Wed. Oct 16th, 2019

About the heavy horse – origin and use

7 min read
Heavy Draft Horse

Horse breeds are groups of horses with distinct characteristics that are consistently passed down to the offsprings. These characteristic include but are not limited to conformation, color, disposition and
performance ability. Certain breeds are also well-known for having certain talents.

They are usually divided into 4 categories

  • Light horse breeds
  • Heavy horse breeds
  • Ponies
  • Feral horses

Horse breeds can be such a vast topic as there are hundreds maybe thousands of different horse breeds in the world. In this article I will talk about the heavy horse breeds, focusing on their origin and their use.

Heavy horses (also known as draft horses)

The heavy horse breed usually stand from 16 to 19 hands with a weight of 1200 to 2000 pounds. They are used for a variety of purposes including but not limited to farming, draft horse showing, logging and recreation. While they are most commonly used for driving, they do well in riding as well. Some of the lighter draft breeds do well in competition under saddle.

American CreamAmerican Cream draft – originated from Iowa in the early 1900s. It is to this day a very rare breed. It is also the only draft horse developed in the United States. They have been and still are used for wagon and carriage rides.




Cheval_ardennais_expoArdenne – (or ardennais) originates from the ardennes area in Belgium, Luxembourg and France. They are one of the oldest breed of draught horse, to which their history reaches ancient Rome. The first Ardenne to be imported to the US was in the early 20th century. They have been used in history as war horses, both as Calvary mounts and to draw artillery. Today, they are used mainly for farm work, meat production and for driving competitions.



Belgian DraftBelgian horse (Belgian Draft horse) – is one of the strongest heavy horse breeds. It is believed that the Belgium may have had ancestors in the middle ages, although there is no evidence to support this. It is a draft horse breed from the Brabant region of modern Belgium. Originally, the breed was also known as Brabant, and in the 1940s, we considered the same breed. After WW2, in Europe, the Brabant was bred to be thicker and heavier, while in the US, they were bred to be somewhat taller and lighter bodied. They are mainly used for farm work.


BoulonnaiseBoulonnais – Also known as “White Marble Horse”. The breed’s origin traces to a period before the crusades. In the 1900s, large numbers of Boulonnais were imported to the US and were quite popular in France. The breed nearly became extinct following WW2, but rebound in France in the 1990s as a popular breed for horse meat. The smaller breed of Boulonnais was used to pull smaller cart, usually carrying fish, while the larger performed heavier draft work, such as farm work.


BretonBreton – was developed in Brittany, a province in northwest France, dating back thousands of years. There are 3 sub types of this breed. All coming from different areas of Brittany.

  • The Corlay Breton – being the smallest type and generally used for light draft or under saddle
  • The Postier Breton – used for harness and light farm work
  • The Draft Breton – the largest type and used for the hardest draft work.

This breed has also been used for military draft and agricultural capacities.


ClydesdaleClydesdale – are named after the farm horses of Clydesdale, a country in Scotland. The breed was developed from Flemish stallions imported to Scotland and bred with local mares. They were originally one of the smaller breed of draft horses, but throughout the years, have been bred to be now a tall breed. Originally used for agriculture and haulage, they are still used for those purposes today. They have been seen shown and ridden, as well as kept for pleasure.


ComtoisComtois – originated in the Jura mountains of the border of France and Switzerland. They are an old breed of horse that is believed to have descendants from horses brought from Germany to France in the 4th century. In the 16th century, these horses were used as a cavalry and artillery horse. They were present in the armies of Louis XIV and later Napoleon Bonaparte. Today, he is used to haul wood in the pine forest of Jura and for working in the Vineyards in the Arbois are. They have also been bred for the horse meat industry.


DoleDole – a draft horse and harness type horse from Norway. He is a small draft horse known for it’s pulling power and agility. Originally developed to be a pack horse used for trade routes across Norway, today he is used mainly for heavy draft and agricultural work, as well as timber hauling.



Dutch DraftDutch draft – is a cold blood type, massively built and calm in temperament, with good stamina. He was bred in the early 20th century in the province of Zeeland, where they bred Zeeland mares to Belgian, Ardenne and Brabant stallions. They are used for heavy draft work and agriculture.




FinnhorseFinnhorse – is the only breed developed fully in Finland. Finnhorse is both a riding horse and a draught horse and he is considered the breed capable of fulfilling all of Finland horse need, including agriculture and forestry, harness racing and riding.



FjordFjord – is a small but very strong horse breed from the regions of Western Norway. He is considered a light draft horse. Being one of the world oldest breed, it has been used for hundreds of years as a farm horse in Norway. Nowadays, he is used as a harness horse and saddle horse.



FriesianFriesian – originates from Friesland, in the Netherlands. Friesian are nimble and graceful for their size, even with being considered a light draft horse. During the middle ages, ancestors of the Friesian horse were in great demand as war horses and their size enabled them to carry a knight in armor. The modern day Friesian horse is used for both harness and in saddle and has become quite popular in dressage.



Haflinger_horsesHafligher – developed in Austria and in Northern Italy in the late 19th century. The breed traces its ancestry to the middle ages. Developed for use in mountainous terrain, are known for their hardiness. They are a very versatile horse breed, with many uses such as light draft, harness work, endurance riding, dressage, equestrian vaulting, and therapeutic riding.



irish draughtIrish drought horse – is the national horse breed of Ireland. Dating back to the 18th century, it is believed that the breed was developed by breeding the common Irish hobbyhorse to the 12th century Anglo – Norman war horse, then Iberian breeds from the 16th century Spanish Armada Shipwreck, then to the Clydedales and the Thoroughbred in the late 19th century and early 20th century. He was bred to be an all around working horse, capable of draft work, under harness and under saddle. They are commonly crossbred with Thoroughbred to produce high-quality sport horses. The purebred Irish draught horse is also popular in eventing, showing and as a hunter, as well as a police mount.


TPR_horseItalian heavy draft – is a breed from Italy. It’s full Italian name is “Italian Rapid Heavy Draft horse”. The breed was originally developed by crossing native stock with large brabant horses, then by adding Percheron and Boulonnais blood. The breed results were still not what the creators were looking for and in the 19th century, they added more Brabant blood, bringing the breed to what it is today. He was originally bred to be a versatile horse to use in agriculture, urban setting and military capabilities, and for the production of large mules for the military.


PercheronDraftHorsePercheron – originated in the Huisne river valley in western France, part of the former Perche province. Percherons are primarily noted for their heavy draft work but in the 8th century Arabian and other oriental horses were mated with the heavy native horses and cob stock, producing the first of the Percheron horses. This helped the breed lighten up for riding and light draft work. The breed has served as a carriage and farm horse. It has also been used as a warhorse, and an artillery horse. Today, the Percheron can be seen on small farms and working in the forest. Thousands of Percherons are used for recreation such as hayrides, sleigh rides and parades. Due to their elegance, docility and stunning appearance they are often found working for brewing companies. Percherons are shown in competition hitching and halter classes in many US and Canadian county fairs across both countries. The light breed of Percherons are used under saddle for both English and Western riding horses and are very popular for breeding up quality for horses in the hunter and driving breeds.


spottedPinto Draft – (spotted draft horse) is an American breed developed in the mid 20th century by breeders from Minnesota and New Mexico. He was created with the intention of power and not only action. They are mainly used for commercial carriages, agricultural work, pleasure rides, logging, parades, and showing.




As you can probably tell throughout this article, the heavy draft horses are some of the worlds oldest horse breeds. In this article, I have only listed a few of the most popular breeds I’ve heard of or seen. These horses are powerful and extremely versatile for their size, and if every you get the chance to watch one run in a field, it is such a magical experience.

Thanks for reading,

Happy Horsin’ Around!!


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2 thoughts on “About the heavy horse – origin and use

  1. This is such an interesting visual list of beautiful very strong animals.
    I’ve not ridden for many years now, but as a ‘wild child’ in the 60’s my parents gave me a Dun, Melody for my 8th birthday. I learned to ride bare-back in a small rural town in NZ.
    A neighbor along the road has 2 Clydedales which she bred. And is now breaking them in using ‘Natural horseman. techniques. I just love hearing them clop by.

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