New Years 2021

By JENN WEBSTER, PHOTOS BY TWISTED TREE PHOTOGRAPHY

What are you doing for New Year’s Eve? I can tell you – my family has been waiting for this day all year long… That’s not to say we expect 2021 to morph us immediately into an easier time, but we do have hope for the upcoming year. And that’s something.

Today, we’re also hoping to do a little of this:

Or maybe even this with the kids:

Like many other folks we’ll be staying home – obviously due to the pandemic – but especially because we have animals to tend to in the morning. (We’re also looking forward to Eggs Benedict for breakfast!)

However, that doesn’t mean we plan to have a boring night.

Supper will likely be take-out from our favorite restaurant. And who knows? Maybe we’ll even eat in the barn.

The kids will have special “mocktails,” which is essentially Ginger-Ale poured over Gummy Bears:

We’ve made our own holiday crackers to celebrate the changing of the annual. Stuffed with little treats inside, the kids love these things. (And as they are made from toilet paper rolls, I’m not sure there’s anything more perfectly reminiscent of 2020 than these babies…)

We’re going to make the most of it.

Once all the animals are all tucked safely into the barn for the night, we have fireworks to light up in the back pasture.

After that, if we can still handle the cold, it might be time for a fire and some roasted marshmallows.

It might not be as exciting as an exotic beach New Year’s Eve getaway, or even that of the ambience in a fancy restaurant – but it works for us.

From my family to yours – we wish you all a Happy New Year!

Goat kids provided by Callie’s Classy Critters. Photos shot on location at Hartell Homestead. Belgians owned by The Stampede Ranch.

THE YEAR THAT WASN’T

2020 in one picture. Photo by BAR XP PHOTO.

BY JENN WEBSTER

As we approach the end of 2020 and reflect back, it’s crazy to think about the events of the past year. In fact, some of the events were the strangest of the strange… Yet, what might be even odder is the notion that we began to accept them as normal, almost cliché. “Well, it is 2020 after all…” became catchphrase. With that in mind, here are five of the strangest happenings we noticed in the horse world this year.

  1. GIRL JUMPS LIKE A HORSE – Yes, you read that correctly. Ava Vogel, an Edmonton, AB, teenager made international news this year when she was scouted by Ripley’s Believe It or Not for its newest book. On her hands and feet, Vogel can gallop and hurdle over obstacles and mimic a horse. The highest she’s jumped is almost four feet in height. And if you don’t believe us, find her on Instagram @jumping.like.a.horse.
From the Instagram feed of @jumping.like.a.horse.
  1. HORSES USED IN PROTESTS – It’s not uncommon for horses to be used in protests. For ages, they have been ridden by mounted police during riots and demonstrations. They offer added height and visibility that officers wouldn’t normally have on their own two feet and as such, allow people in the wider area a better chance to visualize the police. However, the recent use of equines by demonstrators in civil rights protests across the US this year have flipped the mounted police narrative on its head. Black cowboys and cowgirls showed up on horseback in several demonstrations fighting for racial justice. Their equine partners gave them the edge they needed, capturing the attention of media, celebrities and inspiring the general public across the globe.
From the Twitter feed of Lil Nas X. Black Lives Matter protesters caught the celebrity’s attention when they rode into downtown Houston on horseback.
  1. FRANCE’S EQUINE MUTILATIONS – Since the start of the year, France has experienced numerous horse slashings across the country. Some animals have been mutilated, while others have died as a result of injuries. The national police confirmed in a press release that almost 200 investigations were in progress as we neared the end of 2020. With no suspects, nor motives for the atrocious acts, horse owners began to take matters into their own hands by using drones to supervise pastures at night, installing electrified gates and surveillance cameras and placing locks wherever needed. Increased police efforts were also been made, including an agreement between horse organizations in the country and authorities to reinforce efforts in the prevention of attacks against horses in the country.

  1. NO DERBY SPECTATORS – For the first time since the 1945 Kentucky Derby was affected by World War II, Churchill Downs was forced to move the 2020 Kentucky Derby from its historical first Saturday in May, to September 5, due to the pandemic. Officials also ran the event without spectators, citing increasing cases of COVID-19 in the area – making it the first ever Kentucky Derby to run without fans.

  1. COWBOY SECURITY INFLUENCES THE WORLD – When the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, OK, closed down earlier this year, they decided to put their head of security, Tim Send, in charge of social media. The decision proved to be a brilliant one as Send, who was unfamiliar with Twitter, Instagram and selfies at the time, struggled hilariously through posts and tweets. With access to the entire museum on his own, Send captured the hearts and attention of the world with his innocent approach to the internet – becoming an international social media darling in the process.

Boerderij Cheese Fondue

A ranch version of a Swiss classic.


By MIKE EDGAR, PHOTOS BY TWISTED TREE PHOTOGRAPHY


Celebrate the season with a big, beautiful platter of cheese, charcuterie, bread and seasonal fruits. This gooey indulgence is a festive family tradition in many households, but is a delicious treat at any time. Serve it around a holiday table and make an entire evening of memories from it.

INGREDIENTS
½ Pound Cave Aged Gruyere Cheese
½ Pound Raclette Cheese
2 Tbsp. Cornstarch
1 Garlic Clove peeled
1 Cup Dry White Wine
1 Tbsp. Lemon
2 Tbsp. Brandy
½ Tsp. Dry Mustard
Pinch of Nutmeg
Assorted breads and cured meats for dipping.


 METHOD

  1. In a small bowl, coat the cheeses with cornstarch and set aside. Rub the inside of a ceramic fondue pot with garlic, then discard.
  2. Over medium heat add the wine and lemon juice to the fondue pot and bring to a gentle simmer. Gradually stir the cheese into the simmering liquid – melting the cheese slowly encourages a smooth fondue. Once smooth, stir in the brandy, nutmeg and mustard.
  3. Surround your fondue with all your meats, fruits, bread and family and enjoy.
  • Thank-you to the French 50 Bakery in Okotoks, AB, for providing the bread for this recipe.

Remembering our Aboriginal Veterans

The lapel pin commissioned by the Royal Canadian Legion
to commemorate Aboriginal Veterans
.

BY DEBBIE MACRAE

While not officially recognized by the Federal Government as National Aboriginal Veterans Day, November 8th, was inaugurated in Winnipeg in 1994 to recognize the efforts of our Indigenous Veterans and aboriginal participants.

Even before the War of 1812, territorial expansion was being guarded and defended against invasion by encroaching military and political interests. As British territories became vulnerable to attack, thousands of First Nations and Metis warriors were mustered to defend their borders during the War of 1812. More than 10,000 First Nations fighters participated in virtually every battle from the Great Lakes region and the St. Lawrence Valley.

Not only were they physically honed with stealth, patience and marksmanship, they brought a different element of communication not privy to the enemy.

During the Great War, 1914 – 1918, the interest from indigenous participants continued; requiring that volunteers travel extensive distances, learn new languages, and adapt dramatically to cultural differences, previously unfamiliar.

Hunters became snipers and reconnaissance scouts. In World War II they took on a new role; that of Code talkers, converting sensitive radio messages into languages like Cree, an Algonquin homeland dialect thought to be approximately 2,500 to 3,000-years-old from the great lakes region. Other interpreters would convert the messages back, preventing interception by the enemy.

It is believed that by the end of the conflict in 1945, over 3,000 First Nations members had served in uniform. However, the numbers were understated as unknown numbers of Metis, Inuit, and other Indigenous recruits continued to enroll in the Royal Canadian Navy, and Royal Canadian Air Force, as well as the Canadian Army. It is estimated that as many as 12,000 Indigenous people served to defend Canada’s interests during the 20th century.

Their efforts did not stop there. Large amounts of food, money, clothing and supplies were donated on the home front including the use of portions of their reserve lands for defense installations, rifle ranges and the construction of airport facilities.

Many returned to service in 1950 during the Korean War, after having seen action in World War II – and many more did not come home.

Their service continues – from NATO service in Europe to performing international peace support operations worldwide. Service in Afghanistan and even in Canada in remote locations along our east and west coasts, finds our Indigenous military personnel maintaining a vigilant presence to serve and protect in both local and international operations. In recognition of the contributions of all Aboriginal Canadians in war and peacekeeping operations, having served, or contributed on the home front, “To Aboriginal War Veterans in Canada and to those that have Fallen…”, the National Aboriginal Veterans Monument was erected in Confederation Park on the east side of Elgin Street between Laurier Avenue West and Slater Street, in Ottawa, Ontario.

The work is that of artist Lloyd Pinay, and depicts a large bronze eagle on the top, with four men and women from different Indigenous groups across Canada, beneath. The four “spiritual guides” understood to be critical to military success are the powerful wolf, bear, bison, and caribou, defending each corner.

The monument was unveiled on National Aboriginal Day, June 21, 2001 by Her Excellency the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson, C.C., C.M.M., C. D. former Governor General of Canada and Commander-in-Chief of the Canadian Forces.

In 2005, the Government of Canada participated in a sacred Calling Home Ceremony with Indigenous Spiritual Elders, Veterans and their families in an Aboriginal Spiritual Journey. This special ceremony was intended to invite the spirits of the war dead, and those who served in the World Wars, to return home to their families in their ancestral homelands.

A cultural illustration was created for the event, symbolizing each of the three main participating Indigenous groups:

First Nations People were signified by the Eagle’s Feather, held in the highest regard as the messenger of the Creator. The feather is the link between Creator and the People.

The Inuit symbol was that of the Inuksuk; traditional markers constructed for direction, sighting windows, hunting caches, or fishing locations, as well as another “virtual” being for hunting or companionship.

The colourful Metis Sash originated amongst the voyageurs. Its diverse functionality varied from emergency sewing kits for hunts, bathing cloths and towels, saddle blankets and emergency ropes or halters. Many of the voyageurs had mixed heritages, and the sash became an integral symbol of Metis culture in the West.

In appreciation of their contribution, the Royal Canadian Legion commemorated the Aboriginal Veterans with a lapel pin depicting those symbols. Centered on a dreamcatcher, (originally an Ojibwe symbol of protection), is the Legion Poppy encircled by the Metis sash. Suspended on either side of the Inuit Inuksuk are two Eagle feathers, symbolic of the First Nations people. Unique and beautiful in design, the pin is truly a symbol of unity and honour.

On November 8th, we honour those First Nations, Metis, and Inuit people who have long-served the proud tradition of military service and peace keeping for our country. We thank you.

We acknowledge Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, Veterans Affairs Canada, Artist Noel Lloyd Pinay, and Fred Gaffen, without whose contributions this article would not be possible.

Get Ready for More Heartland!

Photo credit: Andrew Bako. Courtesy of CBC. 

BY JENN WEBSTER

Have you heard? There will be a season #13 of Heartland! For all you Heartland fans out there, Season 12 airs Sundays at 7 p.m. (7:30 NT) on CBC and CBC Gem through early April. The current and past seasons are available on-demand on the free CBC Gem streaming service. But if that isn’t enough, recently we had the opportunity to interview Amber Marshall. In a Q & A-style dialogue, here are a few highlights from that visit:

Q. What’s next for the characters or the show? What is something you would like to see within the show in the next few years?

AMBER – My favorite aspect about season 12 is the “togetherness” between Amy, Ty and Lindy. We’ve seen them go through ups and downs and we’ve watched them focus on building a business together. It’s really great for fans to see them working together towards a common dream. And to see them as parents.

This year we introduced “Luke,” a troubled kid who comes to Heartland to escape the troubles of his own life on weekends and spend time with Ty. It’s a neat dynamic between these characters. Ty gets to witness some of his past through this young child. And he is able to help the child because of what Ty has gone through.

In their loft home above the Heartland barn, Amy (Amber Marshall), Ty (Graham Wardle) and their daughter Lyndy (Ruby/Emmanuella Spencer). Photo credit: Andrew Bako. Courtesy of CBC.

Georgie is with a new jumping trainer this season and we see her reaching new levels. That’s exciting! That’s one thing I love about Heartland, the fact that we cover so many different disciplines. Amy is more western but Georgie is more English. Alisha Newton herself, is a really talented English rider, whereas, and I’m more western. The writers of the show picked up on that. That’s going to make the stories more real and make us as actors, interact in better in our roles better.

Ep. 1210 | Alisha Newton stars as Georgie, seen here with her horse Phoenix, on Heartland. | Air date: Sun, March 31 at 7 p.m. (7:30 NT) | Photo credit: Andrew Bako.

Q. You have been a contributing producer to the show for about five years now. What do you like about that position?

AMBER – I love what I can contribute to the show in terms of practical horse sense. We feature so many different horse aspects on the show. Sometimes an idea is brought up and although I may really love the idea, I will often speak up about how I feel the idea can be accomplished. Our writers do an extreme amount of research and they are very talented, but often they have never owned a horse or experienced the day-to-day to life on a ranch. I live this life on a ranch. And I’m always trying to create the most real experiences I can for Heartland. Whenever something happens interesting in my life, I take it to the writers. Sometimes that say say “Great!” Other times they think about it.

However, my absolute favorite part about that role of contributing producer is, I attend all the meetings ahead of time and go through a step-by-step process to create the show. There is so much prep-work before we ever begin filming! There are weeks put in with the directors and writers in finding locations, the right horses, and the right aspects for the upcoming scenes. There is so much time put into prep, that make our days on set run smoothly. But if the prep not done properly, it doesn’t run smoothly at all. All these things must be choreographed. I think my favorite part about the producer role is that I get to understand all those steps. I’m no longer blind to why certain decisions have been made before we get there. I get to understand everything that goes into making the show.

Ep. 1210 | Amber Marshall stars as Amy Fleming on Heartland. | Air date: Sun, March 31 at 7 p.m. (7:30 NT) | Photo credit: Andrew Bako

Q. Will any of our favourite character horses make an appearance in season 12?

AMBER – I loved working with the mare and foal in season 12! We do get to see them in the wild herd. Of course, Amy wants to check up with them in herd! There’s also a really great story with a Thoroughbred racehorse owned by Lisa Stillman. We also see more of Spartan, who Amy is penning on in the future! Geogie has a great season with Pheonix. And we do introduce new palomino.

Q. You are very involved with many of the horsemanship and stunts on the show – is there any particular new discipline, sport, or type of horse that you would like to see on an upcoming episode of Heartland?

AMBER – Over the last 12 years, we have covered so many disciplines; jousting, mounted archery, every discipline in the book. One thing we’ve never done however is, mounted shooting – but that would be neat. I also think a seeing eye pony would be cool. We really try to reach out and try new disciplines to show the world.

I’ve had so many people come up to me over the years and tell me, “Heartland has inspired me to get on a horse and take lessons!” at whatever age they might be. And they do!

My grandmother even rode her very first horse at the age of 80 because she was inspired by Heartland. It was on her bucket list. She actually took lessons for over a year and now every year, she comes out to my ranch to ride with us on the trails. She’s in her mid-80s!

A CBC original series, HEARTLAND is produced by Seven24 Films and Dynamo Films, and stars Amber Marshall, Michelle Morgan, Graham Wardle, Chris Potter, Shaun Johnston and Alisha Newton. 

Find HEARTLAND online:

Stream all episodes | CBC.ca/Heartland

facebook.com/CBCHeartland | @HeartlandOnCBC

#iloveheartlandinstagram.com/Official_HeartlandonCBC

DOC WEST – Ranch Roping

Illustration by Dave Elston.

Doc West returns with his sage advice for the lost and lonely gunsel.

Q. Doc West, explain if you will, the nuances of difference between ranch roping and team roping?

A. The answer to this question if asked a few years ago would have been as simple as team roping is what the cowboys do at the rodeo, and ranch roping is what the cowboys do back at the ranch. Today however, ranch roping has grown into a popular “off circuit” competitive event that has reached an almost cultish status complete with its own set of rules and even governing associations. As a general observation both competitive events are similar in the sense a team (usually two, but sometimes three) of cowboys (or cowgirls) on horseback armed with ropes or lassos embark upon the act of roping a bovine. However, that is where the similarities end and the many differences begin: for example, team ropers rope a single isolated steer, ranch ropers pick a target out of a herd; team ropers start in the box and blast forward in pursuit of a running target, ranch ropers meander at a walk through a herd. Team roping is a timed event where runs are won or lost on a fraction of a second, ranch roping is scored on a point system of bonuses and penalties, so long as you get your calf roped within the time limit – a generous three or four minutes.
 
Differences in rules and regulations do little justice to what is a truer answer to such a question – a long meandering tale that does not easily lend itself to this column’s short and glossy smartly edited words, as it finds its beginnings 500 hundred years ago when conquistadors such as Cortes and Coronado and De Soto were the first explorers to bury into the North American continent in search of gold to take, but paradoxically leaving a much finer gift, the Spanish horse. Spain’s colonization of the new world brought with it the hacienda system of ranching, which gave life to the pillar of that system, the vaquero. Of Spanish origin and Mexican blood, the vaquero trailed up the Baja travelling the El Camino Real into California, where the gentle climate over time molded the California vaquero into its own unique creation – the “California Tradition” of the American cowboy. Later yet, when the big ranches in California started breaking up, many of the California vaqueros moved northward once again and spread out into the “Buckaroo-dom” of the great basin region of Nevada, Oregon and Idaho where the traditions evolved once more. As a collective, the California Tradition – the vaqueros and buckaroo’s are first and oldest cowboys – Spanish in origin and Mediterranean in mentality.
 
In the California tradition, style rules supreme – flat hats, silvered spade bits, rawhide romel reins, bossels and hackamores, elaborately finessed loops, and a horse tuned as finely as a Swiss watch. A vaquero was not just a hired cowpuncher, he was a caballero, a citizen, a gentleman, an aristocrat of the saddle. An emphasis on form and lifestyle permeated Spanish cowboying where cattle were moved leisurely over the rolling green hills, “it took as long as it took” – if it didn’t get done today, there was always mañana or tomorrow. Modern day ranch roping is a derivative of the vaquero traditions and those high plains riders, and the nature of the competition is rooted in the west coast mindset that faster is not always better; cattle were roped slowly, methodically and with as little stress on the animal as possible – 60-foot lariats are dallied to a leather wrapped pommel which allowed a soft catch and the ability to let loose if things got hairy.
 
The second part of this story finds its genesis in the mid 1800’s when Anglo settlers moved westward into historic Spanish territory and took up ranching, initially in the great plains of Texas. The English adopted the many of the fine vaquero cowboy traditions, however many of these were modified to adapt to a much more unforgiving environment and gave birth to what is known as the “Texas Tradition” – or as modern lore has coined simply as “the cowboy.” Over time the Texan style also spread – following the great cattle herds driven north up the Rockies eastern slopes into the wilds of Wyoming, Montana and across the 49th into Alberta and Saskatchewan. Cowboys of the Texas Tradition were practical individuals, not as concerned with the “how” as with the “is.” By way of example where the California Vaquero enjoyed a pleasant climate they could work all day and mañana too, by contrast most cowpunchers were beat by the panhandle sun into sweltering goo by noon, as such most cowboying needed to be done quickly and efficiently in the morning hours – there was no mañana for the Texas cowboy. Tack was practical and tough, durable clothing that could take thorns, basic working bits, heavy leather split reins, plain saddles, gritty cowponies and maybe a saddle gun too. The Texan roped hard and fast. The big “purdy” open country throws favoured by the buckaroos were impracticable in prairie scrub, cowboys ropes were shorter, throws were tighter and faster, ropes were often tied on to the saddle horn as dallying was deemed too slow and according to the seasoned cowpuncher were reserved for those afraid to commit. The team roping that we all see in rodeos is all about two things, making the catch and how fast you did it. In the Texan Tradition that’s all that mattered on the range and that’s all that matters in the arena.

Holiday Giving – For Her

 

Stuck on the perfect gift idea for her? In this four-part blog series, Western Horse Review has rounded up several of our favorite tidings of joy. This is Christmas shopping made easy! You’re welcome.

By Louisa Murch White & Jenn Webster

 


POP SOCKETS – Never drop your phone again with these sweet handcrafted, Canadian-made pop sockets from Sweet Iron Silver. Sterling silver and can be personalized. Starting at $95
www.sweetiron.com

 


WILD RAGS – Wrap yourself or a loved one in the warmth of a 100% silk wild rag from Brown Creek this winter. Starting at $55
www.browncreekwildrags.com

 

Credit Twisted Tree Photography.

ANYTHING FROM SCOTT HARDY – Looking for something that is truly special? She’ll love anything from renowned silversmith, Scott Hardy. From custom-made buckles, to jewelry, to flasks or saddle silver, Hardy has the perfect signature piece for your one of a kind. Inquire for pricing.
www.scotthardy.com

 

WHR NECK WRAP – Wrap yourself in one of these neck wraps, hand-made in Canada by Janine’s Custom Creations exclusively for Western Horse Review. Crafted from real Pendleton® Blankets, these wraps are stylishly functional and look attractive with any style of outerwear. Light weight and lined with a soft sherpa for comfort and warmth. Easy snap closures. With fringe or without. Can be worn over the shoulders or as a wrap. Many colors and styles to choose from.

whr-boutique.westernhorsereview.com

 

CREDIT: Twisted Tree Photography. All hats from Smithbilt Hats. Tan hat with beadwork is a custom design by @thechiefsdaughter_.

CUSTOM HAT – The right hat is the perfect way to accentuate her western lifestyle. Choose from a variety of styles and colours at Smithbilt Hats to compliment her unique sense of style. Inquire for pricing.
smithbilthats.com

 

YOU CAN’T GO WRONG WITH TURQUOISE – Featuring one of the largest selections of high quality, vintage, Native American turquoise and sterling silver jewelry from Navajo, Zuni and Hopi artists, the Lost American Art Gallery & Museum has some truly exquisite pieces. Inquire for pricing.
www.thelostamericanartgallery.com

 

SEW CUTE KITS – These adorable mason jar sewing kits from Cattle Cait are the perfect stocking stuffer for the crafty lady in your life. Handmade from 100% recycled wool and jars, each kit contains needles, pins, buttons, a measuring tape and thread. $30.
cattlecait.com

 


JUST RIDE TEE – This stylish, ladies slim-fit graphic tee pairs perfectly with her favourite denim! Navy blue and 100% ringspun cotton, from Tonic Equestrian. $25.
tonicequestrian.com

 

BETTY & JOLENE JEAN – Canada’s #1 western retailer Lammle’s Western Wear & Tack, is now carrying Kimes Ranch Jeans! Two women’s styles, the classic Betty and the stylish Jolene, are the first to be offered both in-store and online through the Lammle’s website at www.lammles.com

 

HANDMADE STOCKINGS – Crafted from real Pendleton® Blankets by Janine’s Custom Creations exclusively for Western Horse Review Boutique, these beautiful stockings show off your western heritage. Fill them with all kinds of Christmas goodies and admire the elegance of your mantle as you do. ($60)
whr-boutique.westernhorsereview.com

DOC WEST – Steel Dusts

Illustration by Dave Elston.

Doc West returns with his sage advice for the lost and lonely gunsel.

Q. Doc, an old-timer friend sometimes refers to my Quarter Horse herd as a band of “Steel Dusts.” What does he mean by this term? 


A. There was a time where the horses that we call today, Quarter Horses, were known simply and generically as Steel Dusts. In the mid to late 1800’s most westerners referred to “speedy, low, stocky, well built, well-muscled, and high spirited” horses as Steel Dusts or Steel Dusters or Steel Dust horses. It was the horse everyone wanted when the West was still the West and the horse was still the horse. Steel Dusts were versatile, friendly, tough, cowy, and best of all, they were fast. They were as equally coveted by jockeys running a quarter mile on a dirt track outside of Dallas as they were by the cow puncher running a thousand longhorns up to the Canadian border. The genesis of the ‘steel dust’ prototype is said to trace its roots to the legendary stallion Steel Dust of which little is known, but sufficiently augmented by cowboy lore as to enjoy a prodigious and loyal following in the Quarter Horse world.

It is believed that Steel Dust was foaled in and around 1845 in Kentucky although Missouri, Tennessee and Texas are also possibilities. He was the son of Harry Bluff, the son of Short’s Whip by Big Nance – a Thoroughbred who traced her lineage back to the legendary Thoroughbred, Sir Archy. He was taken to Texas as a yearling or two-year-old and matured, by the most reliable accounts, into a blood bay stallion of 15 hands and 1,200 pounds, (although other sources reported he was as compact as 14.2 hands up to a rangy 16). The only point of minutia on Steel Dust of any consensus was his blinding speed – one old timer stated that Steel Dust could run a quarter of a mile in 22 seconds “any time” (keep in mind modern day racing Quarter Horses are running the 440 in about 21 seconds). Mares were brought in by prominent racing breeders from hundreds of miles away to breed to the equine phenomenon for a chance to catch lightning in a bottle.

Texas cowboys whose palate was not satisfied by riding hardy but ratty mustang types, brought in their cow pony mares to improve the stature of their stock. By the later part of the 1800s Steel Dust’s lineage was so ubiquitous in the then emerging Quarter Horse breed that many just referred to the “heavily muscled horse, marked with small ears, a big jaw, remarkable intelligence and lightening speed up to a quarter of a mile,” as Steel Dusts. By the early 1900s many great Quarter Horse sires would trace their bloodlines once if not several times to Steel Dust – the horse Peter McCue and his son Hickory Bill (the sire of the famous King Ranch foundation breeding stallion “Old Sorrel”) had significant Steel Dust lineage, as did many other bloodlines such as Billy, Cold Deck and Rondo. In fact, as recent as the 1930s so many lines of Quarter Horses were traceable to Steel Dust that breeder Jack Caseman wrote an article for the Western Horseman magazine titled “Why a Steel Dust Stud Book?” in support of the registry which would ultimately become the American Quarter Horse Association.

Today, with the passing of time, the moniker “Steel Dust” has fallen from common usage as the Quarter Horse has continued to mature as a breed. Competitive events such as reining, cutting and pleasure have further evolved (some might argue devolved) the Quarter Horse into a specialist that over time falls further and further away from that gritty, jack-of-all-trades which could cut a cow in the morning and run a race match after dinner. To your question, the reference to your herd as a band of “Steel Dusts” from an old timer can be nothing short of a compliment, an admiration of equine specimens built to the Steel Dust prototype – low, powerful and fast; and perhaps at the same time it’s a pining of sorts, for that West which existed once, where a man only had one horse but needed one horse – and that horse ran through time like Pegasus unshackled.

Have a question about western culture burning in your back pocket? We welcome you to direct it to Doc West at editorial@westernhorsereview.com.

War Horse

Courtesy of Guelph Museums, McCrae House.

BY DEBBIE MACRAE

The year was 1914. The man was 42, a doctor, pathologist, soldier, teacher, artist, writer and more. The gift – a chestnut gelding, schooled for fox hunting with an admirable conformation.

This is their story.

John McCrae was born in Ontario, the son of a military family, with strong spiritual values and high principles. He was passionate about animals – any animals, but especially cats, dogs and horses.

He was brilliant – and interested in the military. He was the first Guelph student to win a scholarship to the University of Toronto. He joined the cadets at 14 and his father’s Militia field battery at the age of 17. He was unfortunately plagued with asthma, and this condition forced him to take a break in his studies. During his time away, he still managed to teach Mathematics and English.

He courted a young woman who was the sister of a friend, but sadly she met his interest with disdain. He remained a bachelor the rest of his life.

He graduated from the University of Toronto with a Bachelor of Arts degree and then turned his studies toward medicine. McCrae had a fondness for children, spending his third year as the resident physician outside Baltimore, at a children’s convalescent home. He mentored other students, and it is noteworthy that two of his students would become the first women doctors in Ontario.

McCrae’s military career progressed, becoming a gunner in Guelph with the Number 2 Battery, then Quarter-Master Sergeant, Second Lieutenant and Lieutenant. He became Captain of the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada.

He graduated his Bachelor of Medicine degree and received the gold medal from the University of Toronto medical school. Then he interned at the John Hopkins Hospital, working with his brother, Thomas. He was awarded a Fellowship in Pathology by the McGill University in Montreal, but felt obligated to fight in the South African War of October 1899. He requested a postponement of his fellowship and left to lead D Battery, of the Canadian Field Artillery. McCrae resigned from the military in 1904 after being promoted to Captain and then Major.

In 1910, McCrae was invited by the Governor General, Lord Grey, to be the expedition physician on a canoe excursion between Lake Winnipeg and Hudson’s Bay. He was an avid outdoorsman.

But now the year was 1914. Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie had been assassinated in Sarajevo, and the Great War had begun. Britain declared war on Germany, and Canada was automatically at war as a member of the British Empire.

Bonfire was the name of the fine Irish Hunter, given to McCrae as a gift for his enlistment by his friend Dr. John Todd. The horse was a deep chestnut, gentle, playful, and charismatic soul. He was playful – greeting people by whisking off their hats or blowing waffle kisses. McCrae wrote to his sister, ”I wish you could meet [Bonfire], he is one of the dearest thing in horses one could find… he puts up his lips to your face and gives a kind of foolish waffle of his lower lip that is quite comical.”

Bonfire was delivered to the already established Camp Valcartier, a tent city in Quebec where soldiers were being recruited and trained for overseas duty. Although McCrae already had a horse, he was happy to choose Bonfire, after getting the opportunity to ride him.

The Surgeon in charge of the medical services for the Canadian troops, General Jones, had already decreed that as a physician, McCrae had no need for a horse. However, as the second in command of the First Brigade, Canadian Field Artillery, a mount was requisite… yet McCrae would be reminded again and again, that he should “not get too fond of Bonfire.”

But he was, and so he would remain. McCrae would send letters, ‘written by Bonfire’ home to his nieces and nephews and signed with a hoof print.

The mass assembly of man and beast commenced in October of 1914, as troops, animals and supplies were transported via the Saxonia from Canada to Europe. 632 animals were stabled in the hold and on the unlucky 13th day at sea, a massive storm assaulted them, injuring both man and horse as they were tossed about on the water. Seasickness assailed them, and the hold was vulgar with stench.

Once they arrived on British soil, incessant rain pounded them for 98 of the 123 days they were stationed there. McCrae was able to piece together a small shelter for Bonfire – only because he was a senior officer, but the majority of horses were exposed to the weather, the rain, the wind, and their health was deteriorating. All requests for shelter were denied in the wake of the war effort. Even shelter in the nearby forest was rejected. On December 2nd, a massive windstorm blew down Bonfire’s shelter. The sicker horses died on the line, and as a result, 200 of the remaining horses were granted shelter at a nearby farm.

McCrae’s love for animals reached out to the other victims of war. Miss Kitty was a black and white cat who came to visit Bonfire in his shelter. She stayed behind in England when they moved on to France.

On the way to France, Bonfire injured his leg; believed to be the result of a kick by another horse. John rode him to the billet in France in an effort to try and work out the injury, but that meant maneuvering around the corpses of dead war horses, a task that challenged both McCrae and Bonfire’s sensibilities.

As Bonfire learned to trust, McCrae, equally, sought the support of Bonfire’s stability and companionship. They were on the frontlines, where the constant battering of the troops, and the calls to treat the wounded, were wearing on his composure. Returning from the front, McCrae would seek the solace of Bonfire’s shelter where he could regroup before retiring.

At the Battle of Ypres, McCrae was exposed to the sting of poison gas – and his asthmatic lungs battled the effects of the gas and the elements. He was told to move north of Ypres and “dig in”, and he did literally just that – by digging a trench eight foot by eight foot so he could treat casualties – both men and animals, even contrary to orders. Mules and horses suffered terrible anguish. He said, “There is nothing I hated more than that horse scream.”

On one occasion a big grey dog with beautiful brown eyes, came running in panic. “He ran to me and pressed his head hard against my leg. So I got him a safe place and he sticks by us. We call him Fleabag – for he looks like it.” There is no further record of Fleabag.

At virtually the same time, Bonfire was in a pen with another horse at a nearby farm when the farm took a direct hit. That horse was killed and Bonfire bolted in fear. He was not found until several days later, but McCrae rejoiced in their reunion when he was recovered.

Shortly thereafter, after much controversy, the new McGill field hospital was established to care for the sick and wounded who were fighting in France and Belgium. McCrae was to be the new Doctor in Charge of Medicine for the Canadian Army Medical Corp under General Jones. Jones continued to warn him not to get too fond of Bonfire, and at one point an attempt was made to take Bonfire away from him. Sir Sam Hughes, Canada’s Minister of Militia and Defense, intervened, and McCrae and Bonfire were transferred to the Jesuit school near Boulogne where more comfortable arrangements awaited.

Courtesy of Guelph Museums, McCrae House.

They soon became friends with a French spaniel named Bonneau, and another dog whose leg had been shattered in battle. His name was Windy, and he was not fond of people who were not in uniform. They remained a regiment of four, until Windy succumbed to being poisoned, likely due to his unpopularity.

It would be only a short time later that McCrae, too, would succumb to the ravages of the harsh conditions he lived and worked in. For respite and his health, he would take long rides on Bonfire through the countryside.

Now believed to have been suffering from post-traumatic stress, McCrae could not justify staying in officers’ quarters when his soldiers were relegated to tent cities or worse in the trenches. The long working hours, his asthma, the gas exposure and subsequent bouts of bronchitis had taken their toll, and he became very ill with pneumonia and meningitis. Still, McCrae would soon learn that he had been appointed as the consulting physician to the First British Army – the first time a Canadian had been so honoured.

Five days later, John died. He was buried with full military honours, just north of Boulogne. Bonfire led his funeral procession on a beautiful spring day, his bridle laced in white ribbons, saddled, with McCrae’s riding boots reversed in the stirrups.

Courtesy of Guelph Museums, McCrae House.

John’s death was widely grieved; as a friend, a mentor, a doctor and an intellect. But we will forever remember him as the man who penned a poem for Lt. Alexis Helmer, the friend that he lost, In Flanders Fields.

Before he died, John knew that his poem had been well-received. After its publication, it became the most popular poem about the First World War. It was used to advertise the sale of Victory Bonds in Canada in 1917 with a target of $150,000,000. It raised $400,000,000.

Due in part to the references to the poppy in the first and last stanzas, the poppy was adopted as the Flower of Remembrance for the war dead.

Bonfire was to have been returned home to the Todd family in Quebec after the war – but, he never arrived. After McCrae’s funeral, Bonfire disappeared quietly – and it is conjectured that McCrae’s friends wanted to honour their friend by secretly retiring Bonfire to the pastures of France – away from the world of war and suffering.

The casualties of World War I were estimated to be about 40 million; men, women and children consumed by the ravages of war. Over 8 million horses died. Bonfire was a survivor.

Special acknowledgment to the Guelph Collection at McCrae House for the photos, Veterans Affairs Canada, references from Canada’s Great War Album, Minister of Supply and Services Canada, and special thanks to Author Susan Raby-Dunne, for references in her book Bonfire: The Chestnut Gentleman.

Read our book review of Bonfire, The Chestnut Gentleman