Breton Horse Article and Photos Copyrighted - see credits below
The Breton horse may be over 4,000 yrs old, or it may not, but one thing is for sure -- this breed has a long history. Some say the breed dates back to the time when Aryans were migrating from Asia and brought the horse with them. Others say its origins developed from the horses bred by Celtic warriors during their conquest of what is now Great Britain.
The Breton horse is most assuredly a breed of long standing and we do know the horse breeders of Brittany, France, are adept at breeding good horses and since the Middle ages, have produced distinctive types of horses based on the early, more primitive small, horse of the Black Mountains, including today’s Breton horse.
Horses thought to have descended from the steppe horses ridden by the Celts, did exist for many years in these Breton mountains. During the Crusades, the mountain horses were crossed with Oriental horses, resulting in the Bidet Breton which was popular all through the Middle Ages as a military horse due in part to its comfortable gait (something between an amble and a trot).
By the end of the Middle Ages, two types of Bretons existed: the Sommier, a packhorse of northern Brittany, and the Roussin (cob) which had been developed from the Mountain Bidet but finer and not as heavy.
At one time four types of the Breton horse existed. There were two that were amblers, a rather all purpose ride and drive type (the Cheval de Corlay), as well as the heavier draft.
During the centuries up until the 19th century, many crosses were bred, including the Boulonnais, Percheron and Ardennais, to adapt the development of the Breton to the economic needs of various time periods in the country’s history. The cross of Norfolk stallions at the end of the 1800’s produced the Postier Breton, and made Brittany famous. Since the early 1900’s crossing was halted and selection has been the focus of the genetic program.
Today two types of the Breton Horse are recognized within the same stud book. The Breton heavy draft is massive, early to mature and much sought after in the meat markets. This horse has Ardennais blood. The more active, cleaner legged Breton Postier is a lighter version of the Suffolk Punch and has crosses of Boulonnais and Percheron with Norfolk Roadster. The Postier horses are required to pass performance tests in harness, and are exported to other countries.
Breeding grounds for the Breton horse are the Hennebont and Lamballe studs and part of the La Roche-sur-Yon stud areas. The Breton is the most numerous of the draft horses in France and has been widely exported.
The body outline of the Breton is attractive, short and square, strong and deep. The hindquarters show great strength and the tail is most often docked. The square-ish head of the Breton horse has a straight profile, large open nostrils and kindly eyes. The nose is straight and sometimes dished. The ears are small, mobile and set low on the head.
The Breton’s neck is strong, slightly short but arched and set well into the withers. The shoulders are shorter than one might expect, yet the action is fast and free at both the walk and the trot. The limbs are short, strong, and very, very muscular in the thighs and forearms, with short , sound cannon bones.
The coloring is characteristically chestnut or chestnut roan, most often with a flaxen mane and tail.
Bretons are quick, active horses suited for all sorts of agricultural work and have been used extensively in the French vineyard of the Midi. For sure, the Breton’s hardiness, stamina and over all strength, combined with a wonderful temperament make a suitable out-cross for less well-developed stock. The Breton is agile, used and useful for many tasks ! This horse is also a mainstay of the French meat market.