Canadian horses: Michel Allen raises masters of versatility

EMILY HSUEH
The Pontiac is home to many accomplished individuals, but perhaps none have been more versatile than one Quyon resident. She’s a strong worker in farm fields, has earned a gold medal and other awards in dressage competitions, and has even been in several movies. All this, and she’s only twelve years-old.
Her name is Une-Chance, a beloved Canadian horse at Élevage Fabie, a horse-breeding farm run by Michel Allen and his wife Claude.

Élevage Fabie is just off Hwy. 148 in Quyon, and has been in service for the last 10 years. Allen invites anyone interested in learning more about Canadian horses to call them.

The farm is located along Hwy. 148 and was established 10 years ago. It is home to just under 40 Canadian horses, a distinct breed that adapted to the country’s landscape since its arrival in the 1660s and is now Canada’s official national horse.
Allen has always been around horses, and they have had a huge impact not only on his life, but in the generations before him as well.

“I grew up in Luskville, actually, just five minutes from here. We grew up on a farm, and horses were always part of that farm. So that’s why my passion for horses, that’s where it came from,” he said. “When we grew up, my father was the one who was responsible … moving from horse farm to tractor farm, all of the equipment was adapted to the tractor. But in my heart, like my grandfather, I stayed behind with the horses.”
His love of the Canadian horse in particular stemmed from his grandfather’s horses and grew as he witnessed the flexibility and intelligence that the breed possessed. He got his first Canadian horses, a mare named Fabie and a stallion called Lucifer, in 2001.
“Fabie was quite a horse and I decided that right then and there that that’s the breed I want to raise because she was something else.” In regards to Lucifer, “He’ll be 20 years old this spring, and he’s responsible for most of the horses you see out there, and he’s also responsible for the whole organization, the breeding program. He’s the main one.
“I decided to work with them because it was ours. And it was a very good horse and it was the best adapted to what I wanted to do, which is versatility, which I want to do everything with the horse.”
Though there are several Canadian horse farmers worldwide, it hasn’t been an easy journey for the breed, as Allen explains. It was King Louis XIV who shipped 82 horses over four loads to build up his empire in New France.
“The horses we’re breeding right now are direct descendants of these 82 first horses that got in,” he said. “They
adapted very, very well and they became a very strong, versatile horse. As a matter of fact, it got the nickname of the “Little Iron Horse’’ because it was so good. They are very hearty and have lots of endurance.”
However, because of how well they adapted to the Canadian landscape, the horses ended up being used extensively in wars. Where they once boasted upwards of 150,000 individuals, thousands were killed in the War of 1812.
“They say, unofficially, that the Yankees won the war because of the Canadian horse,” Allen added. He also explained that the traits in the Canadian were so desired, that they lost more numbers to crossbreeding. Along with dedicated breeders growing too old to continue their work, the Canadian horse has been pushed to the brink of extinction.
Nowadays, horses are bred to be specialists; there are racehorses, workhorses and show horses. Canadian horses, on the other hand, are jacks-of-all-trades, truly masters of versatility, which is what Allen loves about the breed.
“Our horses can do that, but they can also do other things. Yeah, we proved it a couple of times. As you can see, there’s a few ribbons on the wall. We went on and got a gold medal in dressage in Bromont, but it’s the same horse I used to cut my hay,” Allen said. “I don’t pay $75,000 for a horse to do just that. I just have a horse that does everything.”

Michel Allen stands in a room covered in medals and memories. The line of ribbons stretches to the other side of the room, and Allen says there are many more boxes filled with them.

That horse is 12 year-old Une-Chance, daughter of Lucifer and star of Élevage Fabie. Most recently, Une-Chance appeared in a Hallmark Christmas movie called Unlocking Christmas, which was filmed in the nearby Ontario town of Almonte and debuted on Dec. 13. Her photo also appeared in a New York Times article about the production.
His horses have appeared in other media as well, including various Hallmark movies and the TV drama Frontier (2016), about the North American fur trade in Canada, with actor Jason Momoa starring as an outlaw of Cree ancestry.
“Well, it started a long time ago because we used to put on the Yesteryear Fest in Aylmer and it started with a auto show in Aylmer … There was a wrangler near Upper Canada Village that was looking for somebody for a movie with a black horse and a buggy, and somebody up in Cornwall knew I existed and they told him, ‘You should call Michel Allen, he might be able to help you.’ And that started from there … it’s going very well and it’s a lot of fun.”
While Une-Chance has had an accomplished life around humans, it took a lot of work to get her and other horses that are around humans a lot to that point. As majestic and brave-hearted as they appear, Allen says they are still animals and that there is a lot people don’t know about them.
“Sixty years ago, everybody knew what the horse was. But in only a short 60 years, everybody forgot what a horse was and people in town don’t know how to act around our horses. So the horse has to compensate for the people who don’t know how to react to their presence,” he explained, adding that they are like skittish deer but humans have taught them to overcome their fears.

Three horses in the fields of Élevage Fabie, including Une-Chance (centre), a 12 year-old mare who has won a gold medal in dressage, appeared in films and helps Allen cut the hay in his fields.

To overcome this and teach more people about the animal he loves, Élevage Fabie offers a program where anyone interested in learning about and caring for horses can work with him and Claude to achieve that dream.
“You can purchase a horse on a per year basis … and we’ll stick together and we’ll teach you everything you need to know about the horse. And you will train your horse with our help if you want all the way,” he said. “We found out that with that program, those who stay for two years will keep the horse forever. And those who don’t, well, they can quit anytime and it doesn’t cost them a fortune. They don’t lose anything, they just learned a few things and had a good time.”
For any more information on the program or on Canadian horses in general, Allen invites them to call Élevage Fabie at 819-458-3888 and he will be more than happy to share his knowledge.

A barn constructed in the 1930s houses some of the horses of Élevage Fabie, including Lucifer, a 20 year-old black stallion that has sired most of the horses on the farm. He was one of the first two Canadian horses Allen purchased and helped build the farm to what it is today.

“I’m proud to be part of doing a little bit of work to keep it going. Like I say, our forefathers had them and I want to make sure my grandchildren can have access to a Canadian horse.
“I’ve been working with them for 63 years and every day I’m amazed. Every day I think they’re phenomenal animals,” he continued. “The next time you purchase a horse. Think about the Canadian horse. It’s your horse.”

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