The first Canadian horses were a big part of early settlers in Canada as well as in the United States. Americans today have very little knowledge of these horses because only fragmented information is available. Their numbers are dwindling with only somewhere around 2,500 in existence; most of these are located in Eastern Canada. These days more horse enthusiasts have become aware of this and the special qualities of these horses or as they were called "the little iron horse" by the early settlers. Their ancestry can actually be traced all the way back to the 17th century by a stock that was brought to Acadia and New France. The introduction of French horses to New France (Canada) was done in 1665 when Louis XIV sent two stallions and twenty mares from the royal stables to the colony.
The Canadian horse like many others had other horse strains blended in to reap any benefits the other horses might have. Such breeds included the Andalusian, Breton, and the Dutch Friesian, which brought upon the feathered legs, their trotting ability, the abundance of mane and tail, and it's all around appearance. Although there was much cross breeding for such a long time, there was nearly a 150-year span that no other blood was infused with the Canadian horse. Many were being bred for a lighter and more refined type of horse.
The earliest Canadian horses were forced to live out in the rough weather; the early settlers believed that if they had to put up with the rougher conditions of the Northern Americas it toughened them up quicker. They were set free to run wild in the forest in the summer and fed little amounts in the winter; then they were worked hard with little support.
The breed's first studbook was opened in 1886 and then a short time later the breeders association was established in 1895; by 1940 however, the stud had been nearly deserted. It wasn't until many years later in 1979 the Canadian Government stepped in and sold off the remaining herd because breeders were actively searching for these horses to replenish their numbers as well as protect the breed in general. On April 30 of 2002, the Canadian Government passed a bill into law making the Canadian Horse the official animal symbol of Canada. Aside from the beaver, the Canadian Horse is seen as an animal symbol of Canada and it shares a connection with images of red-coated Mounties.
When the horses were able to roam free in the forest, they had little or no defense against flies because of the French practice of docking the tails. A herd was shipped to the Detroit and Illinois areas where they were allowed to roam free there as well until the time they were needed for work in which case they were brought in. Some were actually said to have escaped and ran the American plains with the Mustang; it is the one undocumented ancestor of the Canadian Horse. The use of these horses began to go down after the importation of heavy draft horses. The Tennessee Walking Horse and the Missouri Fox Trotter share an ancestry with the Canadian Horse.