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The Percheron draft breed’s long history includes being used as war hoses, coach , farm, heavy artillery and even under saddle. This breed is immensely powerful, very hardy and very versatile with a stylish, long, free and low action distinctive among the heavy breeds.
The Percheron draft is one of the most elegant of the heavy draft horse breeds, and much is owed to the influence of oriental blood. The Percheron originated in the limestone region of Le Perche in Normandy (France) with a history that dates from perhaps as early as A. D. 732 when it is claimed that the breed’s ancestors carried knights to victory at Poitiers. As a result the Barb or Arab horses became available to French Breeders and for sure this eastern blood was available after the first Crusade in 1096 when Comte de Perche returned from the Crusades and expeditions into Spanish territory.
Definitely a horse of antiquity, the exact origins of the Percheron are not known, although there is evidence that Percheron-type horse was in existence in the area of Le Perche during the Ice Age.
The most influential bloodlines within Percheron breed are dominated by Arabian outcrosses represented by Godolphin and Gallipoli, the latter siring the famous stallion, Jean le Blanc, who was foaled in 1830 and today, all bloodlines trace directly to Jean Le Blanc. The French government established a stud at Le Pin for the development of army mounts in the early 1800’s and a stud book was created in 1893.
This wonderful breed adapts easily to different climatic conditions and is exceptionally biddable and will do any sort of work. The Percheron has been exported to the Americas, Canada, Australia, South Africa, Japan and even to the Falkland Islands where they were crossed with the local Criollo stock. Thousands from American and Canada and England served on the battlefields of the First World War.
Beginning in 1966 the stud in France regrouped not only the original Percheron but also all of the breeds influenced by the Percheron: the Berrichon draft horse, Nivernais, Marne draft horse, Augeron, Boulonnais, Loir and the Saone-et-Loire. Registered horses are branded with the letters SP intertwined on the neck.
The Percheron head, with a broad, square forehead and straight profile, is very fine. The nose is flat with very wide open nostrils. The ears are long but fine and the eyes prominent and alert. The Percheron body is broad and very deep chested with strong muscular limbs and good, hard joints. The Percheron is also noted for the excellence of their powerful hindquarters which are sloped and unusually long for a draft breed.
The neck is long and characteristically arched with a fairly thick mane. The hooves are of hard blue horn and of medium size, with no feathering at the heels, which is a notable feature of this exceptionally popular breed. They are mostly black or grey in color, but a chestnut is seen once in a while. White markings are common but too much is not preferred.
This breed is large but elegant, ranging in height from 15 to 19 hands with records of even taller individuals, up to 24 hands. Average weight is around 1900 pounds but individuals can weigh as much as 2600 pounds, with the record holder at 3024 pounds. A pulling record was once set at 3410 pounds!
The breed is handsome, clean-legged and free moving, willing to do any job at all with wonderful temperament.
In recent years, Percherons have been crossed with other breeds to produce competition sport horses and being bred for a longer, thinner neck, a longer back, and longer, smoother-looking muscles while the purebred is also maintained and flourishes worldwide.