Advancement of the Canadian horse began with horses sent from France to Quebec between 1665 and 1670. With a limited number of horses in the colony, they were highly valued, and geographical isolation insured that the stock remained pure. Over the next century, natural and human selection molded a rugged and versatile breed: strong, dashing, and quick. The Canadian horse became popular for farm work, transport, riding, and racing. It earned the nickname “little iron horse.” Canadian horses could excel at any task they were put to.
By 1800 the breed become well known in the United States, being favored for many stagecoach routes throughout New England. It was determined that their genetics could improve other stocks, playing a pivotal role in developing new breeds, such as the formation of the Morgan, the American Saddlebred, and the Standardbred. Though the Canadian horse was celebrated for what it could do, no breed association was ever established in the United States. No efforts were made to maintain a purebred population in this country.
The market for Canadian horses was strong throughout the 1800s, with thousands of horses exported from Canada to the United States. Many of them became cavalry horses, and killed in the Civil War. With so many horses exported or lost, by 1880 the breed was nearly extinct. In 1886, a small group of breeders in Quebec formed a studbook for the Canadian horse. In 1895, an association, the Societe des Eleveurs des Chevaux Canadiens was formed.
Both the Canadian federal government and the provincial government of Quebec maintained breeding programs periodically, but in 1976, fewer than 400 horses remained. Since then, the Canadian horse society has been revitalized and has been successful in promoting the breed as a family horse and national treasure across Canada. There are an estimated 2,000 Canadian horses alive today, and the future of the breed is looking brighter than at any time in the past century.
The Canadian horse stands 14-16 hands (56-64″) at the withers and weighs 900-1000 pounds. Canadian horses are solid and very muscular, with a well-arched neck set high on a long, sloping shoulder. The overall impression is one of a round, sturdy, and well-balanced horse. Canadians are primarily black or bay, with full manes and tails. They are energetic without being nervous, and, as appropriate to their heritage, versatile and adaptable for a variety of riding and driving disciplines.
Photo courtesy of Margo Killoran, Three Fold Farm