Since the roots and purposes of the Canadian Horse Heritage and Preservation Society (CHHAPS) are tied to the history of the breed, in order to understand what our organization is all about, you’ll need to know a bit more about the history of the breed first.

A Brief History of the Canadian Horse

The Canadian Horse was officially deemed to be the “National Horse of Canada” in Parliament in April of 2002. The journey to arrive at this momentous achievement was a long and arduous one.

The Canadian Horse is a breed of horse unique to Canada. It descended from a mixture of French breeds from Normandy and Brittany that no longer exist today. These founding horses were sent to Canada by King Louis XIV during the 17th century. Over the next 350 years, through selection of only the fittest individuals, the breed became uniquely suited to the rigors of living in Canada, and evolved into a genetically distinct breed in its own right.

The Canadian Horse is one of the oldest recognized North American horse breeds, with the first breed registry and stud book established in 1886.

Despite all the changes and upheavals of the past three centuries, many Canadians can still be found that exhibit the substance and hardiness of their ancestors, and still resemble the horses noted in Canadian historical etchings and paintings, such as the painting by Cornelius Krieghoff shown here.

Of note is the fact that that “the Canadian, bred in isolation for so long, does still appear to be genetically distinct from the popular racing and riding breeds, reinforcing the need to give high priority to its conservation” (DNA Detectives, 1998 Canadian Horse Annual).

C. Krieghoff: Sleigh Race Across the Ice, 1861

The Threats to the Breed

The Canadian Horse breed has seen many highs and lows during its three-century lifetime. The first low occurred with the advent of mechanization during the mid-1900s when horse power was no longer needed and breed numbers dropped precipitously.

Many Canadian Horses were sent overseas to serve in the Boer War and World War I, never to return. After World War II, the Canadian Horse population steadily dropped until it hit crisis proportions in the 1970s. Less than 5 registrations per year were being recorded from 1970 – 1974, and the number of horses had dropped to an estimated 400 in total, left of the entire breed.

Thankfully, during the late 1970s a few influential breeders recognized the plight of the breed, and slowly started acquiring quality animals, setting up breeding programs, and once again began promoting in earnest the breed and its wonderful qualities. Canada’s “best kept secret” was finally out!

By the early to mid-1990s, the breed started to make a good recovery. The numbers were up to about 2500 – 3000 live animals worldwide and the status was changed from “critical” to “rare” by the Livestock Conservancy. Although numbers were up, during this time pressure began to be placed on the Canadian Horse to change from the traditional breed type, in order to meet perceived market trends, just as has happened to so many other breeds. Some feared that in “saving” the breed, the type, temperament, and hardiness that made the Canadian Horse unique might be lost.

With the economic slowdown of 2008, many breeders retired from breeding, and many quality stallions were gelded. The vast majority of mares were sold to non-breeding homes. Registrations plummeted from a high of about 500 foals per year, to less than 100 per year. Only during the past year or so, have the numbers of foal registrations climbed above 100-150 per year.

The History of CHHAPS

The concept of forming an organization with a mandate was specific to preservation and breed education, was conceived by a passionate and committed group of western breeders, owners and Canadian Horse lovers during the summer of 2002.

After brainstorming our goals and mandate, the organization was created, and after considerable thought, named The Canadian Horse Heritage & Preservation Society (CHHAPS).

CHHAPS was officially registered as a non-profit society under the Society Act of BC in Oct 2002. In B.C., not-for-profit / non-profit organizations are known as societies. Societies are independent, democratic organizations that are required to comply with the Societies Act and to have their own constitution and bylaws. Societies earn no profits for their members. All money is donated to the organization’s cause or goal. We remain incorporated as a registered BC society to date, which keeps us accountable to our members and to our cause.

We are proud to say that 2022 was our 20th year of operation as a society!

The Canadian Horse Breeders Association (CHBA) / La Société des Éleveurs de Chevaux Canadiens (SECC) is our breed’s national organization. Their mission statement reads: “The [Canadian Horse Breeders] Association’s primary mission is to register and identify individual animals belonging to the Canadian horse breed, and keep up-to-date pedigree files on these animals.”

As such, it functions primarily as a breed registry and database, and liases closely with the Canadian Livestock Records Corporation who do the actual day to day functions of registrations/transfers etc.

Because the CHBA’s mandate is more that of breed registry, it is left to regional organizations such as CHHAPS to serve in the role of active breed promotion and education, for various geographical areas.

From our inception, our aim was to have a very “hands on”, social, and educational role regarding the breed, as well as to serve as a rare breed steward. We felt the creation of an independent organization to do breed promotion, education and networking was the best way to achieve this. Thus CHHAPS was born.

CHHAPS has members from all across Canada and the US and individuals from any geographical area are encouraged to join. We liase closely with both the CHBA as well as with other regional organizations such as the Canadian Horse Association – Rocky Mountain District (CHARMD), the Cheval Canadien Horse Association Ontario (CCHAO), the Canadian Horse Association Atlantic District, and the Association Québécoise du Cheval Canadien (AQCC)

Although there is considerable overlap between the various regional districts, CHHAPS is proud to offer a number of unique programs such as our versatility and performance awards, virtual CHHAPS Challenge event, and individual grants and events sponsorships, and as such, we have membership overlap from many of the other regional organizations as well.

Thinking of Joining CHHAPS?

Our organization consists of an enthusiastic, yet relaxed and informal group of individuals whose interests lie with breed education and preservation, and in networking and participating in various activities with others of a similar mindset.

We invite any and all Canadian Horse owners, as well as members of the CHBA or any of the other Canadian Horse districts or organizations, and in fact anyone at all who is simply interested in the Canadian Horse breed (even if a non-horse owner) to join our group. If you support our goals, want to participate in our great variety of activities, and want to learn more about this wonderful breed, you’ll fit right in!

If you want to join CHHAPS, click on Join.

For more information on CHHAPS, please see our FAQ page or feel free to contact any of the CHHAPS Executive.