Working horses have always held a place of importance on the Canadian Prairies because they were integral to the earliest days of settlement and farming here.
That relationship makes the Documentary Point of View (POV) Golden Sheaf Award presented by Canada Media Fund at this year’s Yorkton Film Festival interesting as it went to Clydesdale: Saving The Greatest Horse.
The win was obviously appreciated by Janice Kirkpatrick who the film follows on her efforts to find black Clydesdales.
“Ross (her husband), and I are thrilled that the documentary has won such a prestigious award. We’ve celebrated sharing a bag of carrots with the horses,” she told Yorkton This Week via email.
“We were thrilled to receive the award for Documentary POV at the oldest film festival in North America. Everyone loves to win at Yorkton and we’re no exception,” added co-producer Dugald Maudsley.
The win is likely to have something of a ripple effect for those involved.
“This is an extremely well regarded festival and everyone sees a win here as a sign that you’ve made an excellent film,” offered Maudsley. “Our broadcaster, CBC/documentary Channel, our financiers and our co-producers in Scotland are all excited.”
The win is a good add to crew resumes too.
“It takes a tremendous amount of patience and work to create a documentary like this,” said Maudsley. “So it is a big boost to everyone who worked on the film.
“It’s awesome to be nominated because it shows that your peers believe you created something worthwhile, but you can’t beat winning a category like this.”
The idea for the film was almost an event of fate.
“The idea for the film came from a chance conversation when I let slip that I planned to import a black Clydesdale mare from Canada,” offered Kirkpatrick. “After that we kept talking and digging further into the story, and it just kept getting bigger and more surprising.”
Maudsley expanded on the story’s creation.
“The idea originated with our Scottish co-producers, Stream Scotland and the two people who run that company, Fiona White and Janice Forsyth,” he said. “They know Janice Kirkpatrick and when they heard she was trying to do something to help revitalize the Clydesdale herd in Scotland, they immediately realized they had a great story.
“Because of the Canadian connection they came to us. Thanks to the support of Sandra Kleinfeld and Jordana Ross at the CBC and documentary Channel we were able to raise additional financing through the POV Fund and tell this story in the way it deserved to be told.”
So what exactly is the story?
“The film follows me on my journey from Scotland — where the Clydesdale breed was created — to Canada, (to Derek Cey and family in Scott, SK.), to find a pregnant black Clydesdale mare to bring home to Ayrshire where her rare genetics will help strengthen the diminishing UK Clydesdale herd,” said Kirkpatrick.
“I also journey back in time to uncover the 800-years of horse breeding that created the Clydesdale and the contribution the big horses made to our modern world — through equine genetics, warfare, and the industrial and agricultural revolutions.
“I also discover the science behind saving this amazing breed of horse and embark on a project to safeguard its future.”
For those un “familiar with the big horses, the Clydesdale is “famed for its white feathered feet and for hauling Budweiser beer – is in danger of dying out. These giant and iconic horses are on the verge of what many call the “vortex of extinction” in the very place where they were first bred – Scotland,” details the film’s website www.savingthegreatesthorse.com
“The horse was once so valuable the Scots sold them all over the world. The most sought after were the pure blacks. Now Janice Kirkpatrick is on a mission to alter the destiny of the Clydesdale horse. Her plan is simple: find the lost blacks and bring them home.
“In an extraordinary journey from the Clyde Valley to the heart of the Canadian Prairies, Janice (Kirkpatrick) uncovers the true story of the Clydesdale horse, and traces a Canadian family who’ve protected the ancient black Clydesdale bloodlines for five generations. With this discovery she may have unlocked the secret to reviving the Scottish herd.”
Maudsley said it was a story he just knew was a good one to tell.
“I’m not a horse person, but you could immediately tell that the Clydesdale is unique,” he said. “They have an extraordinary bond with people and they played such an important role in both the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions.
“That this breed could by dying out in their homeland of Scotland was hard to believe and clearly a story worth telling.
“Also, Janice Kirkpatrick is such a dynamic and determined person. We knew that with her driving this journey, it was going to be an exciting one to film. The number of people following us on social media has confirmed this. This is a horse that everyone loves.”
Kirkpatrick said it is the story that makes the film, more than her efforts.
“The breadth and depth of the Clydesdale story is so rich — our challenge was what to edit out as we didn’t have space to include the full story, as it is economic, social, cultural, agricultural, global, and it’s very emotional,” she said.
“Our talented team also managed to show the horses as individuals with strong personalities — for me this was really important as their sacrifice in our service over centuries has been enormous, and their potential loss, profound.”
Beyond the Golden Sheaf award the film has attracted attention.
“The reaction has been tremendous,” said Maudsley. “I think at first people wonder whether a film about a horse can be that interesting. But if they give this documentary a chance they discover an extraordinary story that is not only full of drama but emotion.
“The Clydesdale is an amazing breed and the fact that it is dying out in the place where it was created packs a punch.”
“The reaction to the film has been amazing and 100 per cent positive,” added Kirkpatrick.
“I’ve been inundated with offers of support and help to deliver the project in Glasgow’s Pollok Park from wonderful people all over the world — from Canada and the UK and from folks who’ve heard about the documentary in the USA, Australia, Scandinavia and New Zealand —they desperately want to see it.”
Clydesdale: Saving the Greatest Horse is airing on the documentary Channel Friday June 4, at 9pm. It is also available on CBC Gem. BBC Scotland runs it regularly.
If you want to stay up with airdates, they announce them on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SaveClydesdales/ and on their documentary website: savingthegreatesthorse.com and on our own website: infieldflyproductions.com
There is also a four part webisode that is available to watch for free on savingthegreatesthorse.com
“It reveals how Clydesdales have influenced Janice Kirkpatrick’s approach as a designer, the role the Clydesdale and other horses played in WWI and the challenge Janice and her husband Ross face every day carrying for a whole family of Clydesdale horses,” said Maudsley.