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Lac La Croix ponies making a comeback

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The Lac La Croix Indian pony—which is native to Northwestern Ontario and northeastern Manitoba—was once nearly extinct, but now is making a comeback here in Rainy River District.

Kim and Rhonda Shoemaker, owners of Running Horse Ranch in Miscampbell, were pleased to welcome a new Lac La Croix pony to their small herd back on May 22.

“Dancoaybecum,” whose name means great-great-granddaughter, is the first pony of its kind born in Northwestern Ontario since Lizzy Ottertail’s filly in 1965.

The parents of the pony is a stallion, named “Menomen,” and the mother is “Gaia.” Both of those animals had their DNA tested to prove they are true Lac La Croix ponies.

“[The ponies] have a long history with the Indian people,” noted Rhonda Shoemaker. “It’s a part of the culture.”

She explained the ponies had always been there—at least as far back as memory and oral tradition tell the story.

“They’re very historical ponies—an old tradition, but not well-known,” she added.

The Lac La Croix pony once was used extensively during the winter months for hauling anything and everything, particularly for logging and to run trap lines.

They also were used year-round as a riding pony.

“While they’re smaller than regular horses, they can doing anything the others can do,” said Shoemaker, noting the Lac La Croix pony has nostril flaps to keep out the weather and has thicker coat.

They also are curious animals and are willing to undertake any new adventure. They are forgiving and tolerant of human mistakes, and excellent for the beginner handler.

In 1977, the breed came close to extinction as only four mares were known to be alive. They were rescued, taken to Pelican Lake, and slowly the population has increased.

Shoemaker estimated there are maybe 80-90 ponies of this breed in existence today. She’s been working with Rare Breeds Canada on hosting the herd at her ranch for the past two years.

It’s said there still are a few dedicated breeders in Minnesota, but that the majority of the ponies are now in Canada.

Shoemaker noted she’s always had a calling to breed animals from an aboriginal culture.

“When we heard about the Lac La Croix ponies, there was no question about it,” she stressed. “I couldn’t not do it.”

Since the couple already was involved in breeding native horses at the time, they decided to take a “leap of faith” and take in the remaining foundation herd of the Lac La Croix Indian ponies.

“They fit into the breeding program rather nicely,” Shoemaker remarked.

The couple made some adjustments, setting up shelters and paddocks to house the special animals.

Shoemaker said just as the Arabic breed is native to Arabia, these ponies are native to this area.

“The Lac La Croix breed is our own,” she said. “They are very rare and very special.”

Shoemaker also believes they could be a Northwestern Ontario emblem or tourist attraction.

“People are interested in the Indian culture,” she explained. “They just don’t have the opportunity to see the ponies.”

She has plans to set up the ranch so people can come and view her animals, or to take them places throughout the district so they can become more known.

“It just takes time and money,” Shoemaker said, noting she’s grateful for all the support, assistance, and donations they have received in re-establishing the endangered breed here in the district.

(Fort Frances Times)

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