The Canadian Pacer was one of the most influential horse breeds in North America back in the 1800’s. It was one of the foundation breeds of the Tennessee Walking Horse (TWH) and the American Saddlebred (ASB). Although some websites claim that the Canadian Pacer still exists, this writer has not been able to find any proof. Perhaps the webistes assumed any Standardbred living in Canada counted as a Canadian pacer, but they do not. They’re Standardbreds. Generally, it is believed the Canadian Pacer became extinct in the early 1900’s.
What Is A Pacer?
Today in North America when the word “pacer” is used in regards to horses, it means a Standardbred racer that can perform a gait called the pace. This is where both legs on the same side move in unison. Modern Standardbred pacers can reach speeds comparable to galloping Thoroughbreds. However, this is not the type of pacer that the Canadian Pacer was.
Back until the rise of the car, a “pacer” was the name for a horse with extremely comfortable gaits. They were also known as “amblers”, “single-footers”, “rawal” or “Indian shufflers.” This kind of pace was four beat gait where each hoof hit the ground separately. It was an incredibly fast version of a walk, but yet horses could reach speeds of over 20 miles per hour.
The resulting pace kept most of the backbone still, although the legs were working like mad. However, a good pacer could go a long distance at this gait because it was that horse’s most comfortable gait. It was also a very smooth gait for the rider. It’s though that horses in medieval times called “palfreys” were pacers. Horses that are born with this pacing ability still exist today.
The origins of the Canadian Pacer are unclear, but since the first horses shipped to Canada were French, it’s thought that French harness horses were the initial breed stock. According to “International Encyclopedia of Horse Breeds” (University of Oklahoma Press, 1995), stallions from Canada were shipped to New England and crossed on mares from another now-extinct breed, the Narragansett Pacer.
Some photos of Canadian Pacers survive, showing a handsome, slightly muscular animal built somewhat like the original Morgan breed. They came in a wide variety of colors, including pinto, but grey, bay, chestnut and black predominated.
The most famous Canadian Pacer is said to be Tom Hal, foaled about 1806. This impressive blue roan stallion stood in Canada, then Philadelphia and finally in Kentucky. Legend has it that he once paced 80 miles in one day on a bet. For a brief while, he founded a breed known as Tom Hal Saddlers which quickly became absorbed by the TWH and the ASB.
What most likely doomed the Canadian Pacer was the same thing that doomed the closely related Narragansett Pacer. Although these two breeds were endowed with tremendous endurance, athleticism and intelligence, they were considered to be ugly horses with large heads, small eyes and a chunky build. They were crossed with “better looking” horses until they no longer existed.
“International Encyclopedia of Horse Breeds.” Bonnie Hendricks. University of Oklahoma Press; 1995.
“Storey’s Illustrated Guide to 96 Horse Breeds of North America.” Judith Ditson. Storey Publishing; 2005.
Walkers West Breeders and Brokers. “The Canadian Pacer.” http://www.walkerswest.com/History/CanadianPacer.htm