Have you ever fantasized about finding hidden
treasure? The rare Canadian Horse (there are
perhaps only 6,000 worldwide) may be one of
Canada’s best-kept secrets.
According to owners and breeders, the hardiness, versatility, appearance, and above all, outstanding personalities of these horses are winning them friends and fans far and wide.
Classified as “critical” on the American Livestock Conservancy List, the Canadian Horse is descended from Arabian, Andalusian, and Barb horses originally sent to North America by the French King Louis XIV in the late 1600s. By the mid-1800s there were only about 400 registered, and so in the late 1800s this national breed was finally recognized. The first stud book was opened in 1886, and the Canadian Horse Breeders Association was formed in 1895. In 1907, Dr. J.G. Rutherford, the Federal Government Livestock Commissioner, opened a new stud book with improved standards.
Today, there are over a thousand breeding farms in Canada and the U.S., most located near the province of Quebec. Canadian Horses stand 14 to 16 hands tall. They can be bay, chestnut, or black. They have a high head carriage with bright, kind eyes, an arched neck, a broad, deep chest with well-rounded flanks, long sloping shoulders and well-muscled hindquarters. They have long flowing manes and tails and tough hooves. Their temperament is described as energetic and spirited, yet calm and not nervous.
“It used to be that no one outside of Canada even knew about Canadian Horses,” says Cathleen Hall, President of the Canadian Horse Breeders Association. “Now people see them at shows or at programs like the Equine Affaire, and they want to know what kind of horse this is. Their exceptional looks attract a lot of people, and then they find out how versatile the breed is. Canadian Horses are great for riding and driving, jumping and dressage, kids and adults. They have good heads, and if they make a mistake, they quickly learn to correct it. Personally, I’m in love with the breed.”
“I bought my first Canadian Horse about eleven years ago,” says Laurie Maus of Ontario. She now breeds Canadian Horses and is a member of the Rare Breed Conservation Association. “I had a Quarter Horse and needed a companion. I found a stunning Canadian mare, and I was sold. She was the start of my breeding program, my foundation mare. I love how hardy they are, with excellent feet, such easy keepers, great temperaments, just exceptional.”
They also have a high fertility rate and often catch on the first cycle.
They foal easily, usually without any problems, and make great moms. Although we want to keep the breed pure, Canadians do cross well, especially with Arabians and Thoroughbreds. Most breeders feel that it’s okay to ship semen, but it’s frowned upon to breed a purebred Canadian mare to a stallion of another breed. Stallions can cover a lot of mares, but a mare can have only one foal at a time. All registered Canadian Horses are micro-chipped and DNA tested. Cross-breeds are not allowed in the registry.
“People use Canadian Horses for everything, from pleasure riding to showing, from driving to working in the field. These are great work horses for people who still want to use
their horses on their farms. The old saying is that they are hardy enough to out-pull a draft horse, yet fancy enough to drive a lady to church on Sunday. They make great riding and dressage horses, and look like smaller versions of Friesians. They do well in eventing, hunting, and jumping, western pleasure and competitive trail. The Montreal Police use Canadian Horses exclusively for their mounted patrols, because these horses are so unflappable.
“What I love best about them is their personality. These are the friendliest horses—they always come to greet you. They love people and are so smart. They’re also incredibly hardy. I keep my horses turned out all year with run-in shelters available. These horses don’t mind temperatures of twenty or thirty below zero; they’re fine left out without any blankets or anything. I let them be horses, and I don’t ever have to worry about shoes. I say that Canadian Horses are a little like Canadian people: they have a great sense of humor. They make me laugh.”
“I was looking for a horse about ten years ago, and a friend brought me to a farm in Quebec,” says Susan Heath of Milton, Vermont. “I’ve had everything over the years, Paints and Quarter Horses, draft crosses and Morgans. Here were all these pretty black horses that looked like Friesians. We walked into a field with about thirty yearlings, and one of them came right up and kept biting at me, kicking at me. Could I pet him? No, but that was the one I wanted. My friend thought I was nuts, and my husband almost killed me when I came back with this colt. What could I do? I’d fallen in love with him, and now, I wouldn’t have anything else. As a matter of fact, now I own eighteen of them!
“I love how big and solid the Canadian Horses are, how easily they learn, just how much fun they are to be around. This past fall I showed a four-year-old stallion in the Versatility Challenge at the
Equine Affaire, and we came in seventh. I had him in Western gear, and we did rollbacks, pole bending, lead changes, jumping, side passes; he had to walk over a tarp and past a smoke machine. He was fantastic. A lot of people never knew he was so young or noticed that he was a stallion. Canadian Horses are willing to do anything.
“I start doing dressage, but then I get bored, so I go trail riding, which sure beats constantly trying to collect your horse. I go on overnight camping trips, do some horse shows—it never matters to him. When I throw on some tack, he wants to know: what are we doing today? That’s one of my favorite things about them, how versatile they are. They can learn to do anything in a heartbeat, they’re so smart.
“They’re incredibly easy to keep. They have good feet, so you don’t have to worry about losing shoes all the time. You can keep them out, even during real winters, and not worry about blankets. They do fine. They’re not thin-skinned. This is a very easy-maintenance horse.”
“A few years ago I had a Quarter Horse who constantly had hoof problems, so I was looking for another horse to go out riding with my daughter,” says Jeff Gardener of Coventry, Rhode Island. “I was thinking I might try a Morgan. In 2003 we went to the Equine Affaire, and I saw my first Canadian Horse. Three months later, I owned three of them. Now I own five. I love how versatile they are. They’re sturdy, very easy keepers. I never have to worry about hoof problems anymore. They also have great temperaments and heart. My wife, daughter, and I all ride them just for fun on trails, and also in hunter paces. My mare can set a pace and keep going forever. We also do competitive trail riding of 25, 50, 60, and 80 miles without any problems.
“Canadian Horses are also excellent for driving. We do pleasure and long distance competitions, and they’re very easygoing. We do quite well against the Morgans and Arabians. As riding horses, they’re great for beginners because there’s no spook in them. They’re a lot of fun out on the trail, very safe. I never really rode before. My daughter was into 4-H, and then she got tired of showing, so I got a horse to ride out on trails with her. Now we ride together all the time.
“I also like the idea of owning a rare horse, something out of the ordinary. I bought my mare in Vermont, and I’ve gone to Canada to buy the others. It adds a certain flair, buying a horse from another country. And after all, Quebec’s closer than Virginia, so it’s not like
I have to travel that far. It’s something else to talk about, when you’re with horse people. People always ask me, ‘what kind of horse is that?’ You can’t miss the jet-black horse with the proud stance and long mane. It’s always a subject of discussion. Anyway, I think this breed is perfect just the way it is. I can’t say enough good things about Canadian Horses.”
“I started breeding Canadian Horses in 1991,” says Pat Garland of Ontario. “I bought a purebred, though unregistered, mare named Ebony, and I was hooked; game over. I’d had all kinds of breeds before that, but once I had my first Canadian, I knew I’d never have anything else ever again. They are so smart, so people-oriented, they just have a fantastic disposition. They do anything for you, whether it’s driving or riding or working—they’re always willing.
This is a horse that everyone in the family can ride. “One of the best things about Canadian Horses is they’re not too expensive, not priced, ‘over the moon.’ You can get a very nice weanling or yearling for around $4,000-$5,000. They’re generally broken to drive at two, then backed at three. A well-broken gelding will run around $7,000-$8,000, and a decent broodmare about $10,000.
“I know that a true horse lover finds beauty in every horse, but Canadian Horses definitely stand out at different events. It’s hard to put into words. They have that majestic look, it’s more than just beauty—it’s an inner thing, something noble, which just attracts people. It’s the long, flowing mane, the expression in their eyes—they look at you, and you’re lost.”
If you’re interested in buying a Canadian Horse, contact a breeder, either in the U.S. or in Canada. In addition, a helpful website is www.lechevalcanadien.ca. They list horses and teams for sale, stud services and a lot of interesting information about the breed’s history and mystique.
Many thanks to everyone who helped with this article: Cathleen Hall, president of the Canadian Horse Breeders Association; Laurie Maus, of Hawk Hill Canadian Horses; Pat Garland of Cosyland Farm; Susan Heath of Gray Ghost Farm and Jeff Gardener of Rhodemont Farm.