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When Terry Jenkins was a child, Indigenous horses ran wild on Walpole Island and in the late 1960s these ponies were eradicated from the island and the culture of their native people. Terry’s dad, Ernie Jenkins brought home a trailer load of these ponies and it triggered wonderment in a young child’s eyes. When Terry established TJ Stables in 1986, she made it a mission to find descendants of these Indigenous horses. Sadly by 1977, there were only four left in the world. The Ojibway Horse Society put a call out to find breeders interested in resurrecting descendants of this rare and endangered Indigenous breed carrying the same blood lines as the elusive Walpole Island ponies. Terry made the trip to Fort Francis, Ontario where she met and brought home a small herd of Ojibway Spirit Horses (also known as Lac Lacroix Indigenous ponies) to continue on the legacy of the Native elders who said, “The little horses were always here”.
The Ojibway Spirit horse is thought to be the only existing breed of horse developed by Indigenous people in Canada. It is a small horse that once lived freely in the boreal forest and worked as a service animal — and is also considered a spirit animal — for the indigenous people of Ontario and northern Minnesota. In the first half of the twentieth century, Ojibway horses were replaced by the internal combustion engine, and were caught and sold for dog meat and glue. By 1977, the numbers had dwindled from thousands … to four. Canadian health officials had reportedly deemed the four remaining horses a health risk and made plans to destroy them.
To prevent the loss of these last horses, five men from Bois Forte and Lac La Croix rescued them in an action resembling a heist movie. They loaded the horses onto a trailer and drove them across the frozen lake to a private property in Minnesota where a breeding effort was launched that continues today. Terry Jenkins is the owner of TJ Stables, which is located near three First Nations reserves where Ojibwe horses traditionally lived. She initially purchased horses from Fort Frances breeder Rhonda Snow. Both Terry and Rhonda look forward to participating in the Festival as the Spirit Ponies storytellers.