History & Heritage

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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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In England, the Romans were the first to build canals as irrigation or land drainage waterways. They used mules to haul boats loaded with cargo along those canals and it became a highly effective and economical way to transport goods. A horse towing a boat with a rope from a towpath could pull 50 times as much cargo as it could pull in a wagon on the road.

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How the Horse Changed the West - When horses galloped across the U.S. border onto Alberta’s rolling prairies in the 1720s, it was a bit of an overdue homecoming. It had been roughly 10,000 years since the province’s expansive grasslands shuddered under hard equestrian hooves. Fossils indicate that North America is the original home of the horse, where it first appeared millions of years ago.

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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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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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