Gateway Gazette

How the Canadian Horse came to be

The Canadian Horse is the National Horse of Canada
1434735_origThe Canadian horse was first introduced to New France in 1663. The first load of twelve horses was sent via ship by King Louis XIV. There is no record of the breed or region of France from hence they came; some writings mentioned the Royal Stud Farm, and it is believed that most of the horses came from similar ancestries as the Belgian, Percheron, Breton and Dales Pony. What is known for certain is that shipments arrived on a regular basis.

The first ones were given to religious orders and to gentlemen who had an avid interest in agriculture (although they remained the property of the king for three years).  A notarized contract obliged the new owners to breed the animals, maintain them, and return a foal after three years to the Attendant. This foal was then entrusted to someone else who was then bound by the same conditions of care and reproduction. In case of breach of contract, there were provisions for fines of one hundred pounds. This much regimented breeding system allowed for their rapid development in the French colony.  The horses thrived despite low comfort, hard work, bad roads, and eventually developed the nicknames “the little iron horse” and “the horse of steel”.

9594487From 1665 to 1793, the horse population in New France grew from 12 animals to 14,000 animals. To the end of the French regime in 1760, the horses sent from France are the only ones to be developed in the colony. Contact with the English to the South was forbidden because England and France were at war. The topography of the Appalachian Mountains was also a formidable obstacle to outside communication. At that time there were no roads and the only means of long distance travel was by foot or by canoe.  For almost one hundred years, these horses multiplied in a closed environment without the benefit of other blood lines. Their common source, lack of cross breeding, and their rapid reproduction created a particular genetic group giving rise to a unique breed: the Canadian horse. During the 19th century, breeders bred different types of Canadian crosses such as the Canadian Pacer, an amalgamation with the Narragansett Pacer, the “Frencher”, a Thoroughbred cross with hotter blood used as saddle horses or roadsters, and the “St. Lawrence”, a much heavier draft type, in order to meet a variety of needs. Later, thousands of horses were exported to the United States for both the Civil War and also to use as breeding stock to create roadsters leading to new breeds such as the Saddlebred, Standardbred, Missouri Fox Trotter, and the Morgan.  These mass exports lead to a huge drop in the breed population in Canada in the 1870s, and the stud book was opened in 1886 to preserve the breed and prevent possible extinction.  In 1895, veterinarian Dr. J.A. Couture set breeding standards for the Canadian Horse and founded the Canadian Horse Breeders Association which still operates today. In 1913, the Canadian government began a breeding center in Cap Rouge, Quebec.

In 1919, this facility was outgrown so the breeding program was transferred to St. Joachim, Quebec, where it was operated jointly by the Canadian and Quebec governments.
6160106In 1940, World War II brought an end to the federal breeding program at St. Joachim. At that time, the Quebec government purchased several of the horses and created their own provincial breeding program at Deschambault. In the 1960s, they worked to breed a taller, more refined horse, which would be suitable for English disciplines. During this time, other private breeders worked to preserve the original type, the Henryville line being an example of this.  Eventually the Deschambault herd was sold at auction in 1981. The breed was in danger of disappearing for a second time, with less than 400 horses in the breed register, and fewer than 50 new registrations being recorded per year. However, dedicated breeders rescued the Canadian Horse. New registrations were around 50 per year in 1980 and rose to over 500 new registrations per year in 1999–2000. Since 2000, the new registrations are stable at 450-500 per year. In the last few years less than 150 foals a year are being born worldwide!  Today, Canadian Horses can be found in just about every discipline.  Be it English, Western, or Driven; Competition, Leisure, or Working; there is a Canadian Horse for everyone.

In addition to the Beaver, the Canadian Horse is commonly seen as an animal symbol representing Canada, especially in connection with images of the Mounties. On April 30, 2002, a bill was passed into law by the Canadian Government making the Canadian Horse an official symbol of Canada.  As the Canadian Horse is also “closely associated with the historical origins and the agricultural traditions of Québec”, a similar law was passed by the provincial legislature in November 2010, recognizing the breed as a “heritage breed of Quebec”. Why Canadian? Because in 1867, the year of Canada’s confederation, the generic term ‘Canadien’ solely referred to French speaking. At that time, it was natural for the horse, being originally from France and having started its spread through the French colonial area of the St. Lawrence Valley, to be named ‘Canadian’.

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