Horse Industry

Draft horses.
Courtney Milne

The horse has been resident in Saskatchewan for over 200 years. While the current horse population is only about 10% of its peak, the horse has been rapidly growing in popularity; as a result, Saskatchewan has a burgeoning horse industry. Horses first came to the region around 1770 when Spanish horses introduced by the Conquistadores spread north from Mexico and the southwestern United States and were acquired by the Assiniboine tribe. These horses provided the backbone of agricultural power for the first settlers to the area in the late 1800s and early 1900s, as the latter yearned for horses to replace the slower and often recalcitrant oxen that were then the norm.

In 1919, the government of Saskatchewan imported purebred Clydesdale stallions from Scotland at the request of the Saskatchewan Horse Breeders Association, in order to improve the quality of the farm horses. Later, Percherons and then Belgians were brought to the province to further enhance the quality of the resident draft horse population. Government-purchased stallions were kept by the University of Saskatchewan. The Canadian horse population peaked in 1921 at about 3.6 million head, with almost one million head in the farms of Saskatchewan. With the advent of the tractor, draft horses became redundant and the population started to decline in the late 1920s. In 1944, the Western Horse Marketing Co-operative built a slaughter plant for horses in Swift Current to help deal with the problem of surplus horses. Horse meat from the slaughter plant was exported to Europe for the armed forces.

The demise of the draft horse was essentially complete by 1960. However, the recreational use of horses has increased considerably. From 1990 to 2001, the Saskatchewan horse population rose from 62,500 head to 95,000 head. Approximately 25% of the horses are used as breeding stock, with about one-third of these being used in the pregnant mares' urine (PMU) industry. Quarter horses make up 40% of breeding mares, followed by Belgians at 15%, and Arabians and Percherons at 10% each.

Competition horses account for 17% of the population, and 15% of the horses are used for recreational riding and driving. There is a wide range of competitive equestrian sports. There are two racetracks, with thoroughbreds racing at Marquis Downs in Saskatoon and Standardbreds at Queensbury Downs in Regina. Numerous rodeos are staged throughout the province. Jumping and dressage competitions are found around Regina, Saskatoon and Prince Albert. The Saskatchewan Team Penning Association boasts the fastest growth of any horse sport in the province. From small town gymkhanas happening throughout the summer to the Summer Masters and the Canadian Arabian and Half-Arabian Championships, there are levels and types of competition available for everyone.

D.C. Winkelman-Sim