History & Heritage

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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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Ron Turcotte is a celebrated Thoroughbred jockey renowned for riding the superstar racehorse Secretariat to win the US Triple Crown in 1973.

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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.

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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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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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Horses and oxen have been used to haul logs since pre-industrial times. Much of it was small scale harvesting, but it was hard and hazardous work. Unstable and snagged trees, falling branches, and loose material were the “widow makers” of a rapidly growing but dangerous industry. But as settlers arrived in Canada, more land had to be cleared for home-building, farming, and travel. Ultimately, horses and oxen were replaced with machinery and logging trucks. But today, some people have kept the heritage of horse logging alive.

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Job Description: Usually working in pairs, pick-up horses and riders are responsible for assisting the rodeo competitor to get off the bucking animal safely.

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Job Description: In many cities, the police force mounted unit plays an essential role in crowd control at demonstrations and large events. Horses add height and visibility, and act as ambassadors with the public. On patrol for over a century, the Vancouver Police Mounted Unit was first formed in 1908 with 11 officers and 12 horses. A year later, the first patrolman on horseback was assigned to patrol Stanley Park. While the stables were originally based in the downtown area, a second stable was established close to the entrance to Stanley Park where the Mounted Unit continues to be centered today.

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Job Description: Racetrack outriders and their horses provide the valuable service of helping to maintain a safe environment during workouts and live racing.

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Job Description: Therapy horses are used in a range of programs to promote physical improvements and address mental health issues. Somewhere in the rolling high country plains of southeastern Montana in the early 2000s, a buckskin colt was born. But in the harsh reality of life in a wild herd, he lost his dam when he was just a few days old. Somehow he stayed attached to his band struggling to survive but, without his mother’s milk, his growth was slow.

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