In April of 2002, the Parliament of Canada passed a bill establishing the Canadian Horse as Canada's National Horse, recognizing the breed's fine attributes and contribution to Canadian history. The bill received Royal Assent, officially becoming law, on April 30, 2002.
In the mid 1600's, the "habitants" were finding life in Lower Canada quite different from what they were used to in France. Many of the landowners were nobility and knights accustomed to traveling in fine carriages. But in New France, the few roads were impassable with mud for much of the year and the only transportation was the lowly ox-cart. To ease the unrest, Louis XIV selected horses from his own stables and sent them to Lower Canada between 1665 and 1670. The King of France took great pride in the quality of horses he had in his stables which included Andalusian, Normandy and Brittany bloodlines.
Life in Lower Canada was no easier for these horses than it was for the settlers. Not enough hay was cured for all the livestock, so horses were often turned loose to fend for themselves in the bush, only being brought in when needed for work. Over the years, the heavy work and poor conditions, along with the harsh Canadian winters, led to a natural selection in favor of the hardiest animals. The Canadian Horse became smaller and tougher, until they became known as "The Little Iron Horse".
The Canadian Horse bred in isolation for the next 150 years. Whatever the job was - the Canadians did it. Whether it was supplementing the oxen in front of the plows, moving goods, taking the family to church or racing afterwards, the Canadian Horse performed his duties with eagerness and stamina. Trade between the French settlements in Canada and the English settlements further south were almost non existent during this time because England and France were often at war.
By the 1800's, the Canadian had a reputation for their pluck and vigor. Large numbers of horses were sent to the United States for use in the Civil War and the Canadian was the preferred horse on many U.S. stage coach lines. Many of these horses were entered into the stud books of the Morgan, Standardbred, American Saddlebred and Tennessee Walkers. The Canadian Horse also served in the Boer War and was shipped to the West Indies to work on the sugar plantations. These drains on the population, along with the importation of other breeds meant that by the second half of the 1800's, the Canadian Horse was in danger of disappearing.
A few admirers of the "little iron horse" realized the importance of saving the breed and undertook a campaign to do just that. In 1886, they opened the first stud book for the Canadian Horse. In 1895, the Canadian Horse Breeders Association officially came into being. In 1913 a breeding center was opened on the Federal Experimental Farm at Cap Rouge in Quebec, and later moved to St. Joachim. When the federal government, occupied with the war, closed down the operation in 1940, the Quebec provincial Department of Agriculture reestablished the stud at Deschambault, Quebec. When this operation closed in 1979, the Canadian was once again threatened with extinction.
Thanks to the efforts of a handful of committed breeders, the breed has recovered from a low of 400 registered animals in the 1960's and 1970's to a population today of about 6000. Once again the Canadian Horses' strength and versatility has made it popular in both the show ring and back yard.
In the spring of 2002, the combined efforts of Senator Lowell Murray, MPs Murray Calder and Don Boudria along with many Canadian Horse breeders and enthusiasts resulted in the Parliament of Canada passing a bill naming the Canadian Horse as Canada’s National Horse, recognizing the breeds contribution to the building of this nation.
Colour - Most usually black or dark bay. Chestnuts, browns and lighter bays are
also found, typically with minimal white markings. Height. The standard is 14 to
16 hands. A sturdy horse with weight proportional to height
Head - Rather short with straight lines, carried high. Ears are set well
apart, rather small. The forehead is broad and flat with large eyes set wide
apart. The nostrils are very large to allow tremendous air intake and the muzzle
is large enough to accommodate the air passage. Cheeks are well developed, firm
but not fat
Neck - Fairly arched, medium length, firmly muscled, gracefully attached to
head and shoulders
Withers - Lean, clean, slightly raised, long
Shoulders - Long, sloping, well muscled
Back - Strong, well proportioned, broad
Chest - Broad and deep, legs well apart
Quarters - Strong and well muscled. Tail attached rather high, carried well
Legs - Proportionate length, clean cut and elegant yet strong enough to support
robust body. Straight, flat bone, large joints, short cannons, strong well
defined sloping pasterns, round, sturdy hooves. Legs are sturdy but not coarse,
sometimes lightly feathered
Mane/Tail - Both are very long and thick
Movement - Free and vigorous movement, harmonious. Flexible, agile and sure
footed. Good natural balance
Temperament - Energetic and spirited without nervousness, calm, docile. Kind and
The Canadian Horse names are lengthy and sound rather pompous however, you can tell a lot about a horse from his name. The names contain three parts: the herd name, the sire's name, and the subject's name beginning with the letter asigned to the year of birth.
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. This herd name may be the person's last name, their farm name, or another name that they select. For example: "Hidden Meadow Star Gambit" and "Hidden Meadow Charbon
Fargo" are not related at all, but Hidden Meadow Farm owned both of their
mothers at the time of their births.
The Sire's Name - Only one stallion may use a last name. All foals sired by the stallion will have his name in the middle of it's registered name. For example, "Hidden Meadow Adanac Hudson" was sired by the stallion "Adanac" (Piggott Xavier Adanac). The horses "Du Coteau Lalou Beauport" and "Piggott Lalou Shimmreee"
have the same sire.
Assigned Letters - Each year has been assigned a letter (letter X for 2010, Y for 2011, Z for , etc.) and foals will have the last part of their name beginning with that letter for the year of their birth. "Hidden Meadow Adanac Jamieson" was born in 1999, "Hidden Meadow Neirin Xanthus" was born in 2010 (the I, O, Q, and V are missed). While this part of the naming procedures has been enforced for many years, that was not always the case. Some older horses do not have names beginning with the letter representing the year of their birth.
As you become familiar with Canadian Horses and Canadian Horse breeders, you will be able to tell a lot about a horse by picking out the information contained in its registered name.
Modern Day Uses
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