Horse lover combines the best of breeds

Alberta breeder says she wants the bones and body of Quarter horses and speed and athleticism of Thoroughbreds

LOUGHEED, Alta. — A tiny foal stays close to its mother, wary of the new face in the barn, while in an adjacent pen, a black mare bulging from her sides waits to disgorge her leggy bundle hours later.

Horse trainer and breeder Killarney Sheffield tries to be on hand for her horses’ births. Out of 50 mares, she said she’s missed only a few births.

The mother of five children and stepmother of one keeps her horses in corrals near her house on farmland where her husband, Rob Feild, works as a labourer near Lougheed, Alta.

Feild tends the owner’s bulls here in winter and cattle housed on nearby land, while the yard affords Sheffield a training arena, barn and corrals for the 10 horses currently on site.

She gives riding lessons, starts colts and shows animals. At one time, she also provided farrier services, but now only takes care of her own stock’s needs because of arthritis in her hip.

Sheffield said she is among a small group of breeders who likes to combine thoroughbred stallions and foundation Quarter horse mares to produce a filly foal.

“So it keeps the bones and body of the Quarter horse and adds the height, speed and athleticism of a Thoroughbred. I went back to doing it the old way,” said Sheffield, who has sold horses across Western Canada and recently in Oklahoma.

Her love of horses grew through a turbulent childhood and placement in foster homes at the age of 13. As a teen, Sheffield worked in riding stables, earning money sweeping and exercising horses to buy an animal bound for the meat market for $600.

She competed at shows, including Spruce Meadows near Calgary, where she was pitted against horses valued in the thousands of dollars.

“Here I am in my hand-me-downs with a $600 meat horse I rescued and trained myself,” she said. “For a poor foster kid to get into Spruce Meadows, it was just mind blowing.”

She got a coaching degree at the Okanagan Community College in Kelowna, B.C., and later Level 1 English and Western designations.

This summer, she will host young people for three months from Germany who are interested in learning more about horses through the Internex program, which provides real world hands-on experiences.

She met Feild while both were working at a dairy operation; she with horses and he with cattle.

On their first date, he took her to an auction where he was selling the dairy’s bull calves. After she took pity on “a decrepit old pony with curled up nails” bound for the meat market, he bought it for her.

“This was a guy worth dating, who has empathy for animals, he’s not someone who will hurt me,” Sheffield concluded.

She has a special attraction to rescues and damaged horses, remembering one that had broken its knee.

It was tied to a post and shattered its knee trying to get away and was left to heal without any veterinary care, she said.

Sheffield spent more than a year working with the horse. Its gait never returned to normal but she produced a foal.

“It was the only horse I was attached to in an emotional way. Her abuse brought back a lot of my abuse as a kid,” she said, noting both mare and foal died within days of the birth.

“Losing a mare is really tough.… It hurts my bottom line,” she said of mounting costs from paying for veterinary bills and feed.

“I break even on horse sales, I cover my costs. Some years are better than others.”

Sheffield said she always dreamed of this life on a farm.

“It’s a great way to raise kids,” she said. “You do it because you love it. We try to do our best for our animals. … Farmers are really dedicated people who will go above and beyond for their livestock and to help others. It’s a neat community to be involved with.”

She cited support from other farms in providing affordable feed or loading up a trailer with supplies to help horses displaced by the wild fires in Fort McMurray, Alta.

Feild helps her when necessary but prefers cattle.

“He’s not into horses at all,” said Sheffield.

He is kept busy through many 12-hour days in his farm job.

She praised Feild for supporting both her and her horses, quoting a line from the horse movie Sea-biscuit: “You don’t throw a whole life away just because he’s banged up a little.”

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