The Canadian Horse Breed

Canadian Horse Breed Description

Height 14 to 16 hands high.
Weight Mares weigh from 1000 to 1250 lbs. Stallions weigh from 1050 to 1350 lbs.
Colour Most commonly black, but some Canadian Horses are bay to light chestnut.
Head and Neck The head is intelligent, fine and the profile is straight. The eyes are alert. The nose exhibits wide, open nostrils. The neck sports a thick mane which is often wavy or curly.
Body The body is well-proportioned, with good setting of the limbs. The tail is long and thick, and sometimes wavy or curly.
Limbs The legs are clean and sound, with high quality of bone. The forearm and gaskin are especially well-muscled. The feet are good.
Temperament The Canadian Horse is generally very docile and easy to handle.

Canadian Horse Breed History

The Canadian Horse (le cheval Canadien) is truly a national treasure. In the 1660’s, horses sent by King Louis XIV arrived in Quebec, which was known then as New France. The horses were sent to assist the French colonists who were attempting to carve out a life in the St. Lawrence River valley. These horses were carefully chosen from the royal stables, as well as from horses of Normandy and Brittany in France. They were of Andalusian, Arab and Spanish Barb stock. Twenty mares and two stallions were selected, but only twelve mares and the two stallions survived the rough ocean voyage. They were the first domestic horses in what is now Canada.

The colonists soon found the new arrivals to be hardy and versatile, with a cooperative disposition. In 1667, another stallion and two mares arrived in New France. In 1667 another eleven mares and one stallion were introduced. For the next 150 years, there was no infusion of outside blood. Only the strongest survived the harsh winters, and through the generations, they became smaller in size. These horses had to endure conditions of extreme weather, hard use and sparse food, and they developed a phenomenal hardiness for which the breed is renowned. They also became sure-footed and fast. The Canadian was dubbed the “Little Iron Horse” and it is still the sturdiest breed in Canada. They are very strong and easy to keep.

Because the Canadian Horses were so useful to Quebec area farmers in the early years, their numbers rose quickly. By 1850 there were 150,000. However, the breed was also in danger of disappearing because of the importing of other larger breeds. In 1852 the Quebec Board of Agriculture supported the new breeds, and withdrew support for the Canadian horses. Showring classes at fairs were no longer available for the Canadians, and the mares were more and more being bred to stallions of other breeds. One horseman of the time, E.A. Barnard, sounded the warning that it was foolish to allow a breed known for hardiness and endurance to disappear. A few admirers of the breed, led by Dr. J.A. Couture, organized an effort to save the breed. They produced a stud book in 1886, but little progress was made until 1895, when the Canadian Horse Breeders Association was formed. Gradually, the Canadian started gaining in popularity, and showring classes at Quebec fairs were reinstated. The Board of Agriculture embraced the breed once again, and set up experimental farms in the province to restore the breed. In 1907, under the leadership of Dr. J.G. Rutherford, standards for the breed were improved and a new stud book was started.

In 1913, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture started a breeding program at Cap Rouge. The experimental farm project started with one mare, Helene. Mated to the Canadian stallion Wilfrid, she dropped a black stallion colt who was to become the most influential sire of the breed. His name was Albert de Cap Rouge.

In 1920, the government created a bigger breeding program at St. Joachim Horse Breeding Station. The Cap Rouge stud was maintained until 1940, when the pressures of war led the federal government to shut it down. Another stud was established at La Gorgendiere, Quebec.

Unhappily, the Canadian breed did not gain popularity outside of Quebec. The few that were exported received high praise, but the larger breeds continued to dominate the farming scene. Then came the new arrival – the tractor. As tractors became numerous, all heavy- and medium-weight work horses lost favour, and their numbers declined. The Canadian breed nearly became extinct. Despite the efforts of dedicated breeders to save the breed, their numbers dwindled to a low of about 400 in 1976. Today, the breed is rebounding, and there are an estimated 3000 Canadian Horses now.

The Canadian Horse is a general utility animal. Although they are most commonly used for driving, they are also found participating in dressage, jumping, eventing, packing, endurance, plowing and ranch work. They are appreciated for their strength, willingness, and their small food requirements. They are long-lived, and are still useful even at an advanced age. The mares are very fertile, and can continue to reproduce past the age of 20. It is interesting to note that the Canadian Horse was used in the development of other North American breeds, such as the American Saddlebred, the Tennessee Walking Horse, the Standardbred, and the Morgan.

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