans, and British were the favoured medal contenders.

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