Horsing around: The Canadian horse

Wild Files: It’s our Nature

By Chadd Cawson Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Horses run wild and free in some parts of B.C. including the Chilcotin Plateau and the Okanagan. However, on the unceded territories of the Secwépemc and Ktunaxa Peoples and the land chosen as home by the Métis Peoples of B.C., people tend to care for their horses on properties. Horses have been around for over 50 million years. They evolved from being once a smaller multi-toed creature to the one-toed domesticated mammal of the equidae family we know today. With more than 200 different types of horses worldwide, there are many different breeds throughout the Columbia Valley. The horse that is from our home and native land is the Canadian horse.

Canadian Horse

The Canadian horse is a strong and well-muscled breed that is normally darker in colour; bay, black, or chestnut. In the early 1600s, King Louis XIV of France imported Breton and Norman horses that were believed to be of Barb, Andalusian, and Arabian ancestry. It was these breeds, along with the Friesian and Percheron, that were utilized most during times of war. Traits from these breeds led to the Canadian horse of today. This breed developed under harsh weather conditions and scarcity of food. This hardship has allowed it to thrive and be more tolerant to tougher conditions and environments. Their strength and adaptability has earned them the nickname ‘the little iron horse’. Canadian horses can do it all, from pulling ploughs and herding cattle, to racing.

As Canadian horses became a distinct breed over time, many were exported to the U.S. In 1913 the Canadian federal government started a special breeding program to bring up this species’ numbers. The program lasted until 1940, then the government of Quebec took it over and ran it until 1960. The Canadian horse, while perhaps more popular on the east coast of Canada, can be found across the country. They are known for their intelligence, making them easy to train, and for their calm temperament, which makes them an ideal breed to have around children or in any situation where loud noises may suddenly go off. They are essentially the people pleaser of the horse world.

Hard-hooved

These majestic creatures are known for their arched necks and chiseled heads, with manes and tails that are both long and wavy. Weighing an average of 635 kilograms (kg) and standing at 1.63 metres (m) tall, they have exceptionally strong legs and feet. The Canadian horse is no delicate prince or princess; in addition to the thick coats they grow in the winter to protect them from the harsh Canadian elements, their extra hard hooves allow them to run shoeless, and that they do, at an average speed of 49 kilometres (km) per hour.

Healthy as a horse

The Canadian horse is one breed that rarely falls ill. They have a vigorous immune system and unlike other breeds, are not one to catch colic. The average life span of a Canadian horse is from 25 to 30 years. Canadian horses are grazers, eating mainly grasses and other roughage high in fibre. They enjoy grains such as oats, and treats like apples, carrots, and other vegetables

Love bites

Male horses, known as stallions, look to capture the attention of their mare female interest by biting their shoulders, sides or hindparts, or by smelling them. This does not always lead to a kind reaction, and many mares will scream and bite back. Because they have excellent memories, horses can make great mates and will do so for life. Stallions used for breeding, are called studs and are at least 15 months of age before they can breed. Once they are that age, they can take on three mares a day. Mares, on average, will carry their foal from 340 to 370 days. A foal born at 315 days is considered premature; if a mare gives birth at 300 it’s unlikely the foal will survive. A group of horses has many names such as a herd, team, harem, or mob.

Honoured Horse

Horses have always been held in high regard by Indigenous Peoples. They have been used over time by warriors, and for transportation, and they have become integral in stories, celebration and song for many First Nations and cultures. The horse has become a symbol for freedom, courage, and strength.

Chadd Cawson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Columbia Valley Pioneer