Canada's little-known national horse is on the verge of extinction, says the Canadian Horse Heritage and Preservation Society, after an international watchdog raised its status from threatened to critical.
Roxanne Salinas, a horse breeder in Mission, B.C., says the economic downturn, urbanization and people's fascination with show horses may be contributing to the decline of the Canadian horse — or le cheval canadien.
"[Canadian horses] make such nice riding horses, people have the mares and they ride them and show them and give them wonderful homes, but they're not reproducing," Salinas told Daybreak North.
'Little iron horse'
The Canadian horse, nicknamed the "little iron horse," descended from two stallions and 20 mares sent over to what is now Canadian soil by King Louis XIV of France in July 1665.
The horse was historically used for farm work, transport, riding, and racing, but during the American Civil War, many of them were exported to the U.S. to be used as cavalry horses.
As a result, more than 150,000 horses were lost and the breed became nearly extinct.
According to the Livestock Conservancy, the federal government and Quebec tried programs to preserve the breed, but fewer than 400 Canadian horses remained by 1976.
Canada's official national horse
It was officially recognized as a national symbol in 2002 and the stock has now increased to about 2,000.
Still, Salinas says more needs to be done to keep the breed alive, not only because the Canadian horse is a versatile, sturdy and mild-tempered breed, but also simply because they're Canadian.
"They contributed so much to the development of our country, they were used in the fur brigades, they helped peoples settle in the prairies."
"They're a part of our heritage."
To hear the full interview, listen to the audio labelled: Canadian horse's days may be numbered
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