Threatened horse species gets bred locally

Sam Odrowski

A threatened species of horse is being bred by a local woman in the west end of the district.
Jenna Jarvis, who studied breeding production at Olds College in Alberta, birthed her first independently-owned pair of foals, Treasure and Queenie, over the past few weeks and both are in good health.
“At school, I did a lot of training and got experience doing artificial insemination . . . but you need a setup to do that and you know lab equipment. It’s very expensive,” she explained.
“So I decided to just buy my own stallion and do my own thing,” added Jarvis, who hails from north of Rainy River.
She purchased the two mares who birthed the foals last year and because she plans to sell them after their weaned in the fall, she chose mare’s with desirable traits for breeding.
“The horses that I got I selected very carefully,” Jarvis noted. “Everybody likes different colours, height, body type, and bloodlines.”
She was a little anxious birthing the pair of foals herself because of the amount of money on the line and risk of complications.
“Usually things go well but there’s always a chance–just like calving–that things might not go well,” Jarvis explained.
Although one mare gave birth a few weeks early, both foals are in great physical condition, weighing in at about 100 pounds each.
Jarvis’ love for Rocky Mountain horses started when she got her first one at age 10 from a breeder who lived just outside of Fort Frances.
“I loved how smooth they were and how easy they were to get along with,” Jarvis noted.
“They’re not a common breed, they’re actually quite different then your traditional stock horse because they’re gaited.
“With gaited horses, their intermediate gait is like a four-beat amble, so each foot moves independently,” she added.
A normal horse will move its legs in diagonal pairs when it trots which can be a lot bumpier for the rider.
“They’re really good for people who have maybe physical limitations, like older people, or people who have hurt their knees,” Jarvis explained.
“If you’re looking for something to ride for endurance or go for long rides they’re nice because they’re not nearly as hard on you physically.”
Due to Rocky Mountain horses being an unpopular breed and on the threatened species list, there are only a handful of people who breed them in Canada.
“I’ve gotten in touch with them and I’ve got good mentorship from them in helping make decisions and advertising . . . so I’m grateful,”
The people who breed Rocky Mountain are much older than Jarvis and tell her it’s refreshing to see a young person trying to keep the breed going for future generations in Canada.
“They kind of get excited because obviously they won’t be doing it forever,” she noted.
The Rocky Mountain Horse came into existence in the late 19th century and despite its name, the breed originated out of the Appalachian Mountains in Kentucky.
Because the breed came from one stallion and the gene pool is really concentrated, Jarvis said they’ve never had a very large population.
“There’s quite a lot of them in Kentucky but not really everywhere else,” she explained.
Breeding horses is very much a passion project for Jarvis as she’s been surrounded by them her whole life.
“I grew up on a beef farm so that’s something I always loved,” Jarvis remarked. “It’s just really fulfilling . . . to breed them and bring a baby into the world.”
She now has a herd of nine Rocky Mountain horses, including her two newly-born foals and has already travelled to Winnipeg to re-impregnate one of her mares with a different stallion.
Jarvis said the costs associated with starting up a breeding program are high and it does come with risk, but her love for horses, particularly Rocky Mountains, is what keeps her pushing forward.
“There’s a lot of costs involved,” she noted. “They are pregnant for an average of 340 days, and when they’re pregnant their nutritional requirements are increased significantly.”
“So there is quite a bit of cost . . . just in feed, not counting your time and everything else,” Jarvis added.
She said owning a barn isn’t necessary to start breeding horses but highly recommended, as she likes to keep her mares in stalls so she can foal them out in a controlled environment.
“That is going to be your main cost is investing in property and having shelter for them,” Jarvis said.
But for those who already have farmland and a setup, the costs of breeding horses is much more feasible than starting an operation from scratch.
And often, the biggest expense is purchasing the horses themselves, especially if they are a less common breed, Jarvis noted.
“I had to bring in the horses from British Columbia and New Brunswick and some people bring them in from the States,” she remarked.
“If it’s a less common breed, you’re going to have to look at the transportation costs of getting them here, too, and that’s not cheap either.”
Jarvis is currently advertising her two foals and is hoping to get $7,500 for the pair.
Going forward she plans to keep her breeding operation on a smaller scale so she can continue to provide the best care to her animals.
“I don’t really see myself breeding more than two or three a year,” Jarvis explained.
“I kind of like having just the couple and focusing on them instead of having a whole bunch.”
In addition to breeding and offering farrier services where she can, her hope is to eventually get into providing other equestrian services, such as horseback riding.
“At one point, kids were really into horses around here but not so much anymore, and I’d like to see that brought back,” Jarvis said.
“It teaches them confidence and leadership and hard work, good work ethics and it gets them outside.”
“I just think it would be nice to have that opportunity,” she added.