When I was a girl, I was horse crazy. My best friend, Jody, lived in my neighborhood and we collected every different breed of plastic toy horse we could get our hands on. (Or that we could convince our parents to buy.)
I had galloping horses, standing horses, rearing horses, trotting horses; Palominos, greys, Morgans, Appaloosas, Paints, you name it.
Jody and I enjoyed many imaginary adventures with our steeds. Enraptured, we watched movies like “The Miracle of the White Stallions,” “Justin Morgan had a Horse,” “The Black Stallion,” and “National Velvet.” I must have read all the Beverly Cleary horse books and Walter Farley books. During winter, we didn’t build snowmen, we made snow horses (which are basically snowmen lying down).
The highlight of my year was summer YWCA camp where I could ride a horse, although at a plodding pace. (Spatz, I miss you!)
It didn’t help that my grandfather raised horses (and mules, donkeys, ponies) and had his own Western store. He had a mule named Hubert (after Hubert Humphrey, a Minnesota politician) and a dapple-grey pony named Daisy that he let me ride on my rare visits. My grandfather trained Palominos for show. The back of his store housed saddles, which were propped on rows of sawhorses. The heavenly aroma of leather filled that back room. I climbed up on the saddles, pretending I was riding.
Jody and I begged our parents for a horse, coming up with outlandish plans about how they could be kept in the garage of our city homes, promising we would take care of them and exercise them every day.
When we were in sixth grade, Jody’s parents caved. She got her own horse, a paint named Friskie. She kept it at a stable just outside of town. I spent many Saturdays there, joining her as she exercised Friskie around the indoor arena. I rode a different horse that needed a workout.
Sometimes, Jody would trailer her horse, once even bringing it to my back yard (see photo below). Her family had a cabin outside of town and I also I recall riding Friskie bareback on the gravel roads around Island Lake.
Having a girlfriend with a horse wasn’t quite as good as having my own horse, but it must have helped assuage my passion somewhat. I’m sure my parents breathed a sigh of relief. My horse love didn’t totally go away, though. At the end of junior high, I attended a horse camp in central Minnesota with another girlfriend. It was the kind of place where you were assigned your own horse for the week and were responsible for its care. We learned how to brush a horse properly, feed it, etc. We were assigned to different groups based on our riding proficiency. I was proud to be in one of the upper levels. The week culminated with a trail ride and campfire, where we had the thrill of galloping the horses.
These memories resurfaced because a magazine story I wrote (and photographed) about horses was published recently. Not just any ol’ horse, however. Quietly, over the centuries, the Ojibwe people developed their own breed, now known as the Lac La Croix Horse (or Lac La Croix Indian Pony). Once roaming in the thousands over northern Minnesota and Ontario, Canada, these horses were semi-feral and community owned. Tribal members only brought them into enclosures during the winter to ensure their safety and health.
In the late 1970s, the horses almost went extinct for a number of reasons, including systematic efforts by European settlers to destroy them, and the rise of motorized technology.
In my story for Lake Superior Magazine (“The Horses Nobody Knows”), I describe how the breed was saved from the brink of nonexistence and what they mean to the Ojibwe today. It’s the longest article I’ve ever written. I had to wait a year for it to get published, which was extremely hard, because, you know, horse mania.
Learning about an unknown part of my home state’s past was exciting. I thought I knew every breed. As it turns out, there was a unique breed almost in my back yard, so to speak, that needed help.
I was more than happy to resurrect my horse crazies and put my writing talents to use to help raise awareness about the Ojibwe horses’ plight. If you’d like to donate to Grey Raven Ranch to help these special horses, they have that option on their website.
Anyone got a ranch they want to sell me?