Horses don’t just happen. A person doesn’t impulsively buy a horse online or wake up one morning to find a brand new one standing in the back yard. And yet for Lake Cowichan resident Patti Thomson, both those scenarios came to pass this year as her family of horses more than doubled in less than 10 months.
“We went from two horses to five horses,” said Thomson. “I did not see this coming!”
Thomson and her family own several acres of land just outside of town, with stables and pasture directly behind their house Two of those horses are Doc and Max, large black draft horses in their late 20s, quite old in horse years. Thomson had a third horse, a female, which died about a year ago.
“I was reading this book about wild horses, about herds, and it was saying how the herd really needs a mare to be feeling complete,” she said. “I kept that in the back on my mind.”
Last October, Thomson was on Facebook and happened to see a posting about a horse auction in Dawson Creek. As a volunteer with the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition — a national collective of people and organizations pushing for a ban on the slaughter of horses for human consumption in Canada and the export of live horses to other countries for human consumption — she knew exactly what kind of auction it was.
“[There were] like 770 horses and 20 per cent got saved. The rest just got carted up in a huge truck and sent off to Alberta,” she said.
Thomson saw a photo of a mare with its three-month-old foal and knew instantly she needed to get them. She called her husband and he urged her to go for it.
However, it wasn’t quite that easy. On the day of the auction, the organizers suddenly starting giving Thomson the runaround, not answering her calls and then saying she lived too far away. She contacted the woman on Facebook whose photo of the two horses had pulled at her heart strings, asking her for help.
“She said, ‘Shoot me a grand’… So I just went ‘OK here we go’ and I e-transferred [her] $1,000,” said Thomson. This person was a stranger but she had to do everything in her power to get those horses. In the end her leap of faith paid off. Dolly, the mother, and Crumpet, the baby, were hers. “I don’t even know what drove me to do that.”
Many of the not-so-lucky horses were shipped to Calgary to be processed into meat products for export to Europe. Thomson said baby horses like Crumpet are left to die on the feed lot floor.
“It was heartbreaking, even just to think that could have happened to them,” she said.
It wasn’t easy figuring out a way to transport the horses down from Dawson Creek, but eventually Thomson was able to connect them with a horse-owner named Trish from Crofton who was making a similar trip.
“You know what you’re getting right?” Trish asked Thomson.
It turned out that prior to being sold at auction, Thomson’s horses had lived free on a range near Dawson Creek alongside 100 other horses. Dolly, the mare, had never been ridden in her life. She didn’t even like to be touched.
But with the help of Heather Nelson at Liberty Horse Training in Duncan, Dolly has become increasingly comfortable with human contact. She is halter broke, trailer broke, lets Thomson lead her and even lets the farrier work on her feet. She said Nelson has a “really kind” way of training horses.
“No ropes, no nothing. You just kind of move them with your energy and they start coming to you. It’s really cool,” she said.
Dolly’s wild heritage wasn’t the only surprise awaiting Thomson. It turned out the eight-year-old mare was pregnant at the time of the auction. A horse’s gestation period is between 11 and 12 months, and early in the morning on June 18, Thomson looked out her window and saw a tiny blond colt emerge from the stable.
“I was calling everyone in the house. It was 6 a.m.,” said Thomson.
Everyone at her house is proud of the newborn, which they named Eddie. Initially Max, one of the large draft horses, was incredibly protective of the new addition.
“He would not leave the two of them alone. I don’t know if there are cougar back there or what, but he was right there,” said Thomson. Meanwhile Doc, the other draft, started spending time with Dolly’s older offspring, Crumpet.
“Kind of like a babysitter… It was kind of like, ‘Come over here while your mom is with her new baby.’”
A year ago Thomson never could have imagined just how much her family would grow. She said when Dolly and Crumpet first arrived there were some definite growing pains, especially as the older horses established their dominance, but now they all get along perfectly.
“They’re definitely a herd now.”