The Remarkable History of the Canadian Horse
In 1665 a ship arrived at the French colony of New France, near what is modern day Quebec City. Among its precious cargo of supplies for the fledgling settlement where twelve horses, sent by King Louis XIV himself. Though likely chosen for traits that would allow them to thrive in the harsh rigors of the new world, their exact lineage remains a mystery. And though they were the first horses to arrive in what is today considered Canada, they were not the last. Shipments continued until 82 horses had arrived.
These horses were first granted to clergymen and gentlemen farmers, who were under strict contractual obligation to not only care for the animals, but to breed them. Among other stipulations, the individuals granted stewardship of one of these horses was required to return a foal within three years. This allowed the population to grow quickly, and the horses served a variety of roles, from pulling sleds to logging to tilling fields. So vital were these animals to the settlers, that they are often credited as being an important factor in the founding of our country.
However, the end of the French rule over the colonies in 1760 meant no more influx of new bloodlines, but it also meant a time of political and physical separation for the former French colony. So, isolated in the mountains of Quebec and partaking in a rapid breeding program with a limited gene pool, their varying lineages developed into a unique breed which maintains many of the remarkable traits that made it so invaluable.
During the era of the American Civil War, thousands of animals were exported to the U.S. for use as mounts and as breeding stock. The resulting crosses ultimately produced such breeds as the Morgan, The Misourri Fox Trotter and the Saddlebred. Sadly, the breed numbers dropped dangerously low. In 1886, the Canadian Horse Stud Book was opened in an effort to preserve the breed. Furthering preservation efforts, in 1895, Dr. Joseph. A. Couture, a veterinarian, founded the Canadian Horse Breeders Association, and in 1907 created the first official breed standards which remain unchanged to this day.
Despite efforts by the Federal and Quebec Provincial Governments to maintain breeding programs during the twentieth century, the continuation of the breed has now fallen strictly into the hands of private breeders. It is their dedication and devotion to the breed has ensured it’s continuation.
However, in a sad footnote to an amazing history, a combination of economic, technological, and social factors combined with the failure of individuals to properly register or transfer horses, have contributed to once again dangerously low breed numbers.