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Animikii translates to "thunder being". He was born in a thunderstorm on the evening of July 26. Sam Fristed/Star-Observer

The Humble Horse Farm in River Falls works to preserve, educate and reconnect with the Lac La Croix Indian Pony. Known as the Ojibwe pony, it is one of the most critically endangered pony species in the world. On July 26, the farm added one more pony to the herd; Animikii.

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The Ojibwe pony was nearly exterminated by the United States government during the early 20th century. Today the species has a population of about 150. Sam Fristed/Star-Observer

Em Loerzel is the founder of the farm. She’s a PhD student studying at the University of Washington who works at the farm.

Loerzel is White Earth Ojibwe and holds a special connection with the animals.

“They are an extension of our way of life,” she said.

Loerzel explains the breed developed in the Ontario region of Canada but its ancestral lands are in the northern Minnesota and Wisconsin region. When the foal was born, it was special, Loerzel said.

“This foal was the first to be born on ancestral lands in about 70 years,” she said.

Loerzel said other Ojibwe ponies have been born since the 1950s but none have been on ancestral Ojibwe land.

The decline of the Ojibwe pony is a story of sadness.

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Loerzel has a special relationship with Ojibwe ponies. She said the species has lots of parallels to the Ojibwe tribe. Sam Fristed/Star-Observer

The species was driven to extinction by the United States government who forcibly removed the horses from Native American lands during the early 20th century. 

“The pony has parallels to our way of life when the government tried to exterminate our people,” Loerzel explained. “We are spiritually connected to them because we experienced the same treatment.”

By the 1940s the population was extinct in the United States. While some numbers remained in Ontario, the long term outlook was not good.

In the 1970s only four remained. The Canadian government decided to claim the remaining four but a successful rescue effort avoided that possibility. 

Over the decades the population rebounded through conservation efforts. Starting in the 1980s the ponies were bred with a Spanish Mustang stallion, creating the current Ojibwe pony bloodlines. 

Loerzel said there are about 150 ponies throughout the Ontario, Minnesota and Wisconsin region today. The species remains critically endangered.

Today the Ojibwe pony is used to promote indigenous heritage Loerzel said.

Besides promoting Ojibwe heritage, property owner Johanne Gentlebread said the farm works with Ojibwe ponies to raise awareness about the breed. The farm does this by renting acreage for the ponies.

Gentlebread said the goal of the farm is to get the ponies back on native land.


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Animikii visits mom to feed. He is the first Ojibwe pony born on ancestral land since the 1950s. Sam Fristed/Star-Observer

“We’re making sure these ponies aren’t collectors items. We’re here to raise them and take good care of them,” she said.

Loerzel said the farm was expecting the pony. She said UW-River Falls professor Casie Bass helped during the pregnancy.

“She has been so helpful because we were not 100% sure what we were doing because we’ve never foaled an Ojibwe pony before,” Loerzel said.

Other members in the equestrian community helped during the pregnancy Loerzel said. She said the community came together for the special event.

The name of the foal is Animikii, Ojibwe for “thunder being”. Animikii was born during a thunderstorm, leading to a perfect name for the foal, Loerzel said.

“We were both excited and nervous when he was born. Excited because it’s an Ojibwe pony but also nervous because we have never dealt with an Ojibwe pony,” Loerzel said with a laugh.

Animikii will stay at the Humble Horse Farm. The farm will continue to look after Ojibwe ponies in the future. 

Gentlebread said the farm has no future Ojibwe foals planned. She said it makes the birth of Animikii special since they do not know when the next foal will be born.

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From left to right; River Coakwell, Em Loerzel and Johanne Gentlebread. Coakwell and Gentlebread are board members. Loerzel is the founder of Humble Horse farms. Sam Fristed/Star-Observer

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