Canadian Horse sense hits Kluane

Rod Collin and his wife Leisa Robinson-Collin are the Yukon's only Canadian Horse breeders. As old as the country it is named after, the breed originated in the 1600s when European colonists first arrived in New France.

Rod Collin and his wife Leisa Robinson-Collin are the Yukon’s only Canadian Horse breeders.

As old as the country it is named after, the breed originated in the 1600s when European colonists first arrived in New France.

Like the horses they breed, Rod and Leisa’s ranch, Raven View, has a pioneer feel to it.

They’re not just off the beaten path – they’re right off the grid.

A bank of solar panels and a generator provide them with electricity, but they have no running water yet.

Rod is building the house.

He’s hewed most of the lumber himself.

And he looks the part.

With the gait of a man who has spent years in a saddle, and features carved by wind and sun, Rod looks like a cowboy.

And, in the Yukon, he is as close as it gets.

Rod works as a hunting guide through the late summer and early fall.

Living without electricity was never an issue for him.

“I spent most of my adult life without electrical power,” he said. “Between outfitting in the summer and the trapline I had in the winter time, for 10, 11 months of the year I didn’t have power.

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“If you needed power you flashed up a little generator.”

For Leisa, who works as a teacher in Haines Junction, it’s a different story.

“When you’re living out in the woods and don’t have any power, it’s not a big deal, but when you’re a teacher you need to have power to iron the odd set of clothes,” he said.

Before they bought the ranch, Rod and Leisa lived at Mendenhall, where power came through extension cords running from generators.

They lived like that for five years.

Then, right when they decided to move, the community voted to be hooked up to the grid.

They had been building a house in Mendenhall too.

The idea of leaving all they had built behind was upsetting for Leisa.

“It was the end of the school year, I thought, I’m finally at the stage where I don’t want just any house, I want my house, and I started bawling,” she said.

But Rod had a solution.

“He said, ‘Babe, I can move it. I built it – I can tear it down.’”

It took him two months to take it down and two months to put it back together, but he did it.

Their parents thought they were crazy, but they had fallen in love with the property.

“If you ever get me on here hon, you’ll never get me off,” Rod told his wife when he first set eyes on the plot of land nestled in the shadow of the St. Elias Mountains.

It’s a beautiful piece of land that should never have come up for sale.

It was created by an accident.

The land was cleared to build a quarry, but the crew cleared 38 acres in the wrong spot.

There was no gravel there, but there was soil.

One of the contractors working on site was quick to realize the potential of the place.

He staked the land for a farm.

It took years to get the government to approve it, and eventually he was able to get title.

He farmed it for a few years then sold it to Rod and Leisa.

To get to the property, you have to turn onto an old, unfinished section of the Alaska Highway, make your way through a gravel pit and drive for several more kilometres.

Just when you start to think you’ve gotten lost, you’re there.

While breeding Canadian Horses isn’t their day job, it’s a passion.

“I’ve always had an interest in the Canadian Horse,” said Rod. “It’s a breed that started here in Canada and was bred to be a multipurpose horse on small farms.

“They used them for pulling plows during the week and hooked them up to a sleigh or cart and went to church on the weekend.”

With an unnaturally calm disposition, the stocky, strong breed was in demand.

Americans used them in the Civil War as cavalry mounts, and the Canadian government sent them over with soldiers during both the Boer War and the Second World War.

They provided breeding stock for many of the most popular breeds in North America.

And with so many being sent out of the country, stocks rapidly declined.

By the 1970s, only 400 Canadian Horses remained.

Thanks to the efforts of breeders like Rod and Leisa, the breed has bounced back from the brink of extinction with more than 5,000 today.

“They’ve come a long ways in the last 40 years,” said Rod.

While they do sell horses, Leisa has a hard time giving them up.

In the last few years they’ve only sold two, and they’re still being boarded on the ranch.

Their stud Lincoln is also in high demand.

The outfitter that Rod works for has bred several of his mares with their stallion and is now using those horses on hunting trips.

“The outfitter just loves them,” said Rod.

They’re hoping to find a mare to match their stallion in order to help preserve the breed.

Because the Canadian Horse has become a popular show horse, the breed is starting to alter.

“I want your typical old-style Canadian Horse, the horse they were bred to be,” said Rod.

“Now more people are doing sport horse stuff and they’re trying to breed a little taller, leggier finer-boned horse.

“Well, the Canadian was never supposed to be a tall leggy fine boned horse. It was supposed to be a little shorter, heavier-boned, chunky, muscular horse to use for everything.”

Contact Josh Kerr at

joshk@yukon-news.com

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