A Brief history

The Cheval Canadien is truly the unsung hero of North American horse breeds. The breed’s origins trace to 1665 when the first horses, likely from Normandy and Brittany, were sent to Canada by King Louis XIV of France. Over the next a century, a distinct breed developed from this founding stock. The fittest not only survived, but thrived despite harsh winters, hard work, and scarce feed, earning them the nickname “Le Petit Cheval de Fer” or “The Little Iron Horse.”

A calm and willing disposition, excellent feet, stamina and strength, made it an ideal cavalry horse, and in the 1860s Canadians were sold by thousands to the U.S. Army to fight in the American Civil War. Americans eagerly bought up quality Canadian stallions to improve their own stock, and the Canadian Horse appears the early stud books of the Morgan, Standardbred, and Tennessee Walking Horse breeds. The Canadian Horse was threatened not only by exports, but by crossbreeding. By the close of the 19th century, Canadian officials recognized that the breed was in danger of being lost, and stepped in to develop breed standards and establish the first studbook.

Although these efforts resulted in a resurgence, the reprieve was temporary. Throughout the 1900s, as farms were mechanized, breed numbers diminished to the point to where it was virtually unknown outside of the province of Quebec. By the 1970s, only 400 registered Canadian Horses remained in existence, and less than five registrations were being recorded per year. Since that time, dedicated breeders have worked diligently to save the breed from extinction and to preserve the qualities of type, temperament, and hardiness that made the breed famous throughout North America 150 years ago.

The breed slowly made a comeback, hitting a population high of about 6000 horses in the early 2000s. Unfortunately with the economic downturn of 2008, it once again began dwindling and many larger and long-time breeders retired. Today the number of actively breeding mares is critically low, and only 100-150 new foals have been registered annually in recent years. This makes CHHAPS’ mission more important than ever.

About the Breed

Under the breed standard, the Canadian Horse stands between 14 and 16 hands and weighs 1000 to 1400 pounds; however, many individuals over 16 hands can be found today. They are usually black but also may be brown, bay, chestnut, or rarely cream or palomino.

They are hardy easy-keepers, known for their abundant manes and tail, and strong resilient feet. Although the Canadian Horse is relatively free of health issues, obesity is a common problem in animals that receive insufficient exercise.

The Canadian is well known and respected as a pleasure and combined driving horse. It has continued to gain popularity as a recreational and competitive riding horse in both English and Western disciplines. With their sociable, intelligent and adaptable natures, Canadians thrive on variety in their work, from dressage to packing or gathering cattle in the back country. The ideal choice for people who enjoy going new places and learning new things!

Click here to view/download the breed standard.


What’s in a Name?

Every registered Canadian Horse has a name consisting of three parts. The first part or name is that of the breeder’s herd name. The second part of the name is the given name of the sire. And the third part of the name has to begin with the letter assigned to a given year.

This naming strategy enables someone to be able to look at the registered name of a horse and determine who bred it, who was the sire, and what year the horse was born. Brilliant!

Part 1 – The Herd Name

Each breeder must register their unique herd name with the Canadian Horse Breeders Association. This herd name is then used when naming all foals born to their mares that they own or lease. The herd name must be unique as it identifies each particular Canadian Horse breeder. It could be your last name, farm name, or any other unique name that has not already been registered.

Horses that share the same herd name are not necessarily related to each other. For example, “Maple Lane Thomy Ellie” and “Maple Lane Duc Athena” are not related at all. But horses sharing the “Maple Lane” herd name were owned/leased by the same breeder at the time they were bred.

A herd name does not denote a particular bloodline, either. For example, “Du Coteau” does not refer to a line of horses but rather a particular breeder.

Part 2 – The Sire’s Given Name

The sire’s given name is the second part of a Canadian Horse’s registered name. For example: “Maple Lane Rebel Windsor” and “Maple Lane Rebel Sally” were both sired by the same stallion “Maple Lane Duc Rebel.” In other words, the third or given name of a registered Canadian Horse stallion is used in the naming convention of all of the foals he sires. Thus it is important to keep this in mind, and choose a nice sounding, not overly long, suitable name when naming a potential herd sire colt.

Part 3 – The Horse’s Given Name

The horse’s given name forms the last part of its full registered name. For example: “Maple Lane Thunder Legacy” where “Legacy” is the given name.

This given name must begin with the letter of the alphabet assigned to the year that the foal was born in, with each year being assigned a consecutive letter of the alphabet. For example:

Year Letter
2020 H
2021 I
2022 J
2023 K
2024 L
2025 M
2026 N
2027 O

Naming Conditions and Restrictions


At one time horses were tattooed for identification purposes and so some letters were not used (eg I, O, Q and V) as these could be confused with numerical symbols. However all registered Canadian Horses are now identified via microchips, so the entire alphabet of letters is now in use.

This year/letter naming convention has only been in use for the past few decades, thus the reason why some older horses have names which may not match with their year of birth.

All stallions’ given names must be unique since their name is assigned to all the foals they sire. This ensures that when looking at a horse’s registered name, there is no confusion as to who sired the horse in question.

Multiple geldings and/or mares can have the same given name as long as their herd name and sire name are different. This is because their names are not used in future genealogical reference to any offspring.

Once the year letter comes around again, and if an owner wishes to register a stallion with a given name that has already been used, said name must be followed by 2nd, 3rd, (2eme, 3eme) etc…

There is a 30 character length limitation for the full registered name of a horse. This includes spaces. As such, care should be taken to avoid choosing lengthy herd or stallion names, as this will limit the number of characters in the foal’s given name.