The Canadian Horse has so far been a survivor. These hardy, sensible horses have that have been such an integral part of Canada’s history have survived harsh winters, economic depressions and wars. Since the mid-1600s they’ve pulled ploughs, wagons and sleighs. They’ve taken farmers and city dwellers alike about their business winter and summer, their families to and from church and school and on the weekends have even been used to race sleighs over ice . Brave and loyal, they died by the thousands carrying soldiers and artillery into battle, especially during the U.S. Civil War. In recognition of the breed’s contribution to the nation’s history, the Canadian was proclaimed the National Horse of Canada by Parliament in 2002.
Twenty years or so ago, the breed was all but unknown outside of Quebec and was considered in danger of extinction; it was noted as having “Critical” status by the American Livestock Conservancy. In the late 90s and early years of the current century, dedicated breeders worked diligently to get recognition for the breed and preserve the old bloodlines. Most of them saw value in retaining the qualities that had allowed the breed to survive the centuries under harsh conditions instead of letting the modern market dictate a change in what had become known as the “Little Iron Horse”. Even with maintaining its original type over the past 200 years, there is still good variety and versatility within the breed, so different Canadians can be competitive in different disciplines, from driving to trail riding to dressage to English and Western performance.
Happily, these days Canadian Horse owners are more likely to hear “Is that a Canadian?” than “What kind of horse is that?” Unfortunately, the economic downturn that has affected all North American horse sales in the last decade has had a disastrous effect on this rare breed that was just starting to make a comeback. Many Canadian breeding farms were forced to cut back on their breeding programs, had to geld their best stallions, and even disperse their herds and stop breeding altogether. In the past five years the number of new Canadian Horse registrations has dropped to less than 200 per year, or less than 40% of what was being registered prior to 2008. This plummet in registrations puts the breed into “Critical” status once again, and reflects the fact that the number of foals being produced now are the lowest that they have been in the past twenty years. Not very good for a breed that still needs help to come back! These numbers are a wake up call for fans of this wonderful and uniquely Canadian breed.
With the breed still relatively rare and widely distributed around BC and the Western US, it’s been difficult to muster the numbers required to hold dedicated breed shows in BC. Members of the Canadian Horse Heritage & Preservation Society (CHHAPS) have continued introducing the breed to horse lovers in B.C. and the U.S. by competing them in open shows in a variety of disciplines, riding them on trails or for cow work, and participating in drill teams and parades. CHHAPS welcomes new members (horse owning or not) to support the club’s efforts to publicize and promote the Canadian Horse. The hope is that more Canadian Horse owners will soon be motivated to come together to celebrate and have fun with this heritage breed at a variety of events.
You may have seen the CHHAPS Canadian Horse displays in the past at the IPE or at the Historic O’Keefe Ranch, or more recently at the BC Northern Exhibition in Prince George or the North West Horse Fair in Oregon. This year we’ve also had horses at the PNE for HCBC’s Horse Day. If you’re coming to the Mane Event in Chilliwack this year, be sure to visit the CHHAPS booth and watch for our demos there. We’ll be happy to talk to you about our horses, show you our attractive and popular Canadian Horse calendars and share our enthusiasm for the breed. It just might be time for you to get a Canadian Horse of your own!
For a more detailed history of the Canadian Horse, visit Yvonne Hillsden’s well-researched page outlining the history of the Canadian Horse breed.
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The Canadian Horse Heritage & Preservation Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the Canadian Horse breed, known in French as Le Cheval Canadien.