The Canadian Horse

History

The Canadian Horse evolved from a small number of horses shipped to New France (now the province of Quebec) in the mid-1600s by King Louis XIV of France. The horses were requested by Jean Talon, the King’s “general manager” in New France, who noted the significant unmet needs in the colony for wives for the predominantly bachelor colonists (habitants) and for horses to meet the transportation and farming needs of the developing agrarian society. The horses personally selected for shipment to New France by the King came from his Royal Stables and were of Barb, Norman and Arab descent. For 200 years, these horses interbred under isolated conditions and developed into a light draft breed renowned for its strength and endurance.

The “little iron horse” as the Canadian Horse became known, adapted well to the cold Canadian winters and limited feed. The predominant colours of this breed are black, brown, and bay. A few Canadian Horses are chestnut in colour.

Chatelaine pulling the sleigh at Deerfield Farm

The Canadian Horse is a relatively unknown breed, although they grace the canvases of many paintings of early Quebecois life by Cornelius Kreighoff. Canadian Horses were sold by the thousands to serve in the American Civil War and the Boer War. Their calm temperament and great strength and endurance made them ideal cavalry mounts and porters of cannons and other war machinery. The blood of Canadian Horses contributed to the development of both the Morgan and the Standardbred breeds. By the mid-1800s, after 200 years of service, the Canadian horse came close to a complete loss of identity.

British immigration to Canada popularized the larger draft horse breeds for farming purposes and as these breeds became available in Quebec, the smaller Canadian horse fell from favour and until 1885, was headed for extinction. In 1885, a call for the preservation of the original bloodlines of the Canadian Horse began a revival of interest in them. Despite a federal breeding program that was subsequently taken over by the government of Quebec, there were fewer than 400 Canadian Horses in 1982. Thanks to a sustained effort by independent breeders across Canada, there are now about 3,000 Canadian Horses.

Canadian mare, Chatelaine (Clix Photography)

Today, the Canadian Horse is recognized as a multi-purpose equine, ideal for riding, driving, and equestrian sports including jumping, dressage and endurance riding and driving competitions.


Characteristics

  • fleet, sure-footed, hardy, highly resistant to lameness and disease
  • extremely strong for their size
  • predominant colour is black, although many are brown, bay and some are chestnut
  • short boxy head, fine muzzle, well-arched neck mounted high on a well-sloped shoulder
  • body is long and very deep
  • robs close together with a well-rounded and heavily muscled rump
  • chest is wide and deep and legs are well muscled and set well under the body with wide, flat bones
  • fetlocks are shaggy
  • mane is heavy, voluminous and wavy, and if untrained will fall on both sides of the neck
  • tail is heavy and both mane and tail have a crimped wave
  • while spirited and enthusiastic workers, are docile and calm in temperament

Deerfield Yukon Faith, 1996

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