If you asked him, Grant MacEwan could share dozens of timeless horse stories. Each one was different, reflecting the horse's unique personality. In the development of the Canadian West the horse provided a heroic sense of service to its owner. They were the main source of power on many homesteads, serving their owners in a multitude of ways from breaking the virgin soil to making deliveries of several kilometres.
Having grown up on the farm, MacEwan understood first hand the importance of having a reliable horse at one's disposal. He was forever indebted to their contributions and expressed his gratitude in a number of publications. In Heavy Horses, MacEwan pays tribute to breeds like the Clydesdale, Percheron, Belgian, Shire, and Suffolk for their loyalty, hard work, and proven results.
More efficient than a walking plow, horses pulling a plow allowed a farmer to cover a greater distance in less time. When they were not toiling in the fields, they were pulling wagons to make deliveries. A four- or two-horse hitch of Clydesdales made frequent deliveries across the Western Prairies between the 1890s and 1930s. Around the turn of the 20th century, horses were responsible for the hard work that has since fallen to its mechanical replacement, the tractor.
Another aspect MacEwan highlights is the bond between an owner and his or her horse. Similar to the family dog, owners and other members of the family developed a sense of attachment to their beloved horse. Families would take immense pride in their horses, grooming and feeding them daily. MacEwan compared writing about horses to writing about a dear old friend - there were a plethora of stories filled with fond memories, humorous events that left MacEwan with a sense of gratitude. A horse was more than a worker. Some farm horses acquired names from their owners and were well known for their reliability.
In the discourse of Western Canadian history, the horse appears regularly. It was a prominent member of the Mounted Police and was a cowboy's best friend. Before railroads and paved highways, horses were a reliable means of transportation. Quite simply, the Canadian frontier could not have existed without horses. All settlers yearned to own horses, and as soon as a homesteading family could afford it a horse was one of their first purchases. Every farmer was a horseman who understood the valuable role each horse played in developing a homestead. An owner and his horse built a paternal relationship whereby the owner would provide his horse with adequate food, rest, and shelter, while the horse was expected to produce reliable and efficient labour. MacEwan was particularly interested in the evolving relationship between horses and humans, one that combined companionship, interdependence, work, and pleasure.
MacEwan, Grant. Heavy Horses: An Illustrated History of the Draft Horse. Saskatoon: Western Producer Prairie Books, 1986.
__________. Our Equine Friends: Stories of Horses in History. Calgary: Fifth House Ltd., 2002.