The Canadian Horse is a little known national treasure of Canada. This hardy breed descended from horses originally sent to the “New World” by King Louis XIV of France in the late 1600’s. These Norman and Breton horses were felt to be of Arab, Andalusian and Barb ancestry – traits of which can still be recognized in the Canadian Horse today.
Most Canadian Horses are dark coloured: black, bay, or brown. A few chestnuts are found, occasionally with flaxen manes and tails, and the cream gene appears in the breed as the result of the genetic influence of one stallion. While some sources state that the gene for gray is no longer found in the breed, after the genetic bottleneck of the late 20th century, the preservation society for the breed states that they can be “rarely grey”. Their height averages 14 to 16 hands (56 to 64 inches, 142 to 163 cm) and stallions average 1,050 to 1,350 pounds (480 to 610 kg) in weight, while mares weigh 1,000 to 1,250 pounds (450 to 570 kg).
In the mid-1800’s, the Canadian Horse numbered about 150,000 and could be found throughout Canada and the United States. The Canadian was used for crossbreeding to improve the strength and hardiness of other breeds, and helped to found other North American breeds such as the Morgan, Tennessee Walking Horse, Standard bred, and the American Saddle bred. Increasingly, Canadian Horses were exported out of Canada for the Boer war, for working the sugar plantations in the West Indies, and to the United States for use on the stage-lines and for the American Civil War. The number of horses began to dwindle rapidly. With the advent of mechanized farm machinery, the Canadian Horse almost became extinct.
During the peak popularity of the breed, three main types could be distinguished. All three are now considered extinct, having disappeared or been merged back into the main Canadian horse population. The first, the Canadian Heavy Draft or St. Lawrence, which disappeared by the late 1700s, probably developed from Shire and Clydesdale crosses. They were probably a popular export to New England, which bred large numbers of horses for Caribbean plantations. The second, the Frencher, sometimes also called the St. Lawrence, was a trotting horse known for its power and speed, resulting from crosses with Thoroughbreds. Mixed with French trotting lines, they played a role in the development of the US trotting horses.