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Draft Horses - Draft Breeds & Info


Draft horses in harness, at work. Draft Horse Breeds are listed lower on this page. Click on each for history, photos, and current day use.

Three other breed pages are as follows:


Origins


The origin of the draft horse is unclear. Some prehistoric cave paintings already show steeds of a  similar type.  Phylogenists have postulated a post-glacial wild horse as ancestor of today’s draft breeds. No such wild population survived until modern times, though, and all current draft breeds are influenced enough by others to make it impossible to determine a “draft genotype”. According to some hippologists, the primitive wild ancestor was  from the northern cold plains and steppes; according to others it was more of a forest dweller. In any case the origin is believed to have been related to the wild Nordic pony, today still represented in the Exmoor of southwestern England, sharing several anatomic characteristics. Both wild forms were adapted to survival in a wet and cold climate, and to thrive on coarse feed of low nutritional value. The two wild forms may have interbred at an early time, and sort of fused into what remained as the Nordic pony, sometimes leaning in phenotype more towards the pony type, sometimes more towards the draft type. More

INDIVIDUAL DRAFT HORSE BREEDS:

American CreamAmerican Cream
The pink-skinned American Cream maintains the cream coat for life but is much more than a color, having a good gait and a willingness to work in harness or under saddle.
ArdennaisArdennais
The Ardennais, the heavy-horse of France & Belgium has a very long history with many conformational changes. This is oldest of European heavy breeds.
AuxoisAuxois
The Auxois of France is larger than the Ardennais, but has suppleness and nice gaits. The Auxois is mostly but not always red roan in color.
BelgianBelgian
The Belgian, the gentle giant, comes from and is called Brabant as well as race de trait Belge. The American version is taller and more stylish, usually chestnut with flaxen mane & tail.
BoulonnaisBoulonnais
The Boulonnais of France descends in part from the cavalry mounts of Julius Caesar. There were once two types of Boulonnais, both very graceful, but the larger is the one bred today.
BrabantBrabant
The Brabant, called Belgium in Europe, has influenced the Shire, Clydesdale, Suffork Punch and even the Irish Draught. The Brabant resembles the original Flemish Horse more so than does any other.
BretonBreton
The Breton of France, is one of the oldest and the most populous of all the draft horses in that country. Two types of Breton are recognized in the same stud book, a lighter version and the massive heavy version.
ClydesdaleClydesdale
The Clydesdale, originating in Scotland, is highly popular and no other equals his action and style. Much cross-breeding of the Clyde is now producing top quality, internationally competitive sport champions.
ComtoisComtois
The Comtois of France is one of the most ancient, dating from the sixth century. Strong and hardy, plus sure-footed, the Comtois also has lively gaits, having once been famous in military use.
Norman CobNorman Cob
Heavier than the British cob, the Norman Cob is one of the many draft breeds in France, where it is called the Cob Normand. A lighter weight bred first in Normandy, royal stud farms dated from 1665 onward with much performance testing of young stock.
PercheronPercheron
The Percheron is one of the most elegant of the heavy-horses and is very ancient, perhaps dating to the Ice Age. Originating in Normandy, the Percheron is popular world wide as clean-legged, free moving & willing, with a wonderful temperament.
Rhenish GermanRhenish German
There are only a few of the Rhenish German left. Breeders receive subsidies for every one they keep, and the more modern trend is for lighter in weight with more agility.
Schwarzwalder FuchsSchwarzwalder Fuchs
One of the most refined of all is The Schwarzalder Fuchs of Germany’s Black Forest, light and medium sized with an almost white mane and tail. Other names are Black Forest, Schwarzwalder Kaltblut, St Margener & Walderpferd.
ShireShire
The Shire comes from 4 British midlands shires and has ancestors of great antiquity. Early on the Shire was also influenced by the Friesian and the most popular color is black, with white feathering.
Suffolk PunchSuffolk Punch
The Suffolk Punch comes from England and is the oldest heavy-horse existing in the UK and is as strong as any, famous for getting down on their knees in a typical Suffolk drawing attitude.

Draft Horse breeds include those of heavy weight and build traditionally used for farm work, mining, logging and for the hauling of freight.
Once domesticated and proven to be the world’s most versatile work animal,  the heavy horse was often the right one for the job. They provided the power and mobility that enabled man to forever move forward.


Characteristics



Draft horse breeds of today are a blend of many breeds, and it is indeed hard to pinpoint what exactly we should consider draft characteristics. If  the Exmoor pony could be blown up in proportion to 15,2 or 16 hands, it would very much look like a draft type.  Other characteristics are considered to be draft characteristics that are hardly found in the Exmoor, but it is hard to say where they actually stem from. The Mongolian wild, or Przewalski’s, exemplifies those to a large degree, only that it cannot have been the ancestor of our draft horse breeds, because it has to be generally disregarded as an ancestor of our domestic animals, having a different chromosome count and a mtDNA genotype not found in the domestic*). Przewalski’s may well be a separate “branch” of the ancestral “draft” subspecies which survived in Mongolia.

Drafts are called a “cold blood”, even though it may be a purebred representative. Generally, “hot blood” refers to a lightly-built, quick, more active, sometimes high-strung mount, designed for speed and endurance, while “cold blood” denotes a heavier, coarser, slower-moving animal. The classification into “hot bloods” and “cold bloods” was made a long time ago, and will serve for lack of better terms. The actual temperature of the blood is of course the same in all.  The appearance can be deceiving, though, as draafts can be just as sensitive as a Thoroughbred, they only show it differently.

Drafters are not only different in conformation, but also in attitude and in the way they react. Where a hot-blooded has the tendency to jump or buck or run away, a draft might stall, or even go backwards, or put up a fight. Where a hot blood may be persuaded to try this or that against his instinct, a cold blood might stubbornly keep refusing. The natural instincts of the ancestor of draft horses had to be different for survival -- not having enough speed and stamina to save himself from an attacking predator, it was more likely to hide quietly, and, if attacked, would put up a formidable fight to defend himself.  Those with draft influence have been known to fight off wolves and even bears.

Breeders have constantly tried to give  more nerve, movement, even refinement, by crossing drafts with light breeds, including Arabs. Most draft  are a blend with pony blood, Iberian blood, and some oriental blood, and often show this in their conformation. Some lighter draft breeds are borderline cases between draft and warmblood, or draft and pony. The tallest of draft, the English Shire, got his size from Iberian blood. The West Friesian, often just referred to as “Friesian”, may be considered such a borderline case. Also known to have received a shot of Iberian blood, some insist that it is not a draft, even though the breed shows unmistakable draft characteristics.

Traditional Uses

Some weigh more than a ton (2000 pounds), and were bred for heavy farm work, and freighters. Most were bred for smaller farmers, or for those preferring to work with teams, and that breeding goal asked for more agility. Frugality was also often an issue in breeding  them, because the farmers that depended on them for their livelihood were often, if not mostly, rather poor. Being smaller usually offers more power in relation to size, and in relation to the amount of feed needed.

The draft, even in relatively recent history, and for many years in every country, delivered the merchandise, took people where they needed to go, hauled just about anything that needed to be moved and did the jobs that needed to be done. Although they have mostly disappeared in their once commonplace presence on city streets and farms world wide, they are still the mighty steeds of the show ring, in hitches, multiple hitches, in parades, in pulling contests, and plowing contests. As man continued to develop horses for this or that task, crossbreds using draft horse blood, were often produced. In international sporthorse competitions, for instance, the Irish hunter made a name for himself, which was basically a Thoroughbred x draft cross.

The history of draft horses is a rich and spans the history of civilization, the role of the heavy horses being in the nature of a necessity to man up through the end of World War II, which marked the last spurt in their use on city streets. No longer a necessity in the everyday life , they ceased to be a part of the everyday life of man as the machine age began to take over. Man however does not seem inclined to live life without them  and societies and associations still exist to preserve the pure draft breeds. Let us all hope that these gentle giants continue to be part of our world in the future.

In various parts of the world, types and then recognized breeds of draft horses were developed and became famous as they were exported to other countries where they were also bred pure, and also crossed with local stock. Many of these are listed  as links to separate pages concerning that particular breed’s origins, history and modern day status. (For links to governing associations for each, visit their individual pages.)

*) Jansen, Forster, Levine, Oelke, Hurles, Weber, Olek, “Mitochondrial DNA and the origins of the domestic horse”, 2002, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Article by Hardy Oelke, photos &0xC2; Oelke or archive Oelke, if not otherwise stated. For information regarding the Sorraia horse, the Vale de Zebro Wild Horse Refuge, and the Sorraia Mustang - visit www.sorraia.org

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