Dust, dirt and mud…

By Sandra L. Brown

July 7, 2017 11:53 AM

When we think of settling the Wild West, it is only natural for our thoughts to turn to the days of horses, wagon trails, tumbleweeds, dirt, dust and mud. 
These were the days of settlers, renegade wranglers and wild horses freely roaming the open prairie, oblivious to the progressive fencing in of their territorial range and subsequent law enforcement. 
Some took a different view of this progress.  After being found with the stolen horse in his care, a Lloydminster settler explained to the judge. 
“Well, you see it was this way your Honour.  The night was as black as ink and after the pubs closed I was going home, minding my own business, when my foot bumped against something.  I picked it up and it was a rope; and begosh and begorrah! When I got home, would you believe it?  There was a horse at the other end of it.” 
Despite his creative attempt to talk himself out of it, this would-be horse thief was sentenced rather punitively to two days of sawing wood.
Using a municipal grader pulled by horses and with financial support from local businessmen, Lloydminster’s first race track for horses opened in 1908.
Entertaining races such as tug-of-war and wrestling on horseback were enjoyed before the standard racetrack was completed. 
In the Red Cross Race, participants raced to retrieve stuffed dummies placed in the prairie bush, and then quickly sped back to the starting line.
With drivers jockeying for a better position, harness racing in the early days began without the benefit of a starting gate barrier. 
The first official race starter was Dr. G. L. Cooke, and many false starts were recorded, as drivers attempted to keep their eager horses somewhat evenly lined up. 
Drivers could be fined for attempting to gain an unfair advantage at the starting line. 
Roads were basically wagon trails in poor condition making transportation challenging.  Initially, most of these horses came from between the Vermilion and Maidstone areas. 
Prominent names soon emerged; Ivan Crossley, Dr. G. L. Cooke, John Bell and Dr. Robert Holt to name but a few.  Many of whom were raised with the best horseflesh seen in the prairie west. 
Horses such as Sarah Tide, Pauline Frisco, Bingo Worthy and Jimmy Creed were well known names at this time. 
This latter horse with driver Ralph Baldwin established a world record in 1947 for one mile and sixteenth in 2.08 and two-fifths minutes. 
Ralph was later inducted into the Horseman’s Hall of Fame, after becoming famous on the American racing track. 
For over 30 years, Dr. Robert Holt owned one of the largest breeding establishments for standard bred harness horses in Western Canada. 
Another livestock success story is that of Gunnholme Farms, which was owned and operated by Brad and Agnes Gunn.
With their love of harness racing and riders yearning for running races, Lloydminster soon included both as evidenced by program schedules. 
Racing was an exciting part of local fairs, race meets and sports days. 
Through the early years, competition continued to be very intense.  It was only natural for local breeders to progress into raising refined Thoroughbred horses and polo ponies. 
There was plenty of action at the track, as speed and the quality of horses improved, bringing all those involved a deep sense of pride.
The well maintained track at the exhibition grounds was kept in opportune condition for training and racing. 
A dream come true for owners was building a training track on their own land. 
Small stones were handpicked off the track as they could cause injury to the horses.
Lloydminster became a natural stop for others training and racing between Edmonton and Saskatoon.  Many horses were of such high calibre they successfully qualified and raced in the United States. 
These horses were treated like family and received the utmost of care. 
Words seem inadequate to describe the sound of thundering hooves as horses race competitively towards the finish line. 
You can feel the pounding of the earth deep in your soul as their raw power explodes from within exemplifying true beauty in motion.  Whether you’re passionate in riding, driving or cheering from the sidelines; Lloydminster has a rich history of horse racing.

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