Dubbed “the horse-whisperer,” Morris Presisniuk never really picked a day when to retire. The COVID-19 pandemic forced it upon him as the March lockdown dried up his bookings.
Devoted to family and horses, he is a man of few words. But the few he speaks are laced with integrity and honesty. And he’s quite OK with retiring after a lifetime of working in tandem with his horses providing carriage and sleigh rides.
For more than 45 years, the Sturgeon Country rancher has operated horse-drawn sleigh and carriage rides at major festivals and events throughout the province.
Over the years, his Percherons, Belgians and Fjord horses have been regular fixtures at St. Albert’s Snowflake Festival and Family Day events where families with young, giggling children lined up for a turn on one of those unforgettable rides.
Born in Vilna and raised in Andrew, Presisniuk has over the years developed a natural gift working with horses.
“They understand me. Lots of people are scared of horses, but I never was. A horse will never hurt you. It’s people who will hurt horses,” he said of the 30 noble creatures under his care at the 80-acre ranch he co-owns with wife Evelyn.
With only a Grade 7 education, but a PhD in the school of hard knocks, Presisniuk has made a name for MP Stables throughout Alberta’s equine world. Perhaps the major highlight of his career was meeting Queen Elizabeth II during the 2005 royal visit to celebrate the Alberta Centennial.
Her walkabout at Edmonton City Hall attracted more than 10,000 people, yet only three individuals were presented to the Queen. Presisniuk along with his Fallabella miniature horse were part of the trio.
“She’s an ordinary person like you or me. We talked about horses for a few minutes. Security wanted her to move along. The guards didn’t want her to stop and talk too long, but she waved them back and stayed to talk.”
Presisniuk would later meet Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge as the young couple toured the Calgary Stampede in 2011. What impressed the rancher was the young prince’s confidence.
“He’s very nice. He’s an outgoing person. When you do what he does, you meet a lot of people.”
In addition to meeting royals, provincial premiers and mayors, Presisniuk enjoyed celebrity experiences others dream about. For instance, the American pop band Jonas Brothers visited him.
“They were playing in Edmonton. They wanted to go horseback riding and they came to our place.”
On another occasion, two Maori participants at the Indigenous People of the World conference hosted at Edmonton Convention Centre were their guests.
“They would go to meetings during the day. At night they would come to our place. They had to get out of the city. One even played a guitar. They were really something. With the movie Crocodile Dundee, they supervised the crew doing the fights.”
Presisniuk and Evelyn first launched MP Stables in 1976 on a weed-infested rental plot at Namao Centre. A teacher at Katherine Therrien Catholic Elementary School asked MP Stables to visit the school.
Word spread and soon Presisniuk was driving his horses to city-based events at Rundle Park, the River Valley and Hawrelak Park. MP Stables was also part of the launch of the inaugural Silver Skate Festival traditionally held in Feb.
“I gave people rides while others skated. It was very popular.”
The brightly lit Candy Cane Lane also decided to add a more nostalgic holiday spirit with the jingle-jangle of horse-drawn sleighs.
“St. Andrews Anglican Church provided hot chocolate for people. It got to be so popular, we had six or seven teams.”
Some of his employees saw the outdoor work as a bonanza and opened up their own competitive stables.
“There were people that thought there was big money to be made, but they never lasted. It was long hours, insurance, feed, veterinary bills. It costs. By the time you pay expenses and your help, there’s very little left. Lots of guys started, but they didn’t finish. They quit.”
“It really was a labour of love for him,” Evelyn affirmed.
Both Presisniuk and the horses are retiring together. And he has no intention of selling the horses, which he considers pets.
“It’s not about the money. They have given me a lot of peace of mind. Sometimes you can’t talk to people, but horses listen. They take care of me and I take care of them.”