Draft Horses

Belgian Draft


The Percheron is a handsome, clean-legged, free-moving, heavy horse that originated in the limestone region of Le Preche in Normandy. Together with the Boulonnias, it is the most elegant of the heavy draft horse breeds and, like them, it owes much to oriental blood. A nineteenth century authority described it as "an Arab influenced by climate and the agricultural work for which it has been used for centuries". There is no doubting the strength of the eastern influence.

Some admirers of the breed hold that is was forebears for the Percheron that carried the knights of Charles Martel to victory over the Muslims at Poitiers in A.D.732 and that, as a result, the Barbs and Arabs of the enemy became available to French breeders. Certainly, eastern bood was introduced after the first Crusade in 1096-9, and by 1760 the stud at Le Pin made available Arabian sires to Percheron breeders.

The most influential Percheron lines are dominated by Arabian outcrosses represented by Godolphin and Gallipoly. Gallipoly sired the most famous of Percheron stallions, Jean le Blanc, who was foaled in 1830.

In its long history, the Percheron has been a war horse, coach horse, farm horse and heavy artillery horse and has even been used under saddle. The modern Percheron is immensely powerful as well as being hardy and versatile. Among the heavy breeds it has a distinctive and stylish action, which is long, free and low.

The Percheron head is fine. It has a broad, square forehead and a straight profile, fine, long ears and prominent, alert eyes. The nose is flat with very wide, open nostrils. The neck is long and characteristically arched, and has a fairly thick mane. The withers are prominent and the shoulder is sloped. The body is broad and very deep chested and the limbs are strong and muscular with good, hard joints. The action is long-striding and comparitively low. The Percheron is noted for the excellence of the powerful hindquarters, which are sloped and unusually long for a draft breed. The hooves are of hard, blue horn and of medium size, with no feather at the heels. They are a notable feature of this exceptionally popular breed. The full tail is usually put up in a kind of "polo bang" when the horse is worked in harness. The Percheron stands between 16.2 and 17hh, though many are 15.2 to 16.2hh. At one time, the world's biggest horse was the Percheron Dr Le Gear. He stood 21hh and weighed 3,024lbs.

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The breeders of Brittany are as skillful as any in Europe. Since the Middle Ages, the area has produced its own distinctive, Breton types based on the primitive, little, hairy horses of the Black Mountains. At one time, there were four derivatives of the Breton, two pacers or amblers, a general purpose ride-and-drive and a heavier draft horse. The riding type was even raced at local meetings.

Today two types are recognized. The Breton heavy draft is a massive, early-maturing horse much sought after in the meat markets, and has Ardennais blood. The far more active, almost clean-legged, Breton Postier is a lighter version of the Suffolk Punch and was once the pride of the French Horse Artillery. The Postier has crosses of Boulonnais and Percheron, both active, refined animals with the powerful Norfolk Roadster in their ancestry. The Postiers inherit the exceptional energy at trot from the Percheron and Boulonnais, and are ideal for light draft and farm work. Breton Postiers, sharing the same stud book with the heavy drafts since 1926, are selectively bred, and are required to pass performance tests in harness - traditional events at festival days. The Breton Postier is still popular in France, and is exported to North Africa, Japan, Spain and Italy to be used as an improver of less-developed stock.

The square head of the Breton has a straight profile and should have large, open nostrils and bright, kindly eyes. The mobile ears are small and set rather low on the head. The neck follows the general outline of the body, being short, arched and thick. It runs into the shoulders that, although sloping, are shorter than might be expected. Nontheless, the Breton is active, fast and free at the walk and trot. The outline is attractively short and square, with the body broad, strong and deep and the hindquarters showing great power. The limbs are short, strong and very muscular in the thighs and forearms. The hooves are well shaped, hard and not too large. The legs are virtually "clean", carrying little or no feather. It is customary for the tail of the Breton, like that of Norman Cob, to be docked. It is thought to give the horse a jaunty look and prevents the rein from becoming caught up under the tail. The height is 15-16hh. The Postier is smaller than the heavy draft.

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Belgian Draft

The Brabant, also known as the Belgian Draft Horse, takes its name from one of the principal breeding areas. It is one of the world's most important breeds, having contributed to equine development well outside of its native country. The breed is little known in Britain and not sufficiently recognized in the country of its origin, but it is popular and appreciated for its sterling qualities in the US, a number being kept at the famous Kentucky Horse Park.

The breed is an ancient one. It is likely to be directly descended from the older Ardennais and from the primitive foundation of the European heavy horse breeds - the Forest or Diluvial Horse (Equus silvaticus) These massive horses were known to the Romans and received honorable mention in Julius Caesar's De Bello Gallico as most willing and untiring workers.

In the Middle Ages, the Brabant was called the Flanders Horse. As such, it was instrumental in the evolution of the English Great Horse and, later, in the development of the Shire. It was the basis of the Clydesdale, it had a large effect upon the Suffolk Punch and it had an influence of the Irish Draft.

The head is small in proportion to the body, square and somewhat plain, but the expression is intelligent and kindly. A short, thick, powerful neck joining withers and shoulders of similar proportions is an ideal combination for every sort of heavy draft purpose. The Brabant is thick-set and compact. The Colosses de la Mehaique line is particularly noted for the great strength of the short back and loins. Power is the hallmark of this massive breed and it is exemplified in the deep-girthed, compact body that goes with the Brabant's traditional strength of constitution. It is noted for the extreme strength and hardness of its short limbs. Soundness of limb was a feature in all the three principal lines. The huge, powerful quarters are distinctively rounded and the croup is characteristically "double-muscled". Short, extremely strong legs usually terminate in a good deal of feather. The hooves are of medium size and well formed. Colors vary from line to line. Bays, duns and grays occur, but red-roan with black points, sorrels and chestnuts predominate. Brabants stand between 16.2 and 17hh. At one time the largest horse was a 3,200 Belgian Stallion.

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Reference: The Ultimate Horse Book; Elwyn Hartley Edwards; 1991

Draft Horse Links

PetsMart Percheron Hitch
Belgian Draft Horse Corporation
Limestone Farms Belgians
Percheron Horse Association of America

The picture of the Percheron courtesy of OSU Breeds of Livestock
The picture of the Belgian Draft courtesy of OSU Breeds of Livestock

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