Ardennais - Breed & Info
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The heavy Ardennais is being bred, but there is little evidence now of the lively Ardennes post horse which brought back Napoleon's wagons from his tragic campaign in Russia, yet the origins of this very old breed stretch back to the snub-nosed, prehistoric horse whose remains were found at Solutre, where prehistoric trails converge from what is now Burgundy, the Paris basin, Belgium and Germany before heading toward the Mediterranean.
The heavy horse of the Ardennes region of France and Belgium, is the most senior of the European heavy breeds. They are still used as heavy draft horses, but for the most part, are raised for the meat market.
The Ardennais, more thick set than other breeds, shorter and closer to the ground, is a willing hard worker with stamina and a kind temperament that is easily managed.
The preferred colors are roan, red-roan, iron gray, dark chestnut and bay. Light chestnuts, even palomino is accepted, but not black.
A straight profile head shape is distinguished by a low, flat forehead and slightly prominent eye sockets. The neck, heavy, muscular and arches, is long for such a chunky horse and is well set into the powerful shoulders. This horse is very compact with a back that is shorter than the norm and extremely muscular loins.
The bone structure of the Ardennais is enormous and the musculature is corresponding in strength. The girth is naturally deep and the overall impression is of power. The withers, unlike most other draft horses, is on a line with or even lower than the croup. The quarter muscles are particularly short, thick and powerful. The legs bear very heavy feathering from the knees and hocks downward.
Prior to the 1800's this breed was less massive and used as light draft and ridden. Then at the beginning of the 1800's was crossed with the Thoroughbred, Arabian, Percheron and Boulonnais, with no great success but three types of the breed were developed. One type was the Ardennais du Nord, or Trait du Nord, a bigger horse derived from more crosses to the Brabant. Another type, the Auxois, the old horse of Burgundy, which was a contemporary of the Ardennais since the Middle Ages, is largely now considered an offshoot of the Ardennais. The Auxois is less massive in the legs and quarters but is a larger version of the original Ardennais.
The third type, was the small, older version of the breed, around 15 hands in height, which is sadly not much in evidence now.
Another draft breed, the Murakozer, from a town of that same name in Hungary, and developed there from native Mur-Insulan mares, was crossed with Ardennais mares, as well as Percherons and Norikers and lighter Hungarian horses of more quality. A swift moving draft horse, the Murakozer does not have the Ardennais heavy feather but has inherited something of the heavy frame as well as the easy temperament.
The climate in which the Ardennais are reared is harsh, resulting in a very hardy, though massive breed. Yet they are exceptionally calm and easily handled being docile, good natured and willing. They are still used as draft horses and are very helpful to logging industries in heavy woodland terrain, yet they also remain a mainstay of the meat market.
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