Local artist and symphony team up to promote rare horse breed

By Allan Bradbury
Staff Writer

Rhonda Snow is an Anishinaabe artist from Fort Frances and has recently finished a series of paintings of Ojibwe Spirit Horses which will be shown in partnership with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra (WSO).

Snow has been a long-time champion of Ojibwe Spirit Horses and was instrumental in saving the breed, which was nearing extinction, by bringing a herd to her farm in the Fort Frances area. At that time, Snow didn’t know the full significance of the breed.

“When I was young, about 11, I remember waiting at my friend’s house and I would hide around the staircase,” Snow said. “I remember listening to the stories that they would tell about these little, tiny, Indian ponies that lived on the islands in the woods and the things they would do and how they would help the people. They were really hard working little ponies.”

Snow says she thought about the ponies throughout her childhood and hoped she could find them. Then one day she got in touch with Rare Breeds Canada who pointed her to three groups of horses in Minnesota. Having started a farm and cared for many horses, she jumped at the opportunity to take in the ponies.

“I was told they were Mustangs at the time,” Snow said. “ But I never did truly believe they were Mustangs.”

When Snow brought the horses back to Ontario there were some people who were disappointed with them, she says.
“When they came back to the area, they were basically thought of as disappointing little ponies,” Snow said. “In my research I found when the settlers came they were disappointing little ponies that were a nuisance. I guess I was just so passionate and decided to keep them anyway and believe they were the hard-working ponies that I heard about when I was young.”

There was a time when Snow was discouraged but after further research she found more information.

“I was ready to give up on it, until I started researching more and more,” Snow said. “The words that they used in the Indian Affair reports were ‘worthless, useless little ponies and we need to be rid of them.’ So from there I thought, my work had to continue. Indian Affairs’ plan was to colonize the native people and destroy them, destroying the ponies and their ways of life.”

Eventually the ponies started to be killed off. Some were shipped away to make glue or feed for dogs. Eventually, a market was found for the horses in the Yukon and northern territories because the European settlers’ horses were not hearty enough for the environment and the Ojibwe horses could hold up to the elements.

Snow had to part with her herd of Ojibwe Ponies when she fell ill with a chronic issue several years ago, but she remains very involved in keeping the breed alive.

In the show “The Spirit Horse Returns,” with the WSO, Snow’s paintings are used to illustrate a story. A synopsis from ojibwehorse.ca says, “In The Spirit Horse Returns, a hornist in the orchestra who lives on a farm is gifted an Ojibwe Horse. Not knowing anything about this Indigenous-developed breed but intrigued, he and the audience go with the orchestra on a journey of discovery. An Indigenous knowledge keeper takes us back through time to meet these mysterious ‘small horses of the deep woods’ who were helpers and spirit guides to First Nations and Métis people.”

One of Rhonda Snow’s paintings features Ojibwe Ponies with a map of Canada in the background. This and other paintings will be featured in a multi-media show called “The Spirit Horse Returns” with the Winnipeg Symphony orchestra. Tickets for streaming are available via the WSO website.

Through music and visual art the story of the decline and rescue of the breed is told. The story is meant to be educational for kids in kindergarten to grade seven. The show will be available for in-person or online streaming. Tickets can be bought at https://wso.ca/blog/concerts/the-spirit-horse-returns/.

Some of the images used in the show will also be available for purchase through the Fort Frances Times on posters, canvases and greeting cards. For now those interested in seeing her work can contact Snow at rhonda1111snow@gmail.com. She hopes to have a website up in the near future and some of the work can be seen on facebook.com/SpiritHorseReturns.