The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra presents the world premiere of The Spirit Horse Returns, conducted by Associate Conductor Naomi Woo, and featured Ken MacDonald, Jodi Contin, Rhonda Snow, Double The Trouble, and System Winnipeg

Introducing “The Spirit Horse Returns,” a captivating orchestral concert production that seamlessly blends traditional North American Indigenous teachings, stunning visual art, and a rich orchestral score to tell powerful stories and legends of the Ojibwe Horses.

“The time has come to tell the story of the Spirit Horse, and this is an awesome medium with which to share.”

Elder Dan Thomas

In “The Spirit Horse Returns”, an Indigenous knowledge keeper takes audiences on a journey through time, exploring the history and cultural significance of the Ojibwe horses as traditional helpers and spirit guides for First Nations and Métis-Chippewa people, and how they were affected by the arrival of settlers and used across North America in well-known historical events like the Gold Rush and Pony Express. We encounter the diversity of Indigenous cultures as we visit the magnificent Horse Nations of the prairies and jig at a joyous Métis kitchen party. An inspiring prophecy is revealed, showing that each of us can help bring about a better world where people of all Nations care for each other and for the land we share. The show leaves audiences inspired with an uplifting message, as a group of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people come together to rescue the last of the Ojibwe horses, giving them new life and hope.

An image of Jodi Contin drumming in a field while Ojibwe Horses run towards her. Photo: Ken MacDonald
Jodi Contin with Ojibwe Horses

“The journey of the Spirit Horse is a remarkable learning path experience: we can open our hearts to a majestic story that will bring us pride, wonder and healing. All audiences and learners alike will now have an opportunity keep that Spirit alive. In this story of the little ponies there are many lessons we can learn. We thank all of the people who have made this possible. Meegwetch.”

Elder Alison Cox

The production is a collaboration between Indigenous and non-Indigenous co-creators, including Anishinaabe artist and Ojibwe Horse breed expert Rhonda Snow, songwriter Jodi Contin (Wasauksing First Nation), composers Kevin Lau (a first-generation Canadian) and Andrew Balfour (of Cree descent), and writer and performer Ken MacDonald (an eleventh-generation settler).

“The Spirit Horse Returns” appeals to all ages and levels of audience sophistication, making it a unique crossover event which can be presented on evening adult series as well as on educational and family series. A comprehensive educational guide is available which includes lesson plans and an activity guide for all ages of learners. Flexible orchestration options make it suitable for orchestras of any size. It offers a unique opportunity for orchestras to entertain audiences while addressing important themes of North American history, culture, and social issues in a profound and meaningful way.

The Spirit Horse Returns was premiered by the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra in 2022 and has been performed with the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra, the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra, the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony, The Stratford Symphony Orchestra, the Festival of the Sound, Canada’s National Arts Centre Orchestra, and returns to the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra on April 13, 2024. Follow us on Facebook for more Spirit Horse news!


Full orchestra: 2(1.2Picc)2(1.2EH)22 / 4331 / timp.perc / hp / str

Small orchestra version: 2(1.2Picc)2(1.2EH)22 / 2210 / timp.perc / hp / str

Chamber version: violin, bass, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, trombone, percussion

Runtime: 70 minutes
(A 55 minute educational version is available on demand)

Spiral-bound books for each musician are supplied. A score with all text cues is supplied, as well as online links to rehearsal resources for the use of the musicians, conductor, and stage crew. 

Options to add Indigenous, local, and youth performers (eg. fiddle, dancers, soloists) and artwork.


This performance requires the services of two performers supplied by “The Spirit Horse Returns.”

A sound system, projector, screen, and computer system for visual art is required. Visual art is supplied as multiple movie cues in a QLab environment. A musical theatre stage manager to call multiple cues must be provided. A cue sheet and script are supplied.

Lighting can be varied to suit the facility.

Educational Resources

A resource package is available which includes in-depth looks at the music and art of “The Spirit Horse Returns”. It was developed by art and music educational specialists to align with the curriculum, and is suitable for use by non-specialist teachers.

Lesson plans and content appropriate for Grades K-12 include:
• Instruments of the orchestra, musical forms and expression
• Introduction to Woodlands Indigenous art
• Indigenous songs and forms
• Truth and Reconciliation resources
• Trauma-informed resources and suggestions for educators

There is also an pre-show activity guide suitable for younger audience members at a family show.

The Spirit Horse Returns Script by Jodi Contin, Ken MacDonald, and Rhonda Snow. Music by Kevin Lau with original songs by Jodi Contin and with music and consultation by Andrew Balfour. Original art and visual direction by Rhonda Snow. Consulting Elders and Knowledge Keepers: Dan Thomas, Alison Cox, Anita Chechock, Stan Cuthand, Doug Cuthand, Norman Jordan, Skuya Fasthorse, and Wabishki-anaang.

Major funding and support was provided by The Canada Council for the Arts and The Festival of the Sound.
Special thanks to the Richardson Foundation (educational guide), the National Arts Centre of Canada (Music Alive Program), and the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.
Canada Council for the Arts
Festival of the Sound

© 2022 Spirit Horse Productions. Video and photography © Ken MacDonald. Artwork © Rhonda Snow.