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How workhorses in Canada are slowly becoming a thing of the past

When Basil Oickle started up his horse-and-buggy business 25 years ago, he could easily find a strong workhorse that would cost him between $800 and $1,200.Now, that same horse could cost him $5,000, and it took him nearly two years to find the horse he most recently bought.Oickle says he's alarmed about declining numbers of workhorses — also known as draft horses or dray horses — in Canada."Back in 1970, when I was just a boy, between Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick, we had over half-a-million-strong workhorses in the Maritimes," said Oickle, who runs Trot in Time in Lunenburg, N.S."You won't find 2,500 of them today."Basil Oickle, owner of Trot in Time, with his horse, Clifford. (CBC)Oickle said he's spoken with a number of horse associations across the Maritimes who report similar concerns about workhorse numbers.Workhorses are large horses bred to do physical tasks like plowing, logging and other farm labour. The three main types of workhorses found in Canada are Clydesdales, Percherons and Belgians.Percherons in steep declineThe decline of workhorses can be seen across the country. According to data from the Canadian Livestock Records Corporation, the number of newly registered purebred Percherons has dropped dramatically in recent years, plummeting by 64 per cent between 2002 and 2018.The data was less dramatic for Clydesdales, whose numbers have gone up and down, but ultimately dipped by 30 per cent in the same time period.The number of Percherons registered with the Canadian Percheron Association each year has dropped by nearly two-thirds since 2002. (Source: Canadian Livestock Records Corporation)These numbers were provided to the livestock records group by the Canadian Percheron Association and the Clydesdale Horse Association of Canada.The corporation doesn't have the numbers for Belgian horses, but the Canadian Belgian Horse Association has numbers on its website dating back to 2014. While the number of registered horses has actually increased by 26 per cent in the past four years, membership for the association has dropped by 30 per cent.The declining numbers might be a sign of changing times. After all, farms no longer rely on horses to pull tractors or harvest crops.Cody Atwood, president of the Western Nova Scotia Draft Horse Association, believes that's one reason fewer people are owning and working with horses."A lot of the people that did do it are older, and they've either died or have gotten out of it — like retired — or just their horses got old," he said."I know a lot of people in their 70s or 80s, and they didn't buy another pair because they didn't want to go through the hassle of breaking in another pair of foals, so they kind of just phased out of it."Atwood says he uses his horses for logging, plowing and other farm work. (Cody Atwood)Oickle, who's in his 60s, is soon to be one of them. After his initial interview with CBC News, he recently announced that he's looking to sell Trot in Time."My time has come as I am not 35 anymore," he said in a Facebook message.'They're pets, too'Atwood is one of the younger people involved in raising and working with horses. At 23, he said most of t ...Read more

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