Tuesday, December 1, 2020

The Ojibwe or Lac La Croix Horse by Zina Abbott

My current book, Gift of Restitution, is partially set in one of the Ojibwe reservations in Minnesota. While doing research on the indigenous  people of this region, I came across references to a certain breed of horse, the Lac La Croix. They have been preserved by the Cree, an Algonquin-language tribe which has spread across Canada.

 Map of different Cree bands

The Ojibwe Horses, or Lac La Croix Indian ponies, were in North America by the thousands prior to European contact. DNA evidence shows they are different from European-introduced horse breeds in distinctive ways that made them an integral and harmonious part of the North American boreal forest. The Ojibwe Horse has been known by several names, including the Lac La Croix Indigenous Pony or Indian Horse.

It is believed that these ponies are the only existing breed of horse developed by Indigenous people in Canada. It takes its name from the Lac La Croix First Nation in northwestern Ontario, where they were last found in the wild. They are noted as Critically Endangered on Canada's Conservation List.

Here are a few of their characteristics:

 - Their average height at maturity is 13hh with a range from 12hh to 14.2hh.

 - In color, they tend to be Dun [Bay, Black or Grulla, Red] but any solid color except variations of white or cream.

 - They have long manes that can lay on either side.

For more about the physical characteristics that set this breed apart, please CLICK HERE.

The Cree people started out in the sub-arctic regions of eastern Canada, but, over time, many migrated west to the Great Plains in central Canada. They, along with the Métis began to work with the feral ponies and trained them to be service animals. They eventually developed a spiritual relationship with them. Many indigenous people call the spirit horses.

 Nēhiyaw Cree camp near Vermilion, Alberta, in 1871

Although often called the Ojibwe Horse, the Ojibwe did not adopt the horse culture as early as their Cree neighbors. They were a woodland people and accustomed to traveling and hunting on foot, or using birch bark canoes to get around. Even as some bands moved west, they did not adopt the horse culture as quickly as other tribes. Those who migrated to the Red and Assiniboine rivers began to use horses earlier than those in other areas. In the Ojibwa language, these animals were known as bebezhigooganzhii or mishdatim (meaning “one big toenail”).

When they first moved on the Plains, the Ojibwe still hunted bison on foot since the herds were plentiful. As conditions changed, especially after the Ojibwe often found themselves in conflict with the Sioux, who were mounted, they adopted a horse culture.



Another factor that influenced the Ojibwe to integrate horses into their culture was their interactions with Cree and Métis friends and relatives who became skilled in the raising and use of horses. By about 1800, more and more Ojibwe were working in concert with the Cree and Assiniboine and were acquiring horses from them. 

Over time, the Ojibwe developed a strong spiritual and working relationship with this breed of horses. They still use care for them and protect them today, not only to strengthen others spiritually, but in an effort to preserve the breed.

In my book, Gift of Restitution, Luke McDaniels’s mother, who is half Ojibwe, owns a grulla dun Lac La Croix mare she named Aki, the Ojibwa name for earth. This book is now available and can be found by CLICKING HERE.











  1. Zina, thanks for a really interesting article about the Cree and Ojibwa tribes of Canada. The Lac La Croix horse is beautiful with those long manes. Your book sounds intriguing as well, Good Luck and Happy Holidays!

  2. I didn't know anything about these horses. What an interesting post. Thank you! I didn't realize there were horses in North America before the Spanish came.


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