To the Editor:
I am responding to the letter written by Sarah Johnson in the Aug. 12 issue of the Thompson Citizen entitled, "Reader concerned about quality of life for Northern horses."
I have owned horses of varying breeds in Thompson since 1980. I have taught lessons, trained horses and competed. And yes, owning a horse in the North is a challenge. In a normal dry summer, I have always put the horses in the barn during the day when the horseflies are rampant and turned the horses out at night with repellent liberally applied. I have always added fill to my corrals - sand, gravel and shavings and harrowed the corral to keep it level.
When we have wet summers like this one, the horses are inside for either the night or the daytime (depending on bugs) to allow their feet to dry. I also put hoof conditioner on their feet. I feed only top quality alfalfa/timothy hay and supplement with oats, bran, beet pulp, and/or vitamins according to the age and condition of the horse. My horses, if anything, are slightly overweight, but loving it.
I just wished Sarah Johnson had bothered to visit the stable area a little more extensively, so that she would know that not all horses are struggling in the same environment. Instead, she is painting all horse owners with the same paintbrush.
I would like to address whether or not horses are meant to be kept in this climate. First, working on a horse farm in Ontario does not compare with owning a horse, nursing it through an illness or injury, guarding its diet, exercising it appropriately, maintaining its vaccination, worming and hoof trimming schedules. As to whether or not it's natural to keep a horse this far north, bear in mind that approximately 60 to 100 years ago, huge stables of horses were kept in places like Reed Lake, Ilford, Churchill, Cranberry Portage, Norway House, Wabowden, Cross Lake and just about every other community that existed that far back. Before the bush plane became the workhorse of the north, real horses were used to haul freight in the winter before all-weather roads were in place; and they were used to haul the logs that laid the foundation for the earliest of roads. Hay was brought in every fall and spring. No, there are no grazing pastures here, as the condition of the soils does not support it. But horses do not need grazing pastures; they need good feed and regular feeding.
There are currently two horses in Churchill; there are hundreds of horses in Iceland and in northern Russia. In parts of Europe horses never see a pasture. They are confined to a box stall all day, taken out to be ridden or walked in-hand for their daily exercise.
There is much more to horse care than Sarah could contemplate. And to paint all horse owners with one brush is naïve. Are there horses in Thompson that need better care? Definitely. Even at the zoo, the pony and donkeys, which should have their feet trimmed every 12 weeks have gone for more than a year without trimming. They are good candidates for permanent hoof damage. But there is no process or authority in place to ensure individuals at the horse stable or paid employees at the zoo have the knowledge or inclination to take appropriate care of these animals.
By the way, Sarah, having worked on farms in Ontario, I am surprised you would feed horses without the owners' permission. That is a cardinal rule you do not break, which you would respect, no doubt, in Ontario.