New foal born to endangered Indigenous horse breed

Traditional 'spirit' animals, Ojibwe Horses are being saved by a small but dedicated group of breeders

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The critically endangered Ojibwe Horse is Canada’s only Indigenous-developed horse breed and is therefore very significant both genetically and culturally. Although there are reportedly only about 200 of them worldwide, those numbers are certainly an improvement over the handful rescued from near-extinction in the 1970s.

Thanks to a small but dedicated group of people, the breed’s situation—described by Ojibwe Horse Society breed registrar Trevor Kirczenow as “perilous”—is starting to look a bit more hopeful, one carefully planned foal at a time.

Orange Horse Studio image from Mādahòkì Farm website

Last month, Mādahòkì Farm in Ottawa celebrated the birth of a second foal to the farm’s herd of prized Ojibwe Horses. The colt was named Asemaa, which in the Ojibwe language means “tobacco.” Like his dam’s name, Wishkossiwika (“Sweetgrass”), it is a nod to one of the four medicines sacred to First Nation cultures.

As farm representative Trina Mather-Simard told the Ottawa Citizen, “Each foal is so important, and this one even more so because it’s a new stallion for our herd of Ojibwe spirit horses.”

A tragic history

These small but sturdy horses, which are very people-friendly, are said to have lived in connection with Indigenous communities since “time immemorial.” They were valued both as spirit animals and as helpmates for activities such as logging, trapping and hauling.

Studies funded by the Ojibwe Horse Society point to unique genetic characteristics such as primitive dorsal and “zebra” striping on the legs and an extra nostril flap. According to the Society, ongoing research also suggests that Ojibwe Horses might have been in North America prior to European arrival.

The Ojibwe Horses were once numerous throughout the boreal forests of North America. However, colonization led to their near-extermination, with many of the free-roaming animals being hunted down and killed by those who viewed them as a nuisance. “The last few of the breed were rescued by a partnership of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in 1977 near Lac La Croix First Nation, Ontario,” says Kirczenow.

The work continues

According to the Ojibwe Horse Society, there are currently breeding groups of Ojibwe Horses in Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, and Alabama. However, as Kirczenow relates, there are only about 25 breeding stallions and about 60-70 mares in the entire breed at present. So the work continues to expand their numbers through responsible breeding and restore the Ojibwe Horse to its rightful place in Indigenous and North American cultures.

For more information, visit Mādahòkì Farm and the Ojibwe Horse Society.




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