350 years ago, in 1665, a gift from a French monarch to Quebec pioneers was to change the landscape of equine breeds in Canada.
King Louis XIV shipped horses to French Colonies of North America, later renamed Quebec. The first shipment of ten mares and two stallions, a stallion and his mares survived the long journey on a 17th century sailing ship. These horses, along with subsequent shipments, were bred in isolation for over 100 years giving birth to a new breed, The Canadian Horse/ Le Cheval Canadien and nicknamed The Little Iron Horse, renowned for its trainability, strength and endurance. Eastern Canada was developed with the steadfast help of the Canadian horse.
At the time, the breeding program followed a contract where the new owners were to breed the animals, maintain them, and return a foal after three years to the Intendant. This foal was then given to another person who was then bound by the same contract. Numbers multiplied rapidly from 12 in 1665 to 14,000 by 1793, but dwindled due to export to the US Civil War, when these horses were used widely by the military, popular for their strength, endurance and sure footing.
The “Little Iron Horse” is an apt nickname, as the Canadian Horse is smaller than a draft horse, standing full grown at 14 to 16HH (hands high); with a superior bone density, “pound for pound”, it is considered to be the strongest equine breed. With long manes tinged with red, the Canadian Horse is a beautiful horse, its appeal based on more than its regal looks: its friendly nature, quick mind and steadfast gait make it ideal for a variety of activities, from bush packing on the trail to stadium show jumping. English, Western and Driven disciplines are all under this breed’s belt.
The Canadian Horse Association Rocky Mountain District (CHARMD) is a dynamic chapter of the Canadian Horse Breeders Association, “created in 1895 to preserve and improve the Canadian Horse”. CHARMD represents members from BC to Manitoba, with Alberta hosting the majority of the membership and Canadian Horse breeders of Western Canada.
A Pettifer daughter native of Rollyview, Julie Hickie is the president of CHARMD: she and her husband Trevor own twenty Canadian horses on Cache Canadians, their breeding farm near Rimbey. Julie is the mother of two young kids and a passionate advocate of this magnificent breed. The star of her breeding farm is “Delavoye Heros Phenom”, or Phoenix, a magnificent, black 11 year old stallion with whom she shares an intense bond.
Julie competed locally with her dad Al Pettifer in the Klondike Carriage Classic of August 2012 held at the Beaumont Agricultural Grounds, where her Canadian horse performed well and was the ‘talk’ of the weekend.
The Mane Event Horse Show in Red Deer, planned this year for April 24-26 is the largest indoor equine trade show in Canada. With three large halls hosting exhibitors of all equine products and services imaginable, several barns holding a huge selection of equine breeds, clinicians and knowledgeable speakers, this is a meet where Canadian horse breeders will shine.
Price-wise, the Canadian horse is on par with other high-profile equine breeds, while its price as a trail horse is a bit higher, due to its qualities of strength, stamina and surefootedness. Foals generally start around $1,500 and, if you can find one for sale, a well broke gelding can fetch about $10,000.
With its 350-year track record of versatility, beauty and strength, it is said among Canadian horse aficionados that “there is nothing the Canadian horse can’t do!” For horse lovers and breeders, the Mane Event in Red Deer (April 24-26) is the show to attend this year!