Calgary Stampede\’s Horse Haven


They say “neigh,” not “eh.” But in many ways, says Suzanne Spierenburg, the Canadian equine breed is a typical Canuck specimen.

“Definitely,” says Spierenburg, who breeds Canadians along with husband Ron at their Willow View Canadians ranch new Rocky Mountain House, Alta. “No frills. Polite. Easygoing. And great to get along with.”

The Canadian, named the national horse of Canada in 2002 by parliamentary decree, will be on display – as will 16 other breeds of light horse – as Horse Haven saddles up for another 10 days during the 2011 Calgary Stampede. Open daily from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the north end of the Agriculture Barns, and adopting a Western setting, Horse Haven will feature presentations, demonstrations, and plenty of horse sense as breeders talk up their equine companions and promote the breed they love.


Horse Haven will feature 17 breeds of horse that live and thrive in Alberta – Appaloosas, Canadians, Curlys, Foxtrotters, Friesians, Gypsy Cobs, Miniatures, Morgans, Norwegian Fjords, Paints, Paso Finos, Peruvian Pasos, Quarter Horses, Standardbreds, Tennessee Walkers, Thoroughbreds, and Welsh Ponies. These light horse breeds can be seen in action daily during demonstrations in the Northern Lights Arena and the Big Top.

“It’s really interesting to come see all the different types of horses out there, and the types of things they do,” says Kristin Hack, a vice-chair of the Stampede’s Light Horse committee. “The Missouri Foxtrotter, the Tennessee Walking Horse, the Peruvian Paso, and the Paso Fino are all bred for their smooth riding gaits, so they cover distance in a comfortable fashion.

“The stock horses, like the Paint and the Quarter Horse, are often working cattle horses. The Friesian horse is often more oriented toward driving or dressage. And the Canadian is one of those versatile horses that fits into a few different categories.”

The Canadian, which originated from horses sent to Quebec by France’s King Louis XIV during the 17th century, earned a reputation as an easy-keeping and extremely hardy animal. Influential in developing other North American horse breeds, such as the Morgan, the Tennessee Walker, and the Missouri Foxtrotter, the versatile Canadian was used for logging, coach transportation, and riding, and was considered the strongest light horse, pound for pound, in the world — with a great nickname (“The Little Iron Horse”) to boot.

The Canadian breed nearly disappeared in the 1970s, with only a few hundred remaining, but has since made a spectacular comeback. “These days, they’re used for all kinds of things – jumping, dressage, carriage work, endurance work. I use my guy as a cattle and trail horse,” says Darrell Dvorak, a vice-chair of the Stampede’s Light Horse committee. “One of the things that makes them so great for that type of work is that they’ve got wonderful minds.”

Spierenburg first began working with Canadians about 20 years ago after the late Alfred Carter, of Winfield, introduced the breed to Alberta. Spierenburg showed Canadians in the Battle of the Breeds at Spruce Meadows for three years, began breeding the animals not long afterward, and has extolled the virtues of the breed at Horse Haven for the better part of a decade.

“I was really impressed by what a low-maintenance horse they were,” says Spierenburg. “It was a big difference from other horses I have owned . . . these guys were so easy to train. No buck, no silliness. They were quite impressive to work with.”

Horse Haven will feature plenty of interactive opportunities, with a larger “activity zone” involving displays and demos regarding horsemanship. Representatives of the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine will also be on hand to make educational presentations.

“It’s focusing on the idea of horsemanship – giving the public an opportunity not only to see what people do with their horses, but what it takes to be able to do those things with their horses,” says Hack.

Equestrian vaulting, a new, must-see light horse demonstration, will take over the Big Top on Monday, July 11 at 12:45 and 2:30 p.m. A combination of gymnastics and dance on horseback, vaulting teaches children and adults to move in harmony with a horse, as well as improving balance, flexibility, strength, and teamwork skills.

The boardroom will also come to the barn again this year at Horse Haven – as The Natural Leader, an Alberta-based company, uses the relationship between horse and handler to teach companies how to build effective corporate leadership, communication, and team collaboration skills. The Natural Leader takes centre stage in the Northern Lights Arena on Tuesday, July 12 at 10 a.m.

The Stampede will be webcasting all events being held in the Scotiabank Saddledome and the Big Top this year. Visit for live streaming of Saddledome action, and for events under the Big Top.


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