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Local View: The heart of a Canal Park horse can steady our lives

From the column: "To the city of Duluth, horses seem of less value these days and more of a relic. Any redevelopment of Canal Park would be well-served to integrate the health of draft horses into the future."

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Contributed photo by Tim Carroll / In Canal Park, Winona LaDuke gives a kiss to Benny.
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The magnetic field of a heart is our strongest force; it extends up to three feet from our physical bodies.

The heart of a horse is five times as large as a human heart.

Benny is the kind of guy you really want to meet. A 19-hand dapple gray Percheron, he and partner Jake are among the most elegant draft horses you will find in any city. His unusual height was an intentional breed for the late 1800s, as the optimal horse to draw a carriage or cartage through narrow city streets — high enough to see over the riffraff and strong enough to pull heavy weights. In the B.C., or Before Cars, era, these animals ruled the American economy. They were the main farming power; and in cities, the horse moved people and freight. The term “horsepower” comes from these magnificent beasts. To drive a team of horses is to be a teamster, and that’s exactly where the name of the largest American labor union came from.

The horses of Canal Park have been an elegant part of Duluth’s tourism magic for decades. Tim Carroll, owner of Top Hat Carriages, is Benny’s person, and he tells me, “There are 3,000 pictures a year of those horses, that drawbridge. For 40 years, every person who has done a ride here has a picture of the horses, carriage, and drawbridge.”

Tim’s a big-hearted man himself who, along with his very petite wife Doreen, farms with horses, logs with them, and lives with them. Workhorses do best when working, not just hanging around; otherwise, their muscles and bones weaken. The techniques of horse logging and farming represent some of the most sustainable practices and healthiest ways to interact with both forests and farms.

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It’s a classy scene, really, a callback to a more-romantic, less-mechanistic, digital time, when a world moved differently.

A horse woman myself, and an aspiring teamster, I really cannot find a better looking or kinder horse than Benny.

To the city of Duluth, horses seem of less value these days and more of a relic. Any redevelopment of Canal Park would be well-served to integrate the health of draft horses into the future. That can start with Canal Park’s streets.

“They are talking about tearing out the brick here,” Carroll said. “From an environmental standpoint, that keeps it 10 degrees cooler down here. And that keeps the horses cooler. And it gives them another five years on their lives.”

That’s a pretty big lesson, really. As climate change pummels us, we will want the cool stuff that gives.

Then there’s shelter and water. Those are necessities. Horses need trees and their shade. Unfortunately, the shade trees of Canal Park have emerald ash borer. That’s where the horses are tied, in the shade. So, how about a plan B? That may involve shelters for the horses to keep them out of the hot summer sun.

“They could put some solar panels on top of the shelters and power electric cars,” Carroll offers. That would be classy.

A draft horse like Benny doesn’t exist in the wild. They are bred for glorious and elegant lives, for a beautiful world. In many ways, Benny’s well-being is our own. Not only peace of mind, and a restful moment without a car, but a chance to touch, feel, and be with something magnificent.

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The heart of a horse will steady you. We can do that together: steady ourselves in Canal Park.

Winona LaDuke lives on the White Earth Reservation in northern Minnesota. She has written six books on environmental and Native American issues and is executive director of Honor the Earth (honorearth.org), a national Native American environmental foundation. She wrote this exclusively for the News Tribune.

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Winona LaDuke

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