Fort Frances farmer feted for preserving rare horse population
Rhonda Snow has been breeding the Ojibwe ponies that once ran wild in northwestern Ontario
A Fort Frances, Ont., farmer has been recognized for her work preserving a rare breed of wild horse that used to be common in the woods of northwestern Ontario and northern Minnesota.
Rhonda Snow received a lifetime achievement award from Rare Breeds Canada, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to preserving and increasing the numbers of heritage livestock.
Snow was awarded for her work with the Ojibwe pony — sometimes referred to as the Lac La Croix pony — a smaller but muscular wild horse that she remembers hearing loggers talk about when she was young.
"They would sit around [a friend's parents'] kitchen table, and I would sit on the staircase and just listen to them talking about all their stories. And quite often they would reflect back on these little horses that used to run in the woods," she told Jason Turnbull, the host of CBC's Up North.
"I always imagined, someday, I'm going to go look for them."
The horse's numbers in the wild have dwindled down to almost zero.
But several years ago, Snow said she was put in touch with Rare Breeds Canada, who had found a few remaining horses. Snow said she's also captured a few — with a great amount of effort — from the wild, including some horses that were being stalked by wolves.
Today, Snow oversees the breeding of the horses at the RR Spirit Horse Ranch in Fort Frances. She said she ultimately wants to reintroduce them to the wild, but admitted that may be difficult.
"We do have them in quite a large field," she said. "We try to give the stallions their families like they would in the wild."
When she started working with the horses, Snow said she didn't fully appreciate how rare they had become.
"When I decided to do it, I did it for Rare Breeds Canada. But when I brought them here I had no idea what historical value they had," she said, adding that elders have told her there's as few as two blood lines left.