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Horsing around…from national symbol to family pets

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Co-writer: Alexander Lutchin

The relationship between humans and horses harkens back to the dawn of time. Throughout the ages, the noble equine has taken on the role of faithful servant, trusted steed and creature of service. There is definitely centuries-worth proof to validate the term workhorse.

Through the lens of movie directors, we experience these many and varied roles. From parading bold gladiators to carrying kings into war. From trooping the colours to the Wild, Wild West. From romantic horse-drawn carriages to bareback freedom on the beach. The great equine represents power, freedom and unbridled joy. How many movies can you think of that end with the dramatic hero-on-a-horse riding into the sunset?

Silhouette of a person riding a horse (Photo: Creative Commons)

National Velvet, National Treasures

To this day, in real life, horses have become part of the national identity of many countries. Nowhere is this more true than in Canada where the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are internationally emblematic of our great country. The RCMP is both a ceremonial symbol and a functional law enforcement entity.

The first Canadian horse arrived in Canada in 1647 as a gift from the French Compagnie des Habitants to the Gouverneur de Montmagny in Quebec. The government carefully managed her breeding to perpetuate her strengths of being quick, surefooted and strong, able to thrive in Canada’s harsh climate. As a result, offspring were rented to farmers who, if able to keep the horse and any colts alive for three years, became their rightful owner.

Part Sport, Part Entertainment, All Business

Two Mounties are about to begin an hour’s sentry watch at Horse Guards (Photo: Creative Commons)

The Canadian-bred horse became a much sought-after creature. Farmers, global breeders and even the late Queen Elizabeth II were happy to include them in their stables. In fact, Canadian horses ridden by members of the RCMP took part in her majestic funeral ceremony in 2022.

Not only were these early Canadians surefooted and strong; they were quick with an exceptional trotting ability. Naturally, they originated the sport of harness racing in Montreal, pulling sleighs over ice in the St Lawrence River. Fast forward to today: Canada is the only country to host the sport of chuckwagon racing, an event held for the first time at the Calgary Stampede in 1923.

The Country has a history of horsemanship, especially in the arenas of thoroughbred racing and Olympic pursuit, both of which lead to and rely on the multi-stakes business of breeding.

The legendary Northern Dancer tops this list as Canada’s most famous stallion. His progeny – including the superb Nijinsky and Dance Lightly – includes 112 stakes winners and his bloodlines still run roughshod across racetracks the world over. Deservedly, he is one of only two horses inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame.

The other one is Olympic jumper phenom Big Ben ridden to 40-plus Grand Prix victories by Ian Miller. Currently, there are about one thousand top-level equestrian athletes in Canada, home to 35 platinum-level events. According to Equestrian Nation, the country is well represented on the elite international stage in the Olympics, World Championships and Pan Am Games, with plenty of hardware to support that claim. There are four Canadians in Jumping’s top 100 rankings in the world.

But Not all horses can be superstars.

The equine community is comprised of millions of corporate-owned and individual-owned creatures involved in a variety of professional and amateur competitive events: there are Rodeos, Dressage show ring, driving, jumping, Western pleasure, English hack and hunter. Then there’s the whole world of win, place or show, on-track and off-track. Another dimension altogether…

The Family Pet

Whether bought and maintained for commercial or private use, the sport of horse ownership is not for the faint of wallet. (Just ask the 550,000 Canadians who report living in a horse-owning household!) So before giving in to every little daughter’s dream of owning a pony, consider the following very real details of your investment:

  • The horse
  • Monthly boarding
  • Insurance
  • Health Care
  • Ferrier
  • Tack
  • Coaching and Clothing
A boy and a horse (Photo CC by David Mac Luskie)

1. The Horse

Depending on the breed, lineage, age, and condition of the animal, the initial price tag could range from $5,000 to $20,000 CAD. It’s interesting to note that when a racer’s career has ended, owners within the racing community often look for good homes to take care of their champ through their golden years.

2. Monthly boarding

The selection of a farm or stable is very important – the safety and wellness of your horse should be at the centre of the decision. Research, personal visits, references from other owners… due diligence at the outset should offset surprises. But accidents do happen and illnesses can spread anywhere, so a barn’s overall reputation within the local equine community is usually your most reliable source.

3. Insurance

It is advisable to carry at least $10,000 of insurance. That level of coverage has an annual premium between $600 and $950.

4. Health Care

You should budget around $3,000 per year for your veterinarian. $500 for regular vaccinations and the balance for routine illnesses or injuries.

5. Ferrier

A horse needs hoof trimming every six weeks and occasional new shoes. Each visit with the ferrier runs from $45 to $70 – your basic mani-pedi.

6. Tack

Your horse will need a leather halter or one with a safety breakaway, a saddle, bridle, and saddle pad. Whether Western, English or Hybrid, a full set-up purchased new could run to $7,500. However, this cost can be routinely managed by buying used items.

In Canada, with four distinct seasons, you will need a supply of blankets in various weights to protect your pet. You can budget $450 to $800 for three blankets.

Unless you live on a ranch, you will need to find the right stable to board your horse. An outdoor board arrangement can run anywhere from $350 to $650 per month, including hay, water and 24/7 grazing field. Indoor boarding can range from $650 to $1,250 and include a stall and daily turnout, hay, water, feed, stall cleaning and wood shaving refresh.

7. Coaching and Clothing

Most riders rely on a coach and their training services – recommended weekly – are in the area of $40 to $60 per hour. A competitive horse and rider’s training requirements will increase as they advance through the ranks, as will their gear. In addition to a riding hat, boots, and jodhpurs, the personal wardrobe becomes more specific – and more expensive – at advanced levels.

Someone entering the sport and wanting to first get a feel for their aptitude and interests may want to examine alternate models to full-boarder ownership. A part-time boarder will share the monthly boarding cost of the horse with the owner and other costs are typically picked up by the owner. This is a great way to explore the various types of riding and the options of pleasure riding or competition. Further, it can help you decide which type of horse suits you best in terms of breed, size and temperament.

A young man mounted on a horse jumping over an obstacle (Photo: Creative Commons)

Right from the Horse’s Mouth…

Here are some interesting and surprising facts that may come in handy the next time you’re divot-stomping and sipping champagne at a polo match, or savouring a mint julep at the Kentucky Derby or, far more likely, playing Trivial Pursuit:

They’re born to run:

A foal can be up on 4 legs within 2 hours of birth.

They nap standing up:

The ligaments and tendons in their legs allow a horse to lock the major joints and sleep comfortably without falling over. This position allows for a quick getaway from any danger. Horses generally will only lay down if they need to get a deep sleep, and that will only last for 2-3 hours in the company of another horse.

They have close to 360° vision:

Of all the land mammals, horses have the largest eyes which, being located on the side of their head, gives them incredible peripheral vision. And contrary to common misconception, they are not colour blind: they have dichromatic vision. This means they can easily see colours such as green and blue, but have trouble distinguishing colours such as red and orange.

Horses don’t throw up:

There is a unique cut-off valve muscle that stops a healthy horse from vomiting. Who knew?

Horses are very social:

Whether wild or domesticated, horses love to be around other horses. They also love zebras – the offspring of a horse-zebra mating is called a zebroid. And of course, they love humans, especially when we bring them carrots. They are also really good at reading a person’s expressions. They can sense what type of mood you’re in even if you’re trying to hide it.

A curious horse approaches the photographer (Photo: Creative Commons)

Who has more bones, a horse or a human?

The human body, ahead by a nose: 206 bones to a horse’s 205. And they have 10 ear muscles to our 3. This is what allows them to move their ears 180° to focus on a specific sound.

It is said that an elephant never forgets, but guess what?

Neither does a horse. They will remember everything they have been taught for years. If you treat a horse kindly, they will respond in kind. But if you were mean, watch out! will always trace back to Europe:

All horse breeds originate from Europe. Even the wild horses in North America have roots in Europe.

Horses are long in the tooth:

A horse’s teeth never stop growing. They can chomp non-stop without ever wearing out their choppers. And when they’re not eating, they’re drinking – to the tune of 10-25 gallons of water each day.

Horses’ teeth constantly erupt (grow) throughout their lifetime, they are born with very long tooth roots that get gradually smaller as they get older (Photo: Creative Commons)

Hey – We’re for Horses

The Chinese zodiac dedicates a category to the mighty equine, next to be experienced in 2026. Those born in the Year of The Horse are said to share the same free spirit, intelligence and independent nature as the majestic mammal.

Riding a horse for pleasure and leisure is a rewarding, truly uplifting sport. And the majority of horses enjoy being a partner for recreational, therapeutic and trail riding, not to mention those bareback beach riding adventures!

Sources: Facts and statistics cited in this article were sourced from a variety of websites, including:


Pets contribute a lot to people’s lives,so they should receive the love, care, and attention they deserve.

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