History & Heritage

Recently, genetic research published in the journal Science showed that the Przewalski’s horse, also known as the Mongolian wild horse and the Takhi, was actually not wild as defined by its heritage but descendants of the horses first domesticated by Botai people of Kazakhstan over 5,500 years ago.

Inspiring horse stories, equestrian Juliet Graham, equestrian Nick Hlmes-Smith, equestrian Sandra Donnelly, equestrian Bruce Mandeville, equestrian Rob Stevenson

Representing Canada at the Olympic Games is the Holy Grail for many riders, but not every rider has the good fortune to get there. Those who represent Canada at the Games all have very different stories about how they qualified, the experiences they had, and the exceptional horses they were fortunate to ride. Canada’s top-placed three-day event riders from the 1976 through 2008 Olympic Games have had many years to reflect on their Olympic experiences and fortunately, five of those determined men and women were happy to share some of their life lessons, anecdotes, and wisdom with those who want to follow in their hoofprints. These are their stories.

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.”

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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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.

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