The wild Mustangs of the American west are embedded in our imagination. Mustangs have been the subject of movies from Spirit: Stallion of Cimarron to The Mustang and dozens in between. Horse lovers of all ages have revelled in the majestic beauty of these wild horses roaming the American plains. But did you know that Canada has its own wild horse?

Known as the Ojibwe Horse, these small horses (breed standards put them between 12 hh to 14.2 hh) were indigenous to Canada long before the Mustang evolved from the Spanish horses. In fact, the Ojibwe Horses were in North America by the thousands prior to European contact. According to the Ojibwe Horse Society, “DNA evidence shows they are different from European-introduced horse breeds in distinctive ways that made them an integral and harmonious part of the North American boreal forest. The testimony of Indigenous elders affirms they have had a spiritual and working relationship with the Ojibwe Horse throughout time.”

 

Spirit Horses grazing at TJ Stables in Chatham, Ontario.

 

The remaining four Ojibwe mares were bred to registered Spanish Mustang stallion Smokey. (ojibwehorse.ca)

Sadly, like the buffalo, the Ojibwe Spirit Horses were hunted and persecuted into extinction during colonization when the wilds herds went from thousands of animals to four mares in 1977. According to the Spirit Horses website , the four were mares named Lillian, Bishkee, Dark Face and Diamond, found on the island of Lac La Croix in Northern Ontario. The site states that the Canadian Health Officials considered the mares to be a health risk and made plains to destroy them. But four indigenous men named Fred Isham, Wally Olson, Walter Saatela and Omar Hide somehow rounded up the mares and put them on a trailer, taking them to Minnesota. This was known as the “Heist across the Ice.” The mares were put into a breeding program and today there are approximately 200 Ojibwe Spirit Horses descended from these surviving mares. The Ojibwe Horses are currently listed as Critically Endangered on Canada’s Conservation List.

Today you can see the Ojibwe Horse at TJ Stables in Chatham-Kent, where owner Terry Jenkins offers trail riding and overnight experiences on the 50-acre farm.