One Of North America's Heritage Horse Breeds Critically Endangered
After 350 years in North America, survival of the Canadian Horse breed is now in jeopardy according to the Livestock Conservancy. This historic breed contributed its genes to the Morgan, Saddlebred, Standardbred and Tennessee Walking Horse breeds.
By: Canadian Horse Heritage & Preservation Society
Owners and fans of the Canadian Horse have been planning events to celebrate the 350th anniversary of the arrival of the first horses – ancestors of the Canadian Horse – on North American soil. Two stallions and twenty mares were sent over to the French colonies by King Louis XIV of France and landed in what is now Quebec in July of 1665. Unfortunately, this anniversary celebration comes at a time when the Canadian Horse breed is in real danger of becoming extinct.
The Livestock Conservancy in Pittsboro, NC , an international watchdog for rare and endangered breeds, has just announced that the Canadian Horse’s status has been downgraded from threatened to critical. The number of new foals being born and registered has dropped drastically over the past several years, and is now at the point where there will soon not be enough horses of breeding age to maintain the balance between births and deaths. The loss of this breed would be a tragedy, as it represents a living link to the past for all of North America.
As one of the first distinct horse breeds in North America, the Canadian Horse has contributed its genes to a number of other breeds, including the Morgan horse, the Tennessee Walking Horse, the American Saddlebred, and the Standardbred. Canadian Horses were exported from Canada to the US by the thousands as cavalry mounts, artillery horses and pack horses. Not only did they help the Northern Armies win the Civil War, they hauled logs and pulled plows, pulled stage coaches and sleighs, and carried cowboys and city folks alike. Eighteenth century historian Etienne Faillon described the Canadian as “small but robust, hocks of steel, thick mane floating in the wind, bright and lively eyes, pricking sensitive ears at the least noise, going along day or night with the same courage, wide awake beneath its harness, spirited, good, gentle, affectionate''. The same description can still be applied to the majority of Canadian Horses today.
The economic downturn of the past decade has affected all North American horse breeds, but for a rare breed such as the Canadian, the effect has been catastrophic. For most families, owning a horse is considered a luxury, so it is one of the expenses most likely to be cut during a financial crunch. If breeders can’t find a market for their horses, they have no choice but to curtail their breeding operations, and are sometimes forced to geld their stallions and sell off their mares at reduced prices. Changing demographics have compounded the problem. Aging boomers are less likely to purchase young horses, and the younger generations growing up in urban areas seldom come in contact with horses and aren’t as familiar with the recreational opportunities they present.
The Canadian Horse has long been known for its versatility, which makes it an excellent choice as a family horse. Horses range in height from almost pony size to over sixteen hands, and depending on the conformation, training and temperament of the individual horse, can be suited for anything from competing in dressage to working with cows or from riding cross-country event courses to driving in harness. A Canadian can make a good gymkhana horse for a youngster or a reliable trail horse to take horse camping.
Canadian Horse owners and breeders are the stewards of a valuable and important heritage horse breed. In Managing Breeds for a Secure Future: Strategies for Breeders and Breed Associations by Dan Phillip Sponenberg and Donald E. Bixby, the authors state, “Details of genetic management of breeds are especially relevant to rare breed associations. While associations for common breeds tend to focus more on genetic improvement of production, associations for rare breeds must also pay close attention to genetic aspects of breed population viability.” In simple terms, for a rare breed like the Canadian Horse, breeding should be approached with attention to preserving as many bloodlines as possible so that in spite of its low numbers, the breed population maintains a healthy genetic diversity.
Obviously, there’s no easy fix, certainly nothing that can be accomplished in the short term. Those who value the breed will continue to promote it as widely as possible so more horse lovers learn to appreciate its unique characteristics, as the only way the population will grow is if more breeders embrace the challenge of stewarding this heritage breed. The Canadian Horse breed has come back from the brink of extinction before, and lovers of the breed hope fervently that it is able to do so again.
The Livestock Conservancy - http://www.livestockconservancy.org/
Additional information on the Canadian Horse at
and at http://www.chhaps.org