Draft Horse Breeds

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Draft Horse Breeds

The Belgian

The Belgian originated in the small country of Belgium, which, in spite of its size, has a considerable variation in topography. The lowlands near the sear needed a bigger horse for work in their heavier soils and on their docks than did the wooded uplands of the Ardennes. These demands resulted in three different size requirements which the government recognized. The government encouraged the efforts of large and small breeders to fix the types which, through district shows, would be judged. Those determined to have proper conformation were then eligible for subsidies and, conversely those that did not were eliminated fro the breeding program. In 1866 the official stud book was established, and the national show in Brussels became the great annual showcase. The result was a rapid improvement as the draft horses of Belgium came to be regarded as both a national heritage and treasure. The American Belgian is an offshoot to the Brabant horses - the big fellows bred in the lowlands.

The American Association was officially founded in February 1887 in Wabash, Indiana, but it was slow going in America for the Belgian until an exhibit from the government of Belgium attracted a lot of attention at the St. Louis World's Fair in 1903. American farmers took to the Belgian horse. He was an easy keeper, a willing worker had an amiable disposition, and his thickness was desired.

Today's Belgian is a big, powerful fellow that retains the drafty middle, a deep, strong foot, a lot of bone, heavy muscling and the amiable disposition that the best of the early Belgians had. The modern Belgian is a great wagon horse as well as a doughty work horse. The fact that Belgians are equally as effective in pulling competition as in hitch competition says it all. The most common colors are sorrel and blonde sorrel with a white mane and tail. Roans and bays are also common to the breed.

The Clydesdale

The Clydesdale breed originated in Scotland and takes its name from the river Clyde which flows through the district from which they come. The country there is rough and broken. The Clydesdale was bred to meet not only needs of those Lanackshire farmers, but the demands of commerce for the coalfields and for the heavy haulage on the streets of Glasgow.

The Clydesdale Breeders Association of the United States was founded in 1879. Clydesdales are very active horses. They are not bred for action like the Hackney, but they must have action. He is straight and snappy in movement. They carry their hocks close together both at the walk and the trot. He should have broad, clean sharply developed hocks and big knees and broad in the front.

No draft breed has laid more stress on "bottom" than the Clyde. The breed shows a sloping pastern that is adapted to wear on hard surfaces, where the shock of the feet striking the ground needs the softening effect of a springy pastern. The hoof head must be wide and springy. The Clydesdale is endowed with a silky feather. The impression created by a thoroughly well built Clyde is that of strength and activity, with a minimum of superfluous tissue. The idea is not bulk, but quality and weight. The most common color in this breed today is bay, with a generous number of browns, blacks, and chestnuts. The preferred markings are four white socks to the knee and hocks and a well defined blaze or bald face. There are many roans in the breed. The Clyde with his flowing feather, straight and snappy movement, and generous white markings is a popular hitch horse. Though ranking third numerically and fourth in size in this country, the Clydesdale may well be the best known of all the draft breeds to our urbanized countrymen. The splendid Anheuser Busch eight hitches have brought Clydesdales down hundreds of streets and into millions of homes across the nation.

The Shire

The destiny of the Shire and England is inexorably entwined. In the period between the reign of Henry II, 1154, and that of Elizabeth, 1558, it seems to have been a constant aim of the government to increase the size and number of horses called "The Great Horse." Little wonder, the weight of many horse soldiers in armor was upwards to 400 lbs.

But if he was useful in war, he proved to be even more so in peace. Turning his attention from battle to commerce and agriculture in a nation that takes both very seriously indeed, the Shire had become nothing less than a national treasure in the 1800's. The Shire geldings moved the commerce f his most commercial of all nations off the docks and through the streets of the cities.

The needs of the empire and the temper of the times called for a horse of enormous bulk, prodigious muscular strength, and docility... and the stockmen and farmers of England responded with one of the finest living creatures - the Shire horse.

The American Shire Association issued its first stud book in 1888. From 1900 through 1918, there were 3907 registered Shires imported from England. That period became the years of the greatest Shire expansion in the country.

Preferred colors are black, brown, bay, grey or chestnut with excessive white markings and roaning undesirable. Feathers should be fine, straight and silky.

The Percheron

Ranking second in popularity in the United States is the Percheron. The cradle of the breed is one of the smallest provinces of old France, the district known as La Perche, located some 70 miles southwest of Paris. It is a region of green hills and verdant valleys, well suited to the production of horses, producing a high percentage a high percentage of the best horses in France, both draft and light horse types.

The Percheron alone of all heavy draft breeds is believed to have an infusion of Arab blood left behind by the defeat of the Moors by the French at Tours, just south of La Perche in 735 A.D. This perhaps explains the combined style and substance of the gray and white chargers so numerous in the middle ages.

The American stud book for the Percheron was formed in 1878. In 1884 more than 2,000 Percherons were brought to our shores from France. With their big start and very effective promotion, the Percheron quickly moved into a position of dominance until the mid-thirties. Basic colors are black and gray with a fairly even division in this country.

In general conformation the Percheron is not unlike the Belgian, in fact except for color it would be difficult to distinguish between some animals of both breeds as they are well-muscled, short-backed, drafty animals setting on good feet and legs. Both are pretty much free of the feather that characterizes the Clydesdale and Shire.

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