One of the rarest horse breeds in the world is traveling through much of the Capital Region this week.
Galopin and Hannah are considered pure-blood Canadian horses, two of about 2,000 left in the world. The threat of the breed’s extinction is listed as critical by the American Livestock Breed Conservancy.
Richard Blackburn and his wife, Louise Leroux, are traveling from their hometown of Morin Heights, Quebec, to Texas as a way to generate awareness and showcase the rare breed of horse. Blackburn rides the horses, while Leroux travels behind in their camper.
Their goal is to bring 50 DNA samples to Gus Cothran, the director of the Equine Genetics Research Facility at Texas A&M University. Cothran has been genetically mapping each known horse breed throughout history, Blackburn said, but he has never had DNA from a Canadian horse. Cothran thinks the 50 DNA samples from some of the purest Canadian horses will prove the contribution the Canadian horse made in North America, Blackburn said.
They plan to make a stop in Lexington, Ky., the home of all things horses, where Blackburn plans to leave one of his Canadians at the International Museum of the Horse. Each day at 2 p.m., there is a parade that showcases each horse breed. However, there has never been a Canadian horse in the parade because pure-blooded Canadians are too rare, Blackburn said.
Hannah is about 99 percent pure-blooded Canadian, which Blackburn said makes her one of the rarest horses in the world.
Canadian horses were brought to North America by the early French settlers. The breed traces its ancestry back to the royal stables of Louis XIV, Blackburn said. Eighty-two horses were brought over from 1665 to 1670.
The horses were inbred for about 100 years, as there was no one to trade them with. The English were the only other group to bring horses to this part of North America at that time, and they were continually at war with the French.
To survive the harsh winters and lifestyle, the breed developed into hearty stock, known for its endurance, strength and good nature, Blackburn said.
Blackburn called the Canadian the SUV of horses, able to do just about anything. Canadians were often called “the little iron horse” and were used as riding horses as well as to clear land and haul away large trees. Blackburn said he is riding the horses especially to showcase their abilities — strength, endurance and adaptability.
“These horses are as fast as they are strong as they are sweet,” he said.
Blackburn said the reason pure-blooded Canadians are diminishing is because people aren’t interested in horses that can do everything anymore. People are mostly interested in horses for the money, he said, so they are bred to be the fastest runners or the best jumpers.
Canadian horses were responsible for the early settlement and development of much of North America, Blackburn said, a legacy that he would not like to see die.
“This is American heritage, and we don’t want to see it gone,” Blackburn said. “It would be like losing George Washington’s grave. You can never get it back.”
Blackburn is of English heritage. Leroux is 13th-generation French Canadian. Leroux said her ancestors were on the boat with what became the Canadian horse.
The couple own a production company, Shoot Films, based in their hometown. Leroux is a documentary film maker and Blackburn is a television producer, used to “wearing a suit, going to meetings and having lunches.”
Leroux is filming the couple’s journey for a documentary.
Blackburn and Leroux have three daughters, which is how they got involved with horses in the first place.
Blackburn said they own about 40 acres and had always thought about having horses, so when their daughters were old enough, he set about buying one.
Blackburn said they became very interested in the Canadian horse, which played such an important role in the development of the country, because they are interested in anything having to do with Canadian history.
Leroux said the interesting thing is that not even Canadians, who are fiercely proud of their history and heritage, knew about Canadian horses.
“Quebecois are proud of their culture, but there is no mention of the Canadian horse in any of the history books. What happened?” she said.
The couple are traveling through the United States to Texas along what was once a French trading route.
The couple travel between 20 and 25 miles per day. They crossed the border from Canada into the United States at a small crossing in Vermont and traveled through Vermont to Rutland and then to Schuylerville.
Tuesday they traveled from Saratoga Springs, where they saw a vet at the track about a small muscle pull in Galopin, the male horse, to West Charlton, where they were able to find a family to let them stay on their land. Each afternoon, the couple begins to look for a friendly family who will let them stay on their land. They said New Yorkers have been very hospitable so far.
“And we’ve got horses — we’re not low-maintenance,” Leroux said.
The couple stopped outside Rotterdam Junction on Wednesday and intended to continue south through the Schoharie Valley today.
Follow their journey at www.legendofthecanadianhorse.com.