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Alberta Online Encyclopedia
When Coal Was King
Industry, People and Challenges
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Pit Ponies

The motive power in many mines was provided by horses, occasionally by mules. A protective "helmet" was part of the bridle because of the very low clearance and the tendency of a horse to throw up its head.While the miners toiled in the rooms, ponies and horses provided the muscle to move the coal from the face to the surface. Where seams were very thick, draft horses were used. In smaller seams like at the Atlas Mine, ponies hauled coal cars to and fro.

The ponies were housed under the watchful eye of the barn boss in underground barns for most of the year; Only in summer, when mining stopped or slowed considerably, were the ponies sent above ground to pasture. Stalls were bedded with straw, and feed and water were brought in from the surface. The company blacksmith took care of the ponies feet, trimming and shoeing them as needed.

The ponies worked an 8 hour shift alongside the men and often had an uncanny ability to tell exactly when their shift was over. They were generally well taken care of - after all, replacing an injured or sick animal was a cost to the mine company! The horses were never pampered, but some became favourites among the men they worked with. The miners often had stories about their horses, from the amount of coal they could haul in a single trip to their acts of heroism.

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