Anyone who talks with Rita Smith about horses will quickly see the passion and excitement for the animals, which have been a big part of her life since she was just seven-years-old.
More specifically, the Morgan breed holds a special place in her heart and these days she is proud to say she is training what is believed to be the first Morgan-born horse in the territory — GoldSmith Arctic Rebel.
Rebel was born at Smith and her partner Bryan’s home in the Hot Springs Road area in April 2021, the son of Smith’s steed Mystik’s Smokin Ace and mare Bela’s Blue Blue Curacao.
“She’s just the perfect little filly,” Smith said during in an Aug. 11 interview. “She’s almost as tall as (her) mama now. Everyone that meets her just absolutely love her.”
Smith credits the Morgan breed — originally bred by Justin Morgan in the late 1700s — as being among the strongest and most athletic. They are compact and strong and can outpace other breeds, she said, adding Morgans have had many roles including as working ranch horses, as the family carriage horse in the era before cars and were even bred by government as cavalry and artillery horses for the military (again, in a much earlier era).
“They’re very hard working,” Smith said. “They want a job.”
Smith’s own experience with Morgans goes back to when she was riding at Lorrina Mitchell’s Pineland Stables, a facility where many Yukoners had learned to ride. Smith had ridden many mixed-breed horses from the time she was seven when she started riding. At 19, she rode her first Morgan.
“This horse just took off like a shot, just the fastest trot I’d ever seen,” she recalled. “I’m like ‘this horse means business’. It just totally changed my life so I never really forgot that day.”
Smith would go on to spend years building her own life, working a variety of jobs, but feeling like something was missing, eventually realizing she needed a horse again.
She touched base with Mitchell, who had moved to Alberta. Mitchell sold her a Morgan — Bela’s Miss Madeline, aka Maddie. Together Smith and Maddie have clocked thousands of kilometres riding Yukon trails.
“Basically a few years of riding her, and I was like ‘Man, I’m never going to be able to live without this quality of a horse,’” Smith said.
At 17, Maddie still has the energy of a five-year-old. Morgans, Smith noted, are known for their longevity with many living into their 30s.
The breed, she continued, is incredibly well-suited to the Yukon’s environment with hooves that traverse well on trails, a coat that helps them withstand the colder months and more. Smith works to provide them with more protein-rich hay, mixing local hay with other hay produced Outside.
Many outfitters who have started breeding Morgans, are surprised to learn how much they can pack on the horses and by how much endurance the horses have, Smith said.
For Smith, having her horses is a lifestyle she chooses, a labour of love. As she explained, where some are passionate about a sport or activity, for her it’s about the horses.
“Just to be able to get on your horse and go out in the bush, out to a mountaintop for a few hours, is just a huge release,” she said. “You know, it’s a beautiful relationship between horse and person; the relationship between horse and person has been documented for thousands of years.”
She went on to describe horses in helping a person look at themselves the hardest and make changes they need to make.
“They make you very honest,” she said. “You go up to a horse with tension in your body, with how stressful your day was and they can feel that immediately. They’re very internal creatures and they read the herd, they read the stress of everything around them. They’re very energetically attuned to their environment. So they do a lot of communication with body language.”
For Smith, riding and being around horses has been a huge outlet since her childhood days at Mitchell’s stables.
“They were my happy times,” she said.
In training, Smith said she prioritizes the needs of the horses first, something she attributes to the Josh Nichol style of horsemanship.
It means that when Smith comes in to the stables, she will first work to get a sense of whether the horse wants to work with her that day. As she pointed out, if a horse has a bruise or a sore back she might not immediately know about it. Allowing the horse a say in the relationship can very much help move training forward, Smith said, noting the trust it helps build between horse and people.
She described Rebel, as “the friendliest little thing that you ever met because people, to her, is nothing but a good thing. She’s had a lot of really good people around her. She’s going to be quite the little thing when she’s grown. Our one and only Yukon-born Morgan.”
Rebel was born April 10, 2021, a particularly cold April day at -15 C. Smith and her partner Bryan Dear were checking on their horses – particularly Bela’s Blue with a camera app – every half hour. During one of the checks she could see small black legs at a snowbank on the property. She and Dear hustled quickly outside with their foal kit and got Rebel and her mom to the barn.
“It was the scariest and happiest day of our life,” Smith said, noting the care Alpine Vet also provided to the horses following Rebel’s birth.
Smith also credits Arctic Backhoe, where Dear works, for help in setting up her barns on the property, along with the territory’s horse community.
Along with having for the first Morgan born in the territory, Smith also has been given the honour of using the Goldsmith prefix for her Morgan horses, representing the Ramules bloodline of the Morgans, given her work with the breed.
“It’s a huge honour,” she said.
Moving forward, Smith is working to train Rebel with plans to continue breeding the horses in the future.
Contact Stephanie Waddell at email@example.com