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'They are the love of my life': Churchill woman pays big bucks to feed horses

When people think of Churchill, the first thing that comes to mind is often polar bears. But most wouldn't expect to find Icelandic horses.
Rhoda de Meulles of Churchill Manitoba loves her horse Yukki. (I. Yudai/CBC)

When people think of Churchill, Man., the first thing that comes to mind is usually polar bears. There are also arctic foxes, ptarmigans and many other creatures. But most wouldn't expect to find Icelandic horses.

There are two of them in Churchill.

"They're the only two horses in town. It's a two-horse town," laughed Rhoda de Meulles. She owns the larger horse, named Yukki. The second horse, Pearla, belongs to her friend Michelle Beaton.

Icelandic horses are uniquely suited to Churchill's subarctic climate.

"They can withstand temperatures down to –40 C," explained de Meulles. "But when it gets to –50 C, because the snow has no more give, they can't get their hooves in the snow to keep them warm. That's the only thing on them that will freeze."

The pair of horses may be the only ones in Canada who have a special barn to protect them from polar bears. It's fortified with bars on the windows as well as steel doors. 

"Thank God in the last nine years we haven't had an encounter with a bear, but you never know," said de Meulles. 

Of course the horses need to eat, just like everyone else. There's no road to Churchill. Usually hay comes by rail. But rail service to Churchill was suspended in June due to flood damage. So this winter, de Meulles had hay shipped from Winnipeg to Montreal, then put on a ship and sent to Churchill.

"It cost us over $17,000," explained de Meulles. "If we had a train, it would only cost us $3,600." 

She had to withdraw money from her RRSPs to cover the cost. She didn't feel she had a choice.

"We love our horses, and they have to get fed." 

A friend tried to help offset that with a fundraising campaign that raised $1,000.

Rhoda de Meulles and Michelle Beaton give rides to kids in Churchill Manitoba. (I. Yudai/CBC)

De Meulles and her husband own the hardware store, just a short walk from the corral. Since the port closed last year, and the train stopped running, business is down. 

"Unfortunately I had to let a lot of people go so we're down to just three now in the store," she said. "Things are just too quiet. Nobody's buying anything."

When de Meulles is feeling down, she spends time with Yukki and Pearla.

"They are the love of my life."

Rhoda de Meulles gives her grandson Karson a horseback ride in Churchill, Man. (I. Yudai/CBC)

To hear Rhoda's story, click the listen link above.

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