Typically Canadian, the Cheval Canadien has been the unsung hero of North American horse breeds. Over a span of about 150 years, from 1665 when the first horses were sent over to Canada by King Louis XIV of France, the breed developed in Quebec from foundation Spanish, Norman, and Breton stock. Only the fittest survived the harsh winters, scarcity of feed and hard work, 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 by the mid 1800’s Canadians were sold by thousands to the U.S. Army. They found their way into the early stud books of the Morgan, Standardbred, and Tennessee Walking Horse breeds.

Sadly throughout the 1900’s, the breed number diminished to the point to where, outside of the province of Quebec, the Canadian Horse became virtually unknown. During the 1970’s, the breed hit an all time low when only approximately 400 registered Canadian Horses remained in existence, and less than 5 registrations were being recorded per year. Fortunately, since that time, dedicated breeders have worked diligently to save the breed from extinction and to preserve it according to the traditional and historic breed standards. The breed has slowly made a comeback and the population now stands at approximately 6000 horses. Most notably, today’s Canadian Horse still retains the same qualities that made them famous throughout North America centuries ago. Unfortunately the same can’t be said about many other North American developed breeds today.

Click here to view/download the breed standards.

Ranging from 14-16 hands and 1000 to 1400 lbs, they are most frequently black but also may be brown, bay or chestnut. They are hardy easy-keepers, strong and willing to work all week long, yet still exhibiting the presence, style and multi-talented nature to draw a fine carriage or win a jumping competition on the weekends.

In recognition of the breed’s contribution to the history and development of the country, the Canadian Horse was named the official National Horse of Canada in April of 2002.

The Canadian is well known and respected as a pleasure and combined driving horse and has continued to gain popularity as a riding horse, both English and Western, for recreation and competition. Canadians have proven their versatility in a number of disciplines, from jumping and dressage, to driving and pulling, to back country trail and cow work.

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.
  1. 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.
  2. 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”.
  3. 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 ‘B’ was assigned for 2014, the letter ‘C’ for 2015 and the letter ‘D’ for 2016.

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.

Conditions and Restrictions

At the time of registration the herd name must be the one of the owner or leaser of the mare at the time the breeding took place.

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

Year             Letter
2016              D
2017               E
2018              F
2019              G
2020             H
2021              I

Photo credit: Cara Grimshaw