The Canadian horse is well known for being an intelligent and spirited animal. It is a multi-talented breed, used around the world in endurance riding, hunting, work and jumping activities. The breed possesses the agility that it usually only apparent in their hot-blooded counterparts and yet they also have the bigger build and milder temperament of more cold-blooded breeds to contradict this. The Canadian horse has a fantastic reputation all the world over, and the number of top-class runners sired by or descended from one is astounding. Furthermore, as a result of their healthy bones, endurance and hardworking nature, Canada’s national horse is amongst the most versatile of breeds. However, this increased popularity has been both a blessing and a curse for Canadian horses, with numbers being bred being drastically low. The breed that has become synonymous with the nation is currently at risk of extinction.
The Canadian horse is the breed upon which our great nation was founded; it helped our ancestors to win the wars that shaped our country and through working hard on the homesteads, Canadian horses helped to build the nation as well. The horse originated from France, and it was in 1965 that King Louis XIV sent 14 of his royal horses to New France, now known as Québec. Around fifteen more horses were sent each year between 1668 and 1661. Under strict breeding conditions, the Canadian horse was born. Tough and study, the breed worked tirelessly for their owners, earning the nickname the little iron horse’ for their ability to pull notable weight for its size. According to The Jockey Club’s Report of Mares Breed, it was Giant Gizmo, an Ontarian Stallion who took the top price in 2017, covering 72 mares this year alone. However, this was a decrease from his 79 covered the previous year. There are still foals being born, however, if numbers don’t increase rapidly the very breed that has become a symbol of the Canadian nation and what it represents may be at risk, with numbers quickly declining. Registrations of new Canadian foals are the lowest they have been since 1993. Many breeders have been forced to sell their farms and breeding stock, a significant number of mare owners have no intention of breeding their animals, and the remote location of some of the remaining stallions has only served to perpetuate the current crisis further. There are currently between 5000- and 6000 Canadian horses left. However, what is worrying experts is the limited number of mares who can breed. Not enough foals are being born to maintain numbers, and increasingly there is concern amongst horse breeders in Canada regarding the future of this glorious breed.
However, a recent survey conducted, including all horse breeds, indicated that almost 50% of owners of mares do not have any intention of breeding. The vast majority of female Canadian horses are show or pleasure horses, and owners may not have any plans of breeding them as they have little desire to take their horse out of season. Victoria Tollman, Equus Survival Trust, stated that it is each mare owner’s responsibility to ensure that they breed their animal, and protect the future of the Canadian horse, stating that ‘every mare should also have a good daughter to replace her in the breeding programme’. There is a need to act now to ensure the protection of the breed, and it is hoped that all owners will consider breeding their mares twice in their reproductive years to ensure a diverse and healthy gene pool and the continued success of the Canadian horse into the future. Regardless of the continued effort from stallion farms across Canada, it remains that in most of the provinces, herd numbers have decreased or stayed the same since 2010. Statistics indicate that an individual is likely to have the same amount of horses or less within the next five years. This reflects a change in the very nature of the horse industry, with significantly fewer horse owners than in previous years. Stallion farms in Canada have been committed to addressing any shortcomings and protecting the world-renowned reputation of the Canadian horse. Furthermore, before the financial crisis in 2008, Canada had a significantly higher number of breeding farms that both bred and sold Canadian horses. However, a number of these were not able to stay afloat during the difficult economic times, and while the owner's priority probably continues to be breed preservation, it remains that the care of horses can require a significant amount of money.
Stallion ownership is also declining. There are currently 172 stallions listed in the Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society. However, this number has drastically declined in recent years. Furthermore, many of the remaining stallions are located in remoted paces, and the majority of the stallion farms do not offer shipped semen, resulting in further declines in the numbers of Canadian horses. While it is the responsibility of mare owners to breed their animals, stallion farms need also to ensure that this process is made as simple as possible. They also need to be committed to communicating the benefits of siring in Canada on a more international scale. In Ontario, foals by Ontario sires are then eligible for the sire stake races. This allows breeders to have then the benefit of having opportunity to enter the horse into the Ontario sire stake races, This is can be particularly beneficial to US horse owners, and it provides an excellent incentive for them to breed with a Canadian horse form, particularly when the US dollar- to Canadian dollar exchange rate is taken into consideration. It is time for action, and we can no longer sit by and let this fantastic breed, the symbol of the Canadian nation, be at risk of extinction.