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Bjorkdale horse breeders focus on Brabrant Belgians

Imports stud from the Netherlands
BJORKDALE - Niall and Susan Campbell raise Belgian/Brabrant draft horses at Bjorkdale, Sask., but his love of big horse pre-dates the arrival of the first Brabrant by years. 

“I guess you could say it's in my blood,” Campbell told Yorkton This Week. “My grandfather was in the Scots Grays Calvary before he came to Canada. Due to medical reasons he was retired from the Calvary so decided to ship over to Canada and found work as the stable boss at the Crooked River Sawmill where they had over 300-head working in the winter.” 

And Campbell’s father stayed with horses, although another family member ignited the passion in Niall.  

“My dad worked horses for many years, but my uncle had them all his life and he is the one who got me started with Belgians,” he said. 

“I can't say I worked horses in my youth but we had a team of gray Percheron when I was young but when they got older we never replaced them.  

“I had a black mare for a short time but she liked to chase the cattle so she ended up at my uncles.” 

But the interest was budding. 

“We had a pair of quarter horse colts that we drove for a while but then we got our first team of grade Belgian mares from my uncle. That's what got us started raising Belgians,” said Campbell. 

The Belgians stuck for Campbell. 

“A good friend Dennis Nygren raised and farmed with registered Belgians so we traded back and forth and that was the start of our registered herd,” he said. “We shared stallions and we were lucky to have some good ones.” 

While many draft horses are more for show these days, Campbell said he always focused on horses that could still do what they were originally bred for – work. 

“We have always concentrated on raising the traditional style of work horse -- heavy set, under 17 hands with a good temperament and easy keeping,” he said. 

But that proved to be a tough task. 

“It's almost impossible to find that type of Canadian Belgian anymore and that's what led us to our interest in European Belgians,” he said. “They are often called Brabants but Brabant is not a breed of horse. It is one of the areas in Belgium that they originated from.” 

Campbell said while the roots of the breed are in Europe, once in North America they changed over the decades. 

“When the European Belgian's were imported to America in the late 1800's they remained the same horse for a few years,” he explained. “But gradually over time they have become completely different. 

“The modern American Belgian has become basically a sorrel colour, clean legged and lighter boned but there's still three types, the pulling breed, hitch type and very few basic farm types.” 

It’s different in the countries of origin. 

“The European Belgian comes in seven different colours, is very heavily boned, heavily feathered and with lots of volume.” 

Campbell said he came to realize the horse he was trying to raise was a bit of both the North American and European versions of the breed. 

“In the quest for our type of horse a combination of the two breeds seemed to be the answer,” he said. 

So Campbell imported a stud from Europe to help his breeding program in the fall of 2016. 

“A fellow from Alberta who originally came from the Netherlands was going back for a visit and looking at horses,” he said. “We just sort of selected by pictures and had a lot of faith in their judgement, they were also importing two for themselves and two for somebody else.” 

But the process still had its challenges. 

“There were lots of hoops to jump through, health inspection transportation to quarantine, and testing, and then to the airport plus the flight over,” said Campbell. “Then they had to be picked up in Calgary and taken to Lacombe for quarantine and then we had to go and get them. 

“I wouldn't recommend people doing it. It’s too expensive and our percentage American Brabants are better horses in my opinion, but you have to get different genetics from somewhere.” 

In time Campbell found out he was not alone in what he wanted from the horses he raised. 

“As it turned out other people were in search of the same type of work horse and this has led to the organization of the American Brabant Association and the formation of the American Brabant registry,” he said.  

While the association spans North America Campbell is somewhat alone in the expanse of Saskatchewan. 

“We are not aware of anyone else in Saskatchewan raising registered American Brabants, although there are some people using European Belgians and crosses for foal production,” he said. 

Still the organization helps in networking his like-minded people. 

“The ABA has an online membership meeting once a month and I phoned in about six years ago out of curiosity,” said Campbell. “It happened to be election time and they didn't have any representation in Canada and the rest is history (as he was elected to the board).  

“Since then for the last three years there has been a representative from Alberta on the board. We have spent the majority of the last five years on the formation of the registry.” 

Now Campbell has developed a sizeable herd of breeding stock. 

“We have 14 brood mares, foals and four stallions, two Belgian, one American Brabant 63 per cent and one imported European Belgian.” 

So what does Campbell do with his Brabants? 

“We basically use them for recreation and winter feeding,” he said. 

And, he works to promote working horses. 

“Eighteen years ago Dennis and Jean Nygren and Susan and I started the SWTA, Saskatchewan Working Teamsters Association. Our motto is ‘Keeping Our Heritage Alive’ and we have held a field day at our farm for 17 years,” said Campbell. “We have sanctioned the field day at Rama since its inception. Our membership spans three provinces and our main interest is doing field work, driving skills and competitions.” 

The promotion seems to be working. 

“We have seen an increase in interest in the use of draft horses in field work, selective logging and riding,” said Campbell.


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