The Journal of heredity2014; 106(1); 37-44; doi: 10.1093/jhered/esu074

The legend of the Canadian horse: genetic diversity and breed origin.

Abstract: The Canadian breed of horse invokes a fascinating chapter of North American history and as such it is now a heritage breed and the national horse of Canada. The aims of this study were to determine the level of genetic diversity in the Canadian, investigate the possible foundation breeds and the role it had in the development of the US horse breeds, such as Morgan Horse. We tested a total of 981 horses by using 15 microsatellite markers. We found that Canadian horses have high values of genetic diversity indices and show no evidence of a serious loss of genetic diversity and the inbreeding coefficient was not significantly different from zero. Belgian, Percheron, Breton and Dales Pony, unlike the light French horses, may have common ancestries with the Canadian and could be important founders. However, the Shire and Clydesdale influenced the Canadian to a lesser extent than French and Belgian draft breeds. Furthermore, our finding indicated that there was no evidence of a clear relationship between Canadian and Oriental or Iberian breeds. Also, the Canadian likely contributed to the early development of the Morgan. Finally, these findings support the ancient legends of the Canadian Horse as North America’s first equine breed and the foundation bloodstock to many American breeds and may help in the management and breeding program of this outstanding breed in North America.
Publication Date: 2014-11-25 PubMed ID: 25416795DOI: 10.1093/jhered/esu074Google Scholar: Lookup
The Equine Research Bank provides access to a large database of publicly available scientific literature. Inclusion in the Research Bank does not imply endorsement of study methods or findings by Mad Barn.
  • Historical Article
  • Journal Article
  • Research Support
  • Non-U.S. Gov't


This research summary has been generated with artificial intelligence and may contain errors and omissions. Refer to the original study to confirm details provided. Submit correction.

This research article investigates the genetic diversity, origins and influence of the Canadian horse breed. The study found that the breed has high levels of genetic diversity, indicating robust genetic health, with potential root links to several European breeds, and made significant contributions to the development of certain American breeds such as the Morgan Horse.

Research Aims and Methodology

  • The primary objective of this study was to uncover the genetic diversity level of the Canadian horse, determine the potential breeds that formed the Canadian horse and its influence on the development of US horse breeds such as Morgan Horse.
  • For this study, the researchers tested a total of 981 horses using 15 microsatellite markers, a standard method in genetic diversity studies.

Research Findings

  • The researchers discovered that Canadian horses exhibit high levels of genetic diversity, indicating a healthy and varied breed. The inbreeding coefficient was not significantly different from zero, suggesting no significant loss of genetic diversity through inbreeding.
  • The Belgian, Percheron, Breton, and Dales Pony breeds may have common ancestries with the Canadian breed and could be key founders based on their gene similarity.
  • On the other hand, the Shire and Clydesdale breeds appeared to contribute less to the Canadian breed compared to French and Belgian draft breeds.
  • The study found no evidence of a clear genetic connection between Canadian and Oriental or Iberian breeds. This suggests that the Canadian horse breed did not originate from or significantly mingle with Oriental or Iberian breeds.
  • The findings also indicate that the Canadian horse likely played a crucial role in the early development of the Morgan breed, a classic American breed.

Conclusion and Future Implication

  • This research supports the historical accounts that position the Canadian Horse breed as North America’s first distinct equine breed and a foundational ancestry of many American breeds.
  • These findings may assist animal scientists and breeders in understanding the heritage, genetic health, and management needs of this breed better.

Cite This Article

Khanshour A, Juras R, Blackburn R, Cothran EG. (2014). The legend of the Canadian horse: genetic diversity and breed origin. J Hered, 106(1), 37-44.


ISSN: 1465-7333
NlmUniqueID: 0375373
Country: United States
Language: English
Volume: 106
Issue: 1
Pages: 37-44

Researcher Affiliations

Khanshour, Anas
    Juras, Rytis
      Blackburn, Rick
        Cothran, E Gus

          MeSH Terms

          • Animals
          • Breeding / history
          • Canada
          • Genetic Variation
          • Genetics, Population
          • History, 17th Century
          • History, 18th Century
          • History, 19th Century
          • History, 20th Century
          • History, 21st Century
          • Horses / genetics
          • Microsatellite Repeats / genetics
          • Species Specificity


          This article has been cited 2 times.
          1. Ivankoviu0107 A, Bittante G, Konjau010diu0107 M, Kelava Ugarkoviu0107 N, Peu0107ina M, Ramljak J. Evaluation of the Conservation Status of the Croatian Posavina Horse Breed Based on Pedigree and Microsatellite Data.. Animals (Basel) 2021 Jul 18;11(7).
            doi: 10.3390/ani11072130pubmed: 34359258google scholar: lookup
          2. Funk SM, Guedaoura S, Juras R, Raziq A, Landolsi F, Luu00eds C, Martu00ednez AM, Musa Mayaki A, Mujica F, Oom MDM, Ouragh L, Stranger YM, Vega-Pla JL, Cothran EG. Major inconsistencies of inferred population genetic structure estimated in a large set of domestic horse breeds using microsatellites.. Ecol Evol 2020 May;10(10):4261-4279.
            doi: 10.1002/ece3.6195pubmed: 32489595google scholar: lookup