Canada's National treasure and best kept secret
THE CANADIAN HORSE
courtesy of Sanda Saunders
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King Louis XIV gave New France a great gift when he sent his best horses across
the Atlantic Ocean in the 1600’s.
These horses were likely of Norman, Breton, Arab, Spanish Barb and
Andalusian descent. The
King wanted his horses to add panache to the new nobility and to the
French Army, who was trying to defend a territory covering the whole of
Canada, Western United States including the Mississippi valley.
The King’s horses not only managed
to survive but thrived despite northern shelterless winters, eating straw
and working ever so hard to help settle the new continent.
The horses adapted well and soon
were breeding so successfully that a regulation was passed in New France
restricting the number of horses settlers were allowed to own.
Luckily, this ordinance proved
impossible to be enforced.
Until the British conquest of 1780, the horses were bred true
without any outside influence of foreign horses.
From this carefully chosen herd a
truly amazing breed called in French “Le Cheval Canadien” emerged and has
managed to impress horsepersons in contact with them for over 350
years. After the conquest,
the breed was referred to outside of the French speaking community as the
“French Canadian Horse”.
Recently the name has been changed to the "Canadian Horse" but
still today, especially in rural communities, the old name sticks.
In April 2002 the Canadian government has officially recognized the
Canadian Horse as Canada's national breed. We can draw from the past
to build the future.
Americans traveling in the Canadian Province of Quebec were so
impressed by the “Cheval Canadien” horse that they brought back subjects
to New England to improve local stock. The improvements were so successful
that exportations became dangerously high for the survival of the breed in
its “pure” form. Indeed
exportation is beneficial if the horses will be bred as purebreds as well
as partbreds. Unfortunately,
even though there were many “Cheval Canadien” horses in New England and
Illinois as well as in Canada, there was no studbook anywhere to keep
records. So after several
generations, in the areas outside of what is now the Province of Quebec,
the “Cheval Canadien” blood filtered away in “the traditional American
Melting Pot” fashion. The
impact and legacy of the “Cheval Canadien” blood was remarkable
though. The Canadian was used
to form the Morgan, the American Saddlebred, the Standardbred, The Misouri
Fox Trotter and the Tennessee Walker breeds.
Wars also have taken their toll on
the number of horses as the endurance, versatility, disposition,
intelligence, and hardiness of the “Cheval Canadien” horse made him an
exceptional war mount (driven and ridden).
Louis XIV would have agreed with
popularity of the breed was expanding so much so, that in an effort to
protect the breed, a law was passed forbidding the exportation of “French
Canadian Horses”. However,
without a studbook or strong association, it was hard to effectively
protect the breed. Luckily,
some concerned individuals did form a first studbook in 1885 and in 1895
the Canadian Horse Breeders Association was formed.
In 1907 the first studbook was
closed and a new one was formed through strict inspections of the breeding
stock. In 1909 the second
studbook was closed to unregistered horses and the government became
involved in the preservation of the breed by administrating breeding
programs until 1979. The closure of the governmental programs, the effect
of mechanization and the lack of promotional initiative were some of the
contributing factors in the decline in numbers of registered stock.
At the lowest point between 1970
and 1974 the numbers had dropped from 150 000 in the 1850’s to only about
400 purebred horses.
Shortly thereafter alarmed “Cheval Canadien” enthusiasts
aggressively started to promote the breed in the Canadian Provinces of
Quebec and Ontario. In the
1980’s horsemen in Alberta and British Columbia discovered that the
Canadian’s aptitudes and characteristics make him the ultimate mountain
horse. The reputation of the
“Cheval Canadien” horse was proven once again true.
Unfortunately Americans are only
just rediscovering the breed that their forefathers appreciated and who
had such an impact on so many American breeds.
All this welcomed renewed
interest has enabled the status of the Canadian Horse breed to be moved
from "Critical" to "Rare" by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy.
This time however we have to ensure the “Cheval Canadien” breed is
propagated and not just used to improve or create new breeds.
The breed is desirable and
worth saving for many reasons:
Genetic research has shown the
“Cheval Canadien” to be genetically distinct from all other popular racing
and riding breeds in existence today.
Three centuries of natural
selection in the most adverse conditions have produced low maintenance
horses, that are strong and sturdy, who live a productive life well into
their twenties (both performance and reproduction).
Demuy Coco Loulou 4247 owned by
Emilien Mainguy is an example, at 23 she is not only feeding her own foal
but she has also adopted an orphaned Thoroughbred foal.
“That old gal has done that a few
times and still she manages to keep her 12 year old looks and good
health!” says her owner. The temperament of the breed is renown for its
gentleness. Riders generally
learn and improve faster because the horse is easy to ride.
“Cheval Canadien” Horse has the
reputation of offering very little resistance to human handling.
His athletic ability, stunning
looks (described by many as a mix between the Warmblood, Friesian and
Andalusian), conformation and bone structure combined with their
trainability make them suitable for just about any discipline.
An example of this wonderful versatility is Tonerre a 15hh
purebred stallion. He
won the “Jeux Du Quebec” (Quebec Games) which are the equivalent to State
Junior Championships in jumping while doing farm work on his time off
(he often gets hitched as a team
with an other stallion!).
His part owner and rider Louis-Philippe Racette says that even
though he competes against 16 and 17 hands high horses, his 15 hands high
horse is so powerful and fast when he needs to be that he makes up for the
lack of stride and size.
“Thanks to his remarkable agility we also make up time by taking sharp
turns. This is harder for the
taller horses to do.” He also
adds: “Other reasons why my horse is a good jumper are that I can come to
the obstacle fast and know that if I don’t get there at the right take off
point I can count on Tonerre to take off from further away and he will
make it. His quiet nature
enables me to open him up in between jumps and slow him right down at the
last minute without him getting upset.
That’s an advantage!”
Louis Phillip's sister
Andree-Anne Racette is also enjoying success over fences with her Canadian
gelding Nougat. She won the 2001 regional championships.
Louis-Phillip’s mother, a life long coach and trainer pointed out that all
Canadians she has ever dealt with enjoyed working over fences “They have a
knack for it!” she says.
The Cheval Canadien’s reputation in the driving world is
legendary. Sue Mott and her
purebred gelding Caesar captured the admiration of driving enthusiasts by
winning the advanced singles of the 2000 Jaguar Combined Driving Triple
Crown as well as other events. “One of the things that give my horse the
extra edge is his power and the controllability of it.
I can open him up when I need it
then suddenly pull him up and he will cool right down and carry on
steadily. He does not get
wound up. If we get in
trouble in a hazard, he does not get upset or panic.
That enables us to work together
and get out of trouble. He is
very muscular yet endurant and elegant enough for the dressage ring.” She
was impressed by the speed at which he got back into shape after an 8
months complete rest. “It was
like if he was only a month off”.
She finds her horse exhibits
typical characteristics of the breed.
Watch for her at the World
Bergeron and his purebred mare Rosie had their moment of glory during the
1998 Canadian Carriage Driving Classic when they won the “Single Horse On
Runabout Carriage Championship” and the Reserve Champion Single Horse On
Road Cart” title in 2000. Mr
Bergeron enjoys success with his mare in “Pleasure Driving Shows” as well
as “Combined Driving Events”.
Let's not forget about Paul Bienvenue who went to the World Championships
in Riesenback, Germany with a team and came back with a first place in the
presentation class. These are just some of the success
stories. Canadian horses are now also building a reputation
in the endurance, dressage, eventing and fox hunting worlds because of
their wonderful movement and calm personality.
Canadians are found in all the
western disciplines as well and have proven to be quite agile with
Although there has been a new
trend towards breeding taller more refined sport horse type, the
traditional “Cheval Canadien” should stand between 14.2 and 16hh weighing
1050 to 1350 lbs. The head is broad and courageous with an, open forehead,
ears wide apart, full arched neck, and a stout frame.
He exhibits a proud and courageous
demeanour. His breast is full and broad; his shoulder strong (even rather
upright and somewhat inclined to be heavy), his back broad and rather long
than short with sides inclined to flatness.
His is croup round, fleshy and
muscular with quarters short and somewhat drooping, the muscles well let
down and the tendons large. His legs and feet are admirable; the bone
large and flat, and the sinews big, and nervous as steel springs, the feet
tough and almost immune from disease. His fetlocks are shaggy, his mane
voluminous and massive often falling on both sides of his neck, and his
tail abundant. Both main and tail are often wavy.
The Canadian Horse is mostly black
with some bays and chestnuts more common in certain bloodlines.
Two kinds of movement have been
produced: a higher knee action desirable by many driving or parade
enthusiasts (unfortunately not inclined to maintain great speed for any
length of time) and a longer stretched out smoother movement more suited
for riding. The later having
been appreciated by many dressage enthusiasts who often compare the
Canadian’s movement to a mix between European Warmbloods and
Andalusians. The same comment
is often used to describe the unique “Cheval Canadien’s” looks although
the Friesian is also added in the mix.
But remember: different bloodlines
have slightly different characteristics.
How should we ensure the survival of the breed?
his ability to thrive under the most adverse conditions and the fact that
he is exceptionally strong for his size, have earned him the nickname of
“Little Iron Horse”. But as
tough as the breed is, it needs the help of dedicated owners, breeders and
enthusiasts to ensure its survival in its pure form and also in its
traditional form. As
mentioned earlier, the new trend towards the sport horse use of the
Canadian to satisfy the astonishing revived American interest should not
take over the traditional characteristics of the breed.
Especially when traditional
smaller horses routinely outdo the big guys!
The athletic ability of the
Canadian proves the old saying that “size doesn’t matter”.
A second point to take into
consideration is that even though the traditional Canadian is generally
shorter in stature than the average show ring sport horses in use today, a
“Cheval Canadien” Horse tends to look bigger and is able to carry a larger
rider than his height would suggest due to his substantial body and bone
size. The traditional “looks”
that make the Canadian so unique also need to be conserved.
We need to learn from many breeds
that got caught-up in the halter class emphasis when breeding horses that
a breed’s characteristics can dangerously change according to fashion
trends. If this happens the
new aesthetic attributes might change performance ability or other prized
characteristics of the breed.
Ethically breeders should not try to produce 17hh Canadians as too
many consequences come in to play.
The right thing to do is to
promote the breed for what it is so that it will be kept intact.
If breeders really need 17hh
horses for those customers who don’t believe the fact that most 15 to 16hh
Canadians can do the same job, then crossbreed!
An interesting fact is that,
although generally small himself in stature, he has proven to have the
unusual quality of breeding up in size with larger and loftier mares than
himself, and to give the foals his own vigour, trainability and iron
constitution, with the frame and general aspect of their dams.
information you can contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org