A prestigious and beautiful breed, Hackney horses were developed in Great Britain in the 14th century when the King of England wanted elegant trotting horses who could drive carriages, and Hackney ponies were bred from Hackney horses. They are, in fact, very sophisticated-looking ponies, who are known for their high stepping, good stamina, and ability to trot at high speeds for long periods of time. Hackney pony shows are present all across North America, where breeders, trainers, and buyers attend these events to show off the hard work put into training and breeding these impressive creatures, or to keep their eyes out for the next big name—a champion who will be in the bloodlines of future titleholders.
One couple with extensive knowledge on Hackney ponies are Carole and Gary Dunbar from Richardson, Saskatchewan, along with their son, Trent. Gary grew up breeding horses near Kronau. His father, Eldon Dunbar, bred Shetland, Pinto, and Quarter Horses. Early in life, it was clear that Gary had a gift for breeding and training animals when he began keeping fantail show pigeons and studied the effects of breeding. With this experience, combined with growing up with a father who bred horses, Gary eventually bought his first registered Hackney in 1965. Carole, Gary, and Trent started showing Shetland and Hackney ponies in the 1960s, going to numerous different provinces and states for shows. They bred show ponies, including world champions like Highly Explosive, who was a world champion harness pony. Their horse Wheatland Humdinger, sire of Highly Explosive, appears in pedigrees of horses from the Heartland Hackney Farm, which is possibly the biggest Hackney farm in the world.
Wheatland’s Humdinger’s bloodline has been recognized globally because of the champion horses in which he sired. Humdinger, whose barn name was “Sparky,” was exhibited in 1974, owned by the Dunbars and had a trainer in the US. Humdinger left a deep impression on the owner of the Heartland Hackney Farm (HHF), Darrel Kolkman, when he saw Humdinger at the Illinois State Fair. When the Dunbar’s retired from breeding Hackneys, Kolkman purchased Wheatland Humdinger and six broodmares. Selling their champion horse to be bred on the HHF was surely a huge honour to the Dunbars because the establishment—founded by Darrel and Sandra Kolkman—is a farm of over 500 acres in Iowa, employing several people to take care of over 400 Hackney ponies, making it one of the largest Hackney farms in the world. From Humdinger’s bloodline, multiple world champion horses were produced on the HHF. Because of this esteemed breeding and training accomplishment, Carole and Gary Dunbar were inducted into the Canadian Hackney Hall of Fame for breeding.
After retiring and selling their Hackneys, the Dunbars began breeding Standardbred horses. These horses have been in races across Canada and have also given the Dunbars even more recognition on their outstanding abilities to breed and train champion horses. This legacy of prestigious ponies should make the communities of Richardson and Kronau proud of the impressive accomplishments of their members, Carole and Gary.
The Kronau Heritage Museum thanks the Dunbar family for sharing their story with us!
Check out the videos below for more information about Wheatland’s Humdinger and the Heartland Hackney Farm:
Information and photos provided by Carole Dunbar