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Big Book of Breeds
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[ INDEX ] Equine Type: Horse Breed: Canadian   [ PREV ] [ NEXT ]
The Canadian, which was also known as "The Little Iron Horse", is the National Horse Breed of Canada. This breed used to be popular in Canada and the United States, where it was extensively used for the development of several American horse breeds.

The story of the Canadian begins in the second half of the 17th century, in an area called New France, which was a French territory on the newly discovered North America. The French settlers needed good horses, and therefore King Louis XIV sent them three shipments of French horses. These horses, which were of various types such as heavy drafts, fast trotters, and light saddle horses, were the ancestors of the Canadian horse.

The settlers of New France began breeding their French horses, with the aim of creating sturdier horses who can pull carriages, work on farms, and serve as mounts. The breeding process involved keeping the horses in harsh conditions, such as shortage of food and lack of shelter. Furthermore, most of the time, the horses were left to fend for themselves in the wild, and were brought back only when the settlers needed them for work. This challenging lifestyle played a crucial role in the transition of the French horses into the tougher and sturdier Canadian breed.

Canadian horses became the primary horse on the Canadian farms, because not only were they strong enough to work in the fields, but they also had excellent trot and could serve as roadster horses. In fact, the French-Canadian settlers loved their Canadian horses so much, that they nicknamed them "Little Iron Horses".
The Americans also loved the Canadian horse, and during the 18th and 19th centuries many Canadian horses were exported to New England and, later, to the United States, where they became popular as roadsters. In addition, many of these horses were crossed with American breeds, and played a major role in the creation of new breeds, most notably the Morgan and the Standardbred. Meanwhile, in Canada, the numbers of purebred Canadian horses started to dwindle due to this excessive exportation.

Things got worse in the 19th century, when heavy draft horses were imported to the Canadian farms, where they replaced the Canadian horse as farm horses. In addition, Canadian riders began to travel on horses who pace rather than trot, and since Canadian horses don't pace they were no longer popular as a roadster horse in Canada. Therefore, most breeders stopped breeding Canadian horses, and by the 1880s the numbers of Canadian horses were so low that the breed faced the risk of extinction.

The process to save the Canadian breed started in 1886 with the establishment of a studbook, and continued in 1895 with the establishment of the Canadian Horse Breeders Association. However, the primary saviors of the Canadian horse were generation after generation of dedicated breeders, who insisted on preserving the original and pure form of the Canadian breed, rather than selectively breeding it into a sporthorse (as happened with other breeds). The Canadian remained close to extinction until the beginning of the 21th century, when its numbers began to rise. In 2020 there were a couple thousand Canadian horses in Canada.

Canadian horses are muscular horses who have excellent endurance, and an elegant action. Moreover, their arched and high-set neck, together with their short and elegant head, gives them a showy appearance as harness horses. In addition, many of them also have light feathering, as well as long and wavy manes and tails, two traits which add to their uniqueness. Today, Canadian horses serve as driving and riding horses in various disciplines.

Canadian horses usually have a black, brown, or bay coat, but the colors of chestnut, grey, and cream-dilutions also exist in this breed, though the latter are extremely rare. White markings exist but are rare and kept to a maximum of low stockings or a blaze. Canadian horses usually stand between 14hh and 16hh, though some horses can be as tall as 17hh.


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