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High River’s Horseback Hullabaloo: Equine Controversy Gallops Across the Internet!

Shelby Opheim's equine escapades turned from town talk to a galloping social media movement, uniting horse lovers and locals alike

Alberta loves horses.

In fact, we have the highest per capita horse ownership in all of Canada.

One-third of all horses in Canada make Alberta home.

So, it’s no surprise that some horse owners may use their horses for more than just recreational riding.

In fact, we’ve seen people riding horses into towns like Longview, Diamond Valley, Water Valley and Cremona to pick up some groceries or stop at the local watering hole.

For years, Shelby Opheim, a local horse rehabilitator near High River, has often ridden her horse into town, even making pit stops at the local Tim Hortons drive-thru.

What better place to welcome horses into town than High River, home of CBC’s horse-loving Heartland series?

Bylaw Bummer

But in late January, local peace officers told Opheim that her equine escapades were no longer welcome on the streets of High River. 

Some High River residents were not thrilled about sharing the road with horses, leaving Opheim and her four-legged friends facing a potential ban from town streets. 

“(I’ve been) riding in town for about four (years) and didn’t have issues until last year when people started complaining,” said Shelby Opheim.

The heart of the contention seemed to be a mix of road safety and, possibly, the less glamorous aspect of horseback riding – the droppings left in their wake.


♬ One hell of a life – Harrison Hoffman

Social Media Stampede

Taking the issue to Facebook on January 30, Opheim spurred a social media stampede after sharing her plight, accompanied by videos of her equestrian town adventures. 

Her posts galloped across the internet, rallying support from locals and horse lovers alike, all while the town’s legal team and bylaw officers found themselves in a bit of a muddle over the municipality’s actual stance on horses as a mode of transportation.

No Buckskin Bylaw

The town’s mayor, Craig Snodgrass, quickly trotted out to clarify the situation, stating that the whole hullabaloo was the result of a misunderstanding. 

High River, it turns out, has no bylaw expressly forbidding horses on its roads. 

According to Snodgrass, the confusion arose from bylaw enforcement officers interpreting complaints about horses “holding up traffic” as a need to rein in their road usage. 

However, after consulting with the town’s legal team, Snodgrass confirmed that horseback riders like Opheim were not violating any existing bylaws by trotting through town on public streets.

The mayor’s announcement got cheers from the High River community and Opheim herself, who felt vindicated by the overwhelming support for her cause.

It was a clear signal that High River, a town rooted in agricultural history, valued its roots and the role horses play in both its history and economy.

Equine Rehab

Orphiem deserves credit, not only for sticking up for horseriders but for saving distressed or injured horses destined for slaughter. Opheim’s horses are rehabilitated not just for resale, but to become well-adjusted companions capable of navigating the complexities of human environments. 

Riding through town, Opheim argued, desensitizes the animals to urban stimuli, ensuring they pose no danger to themselves or future owners.

The saga of Shelby Opheim and her horses serves as a reminder of the importance of clear communication and community support in resolving disputes. 

It also reaffirms High River’s commitment to preserving its unique cultural heritage.

As for Opheim, she and her horses are once again welcome to trot down the streets of High River, much to the delight of everyone who supported her cause online. 

In the end, this tale of a small town coming together to support one of its own has proven that, in High River, community spirit rides high – on horseback.

So next time you are in High River, stop at “Timmies’ where you might get to see a chap-wearing cappuccino client up close.

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