According to research, the Canadian horse was introduced to New France in July of 1665. 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 many believing most of the horses were of Breton, Norman descent, Andalusian and Barb ancestry. 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”.
From 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.
In 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. There are now more than 6,000 horses registered.
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’.
The scale of points for Canadian horses is divided into eight parts or groups, seven of which correspond to the horse’s chief anatomical regions : the head ; the neck and shoulders; the body; the fore-quarter, the hind-quarter; the lower parts of the legs (with the exception of the foot); the foot. The eighth group consists of what is more specially considered by horsemen as the exterior: -the skin, weight, action, height. Finally the nervous system and general appearance are noted.
The greatest number of points (20) is allotted to the body. The body (chest, back loins, belly) is by far the most important region of the horse. It contains the chief organs of the circulation of the blood, those of respiration, digestion, nutrition, etc. If those organs have plenty of room, if they are well supported, they work perfectly and this condition is accompanied, by health, strength, vigour and endurance. Moreover the other parts will be in harmony with the body both as regards their development and their fitness. On the contrary, if the body is defective the remainder of the animal will be more or less so.
The quarters occupy the second place from the standpoint of the importance of the regions. We have allotted them 13 and 14 points respectively.
The fore-foot comes thirdly.” No foot, No horse,” Nothing can be truer. We have allotted 10 points for this.
Then comes the lower part of the legs and the hind foot to each of which 5 points are allotted. The other portions of the body are, comparatively, accessory.
The practical application of the scale is made easy by the fact that the points allotted to a region are distributed among the various parts constituting such regions. The only exception is in the case of the head.
What’s in a name?
You can tell a lot about a Canadian Horse just from its name. Each name contains three parts which must be included in the following order – the herd name, the sire’s name and the horse’s given name.
The Herd Name
Canadian Horse breeders register a herd name with the Canadian Horse Breeders Association to use when naming all foals born to mares they own or lease. This herd name must be unique as it identifies your breeding program from all other breeders of Canadian horses. This herd name may be your farm name, your last name or any unique name that has not already been registered. This name can also be a compound name.
The same herd name in two horse’s name does not necessarily mean that both horses are related to each other, for example: “Maple Lane Thomy Ellie” and “Maple Lane Duc Athena” are not related at all, but “Maple Lane” (herd name) means that both mares were owned or leased by the same individual/farm at the time they were bred.
The Common Sire’s Name
The sire’s name is the second portion of the horse’s full registered name. For example: “Maple Lane Rebel Windsor” and “Maple Lane Rebel Sally” were both sired by the same stallion “Maple Lane Duc Rebel”.
The Horse’s Given Name
The horses’ given name forms the last part of its full registered name. For example: “Maple Lane Thunder Legacy” where “Legacy” is the given name.
Assignment of Letters
A different letter of the alphabet is assigned to each year and foal’s name must start with the assigned letter of the year the foal is born. For example, the letter ‘S’ was assigned for 2006, the letter ‘T’ for 2007 and the letter ‘U’ for 2008.
The next letter in the alphabet is used the following year. There are some letters that are not assigned, they are: I, O, Q and V. These unassigned letters were thought to cause confusion with other existing alphabetical letters when tattooing a horse. Tattooing is no longer used and has been replaced with microchip technology.
This naming procedure has been enforced in recent years, but that has not always been the case. Many older horses do not have names beginning with the letter assigned to the year of their birth.
All stallions’ given name must be unique. This is to ensure that when looking at a horses name there will be no confusion on who sired the horse in question. Multiple geldings and /or mares can have the same given name as long as the combination of herd name and stallion name is different for every identical given name. This is possible as their names are not used in future genealogical reference to any offspring.
Once the year letter comes around again and an owner wishes to register a stallion with a given name that has already been used, said name must be followed by a 2nd, 3rd, etc…
The subject must be: for a stallion, the only one registered with said name and for a mare or gelding, the only one registered with said complete name.
There is also a length limitation for the full registered name of a horse. It cannot exceed 30 characters including spaces. Care must be taken not to choose too lengthy a herd or stallion name given the 30 character limit which includes the allotted number of available characters for the new given name of a foal.
Future Letter Assignments