Horse’s Retirement Upsets Young Fans

This short feature was published in MacLean’s Magazine.

Horse’s Retirement Upsets Young Fans

A national museum recently broke some little hearts in Ottawa when it put one of its horses out to pasture.

Mike the Clydesdale, a popular attraction at the Canada Agriculture Museum for a decade, was retired for health reasons. “Mike has had hip problems for about three years and circulatory problems since last December,” explains museum spokesperson Marion Grobb. No longer able to pull the tally-ho wagon or work the fields, the 2,000 pound, chocolate-brown horse was sold to a Clydesdale breeding farm near Kitchener for $500 as part of a package deal that brought two younger horses to the museum.

However, no warning of Mike’s abrupt departure was given to his legion of young fans, which many parents considered an inexcusable oversight. Ominous-sounding headlines like “Horse: not headed to slaughter house” in the local paper did little to allay fears about the Clydesdale’s fate. The youngsters not only missed Mike, they were worried that his donkey pal Eeyore would be lonely without his best buddy.

The result was an outpouring of letters to the Ottawa Citizen, blasting the museum for its lack of consideration for young patrons. References were made to “tearful toddlers” and “voids in the children’s hearts.”

“We spent the better part of an afternoon explaining Mike’s expulsion to a grief-stricken four-year-old,” wrote father Phil Benson.

“I am very, very sad that Mike has been sold and sent away. I have been visiting Mike since I was a baby. I always stop to see him and bring him carrots and apples. I have cried a lot since I heard that he got sold,” five-year-old Maia Bourrie wrote. She added that her parents would give the museum $500 “to pay to get Mike back.”

A nice thought, but money was not the motivating factor for Mike’s departure, says Grobb. “He was not sold for financial reasons, but rather for health reasons and to get him to a place that was better for him,” she says. In her opinion, that place is West Edge Acres Farm, where Mike can revel in the rolling pastures and an active social life with 35 other Clydesdales. “He’s in heaven,” claims farm owner Bob Robertson, adding that Mike’s hip even seems to be better.

Grobb points out buying and selling animals is a daily fact of farm life, and perhaps Mike’s departure can serve as a valuable learning experience about agriculture in Canada. Even Eeyore is back to the donkey work of herding cattle around the museum fields, she says. However, in light of the children’s distress at Mike’s departure, she extended an invitation to the children to write or draw a good-bye note to Mike and send it to the museum.

Little Maia, for one, is not impressed by the offer. “I think writing a letter to the farm is stupid because horses can’t read,” she summed up succinctly.

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