Draft horses were an integral component of agricultural life in many places across the globe before the industrial revolution. Generally speaking, they are strong, intelligent, docile and willing to work, making them ideal animals for farm work as well as many other purposes.
Working horses are no longer required in the contemporary world, and they are significantly less prevalent than in the past. However, many examples of these magnificent animals still exist, so here we look at 15 draft horse breeds that are either the most important or the most interesting.
The Famous Work & Draft Horse Breeds
1. Shire horse
The Shire, an English draft horse breed, is one of the world’s tallest, biggest, heaviest, and strongest breeds, with stallions typically standing approximately 17.2 hands (178cm, 70in) at the withers.
It has great pulling power and was initially employed for agricultural labor, road hauling, and barge pulling when England’s canal system was a vital element of the country’s transportation infrastructure.
The breed declined as railroads became more common, and particularly with the introduction of mechanical farming. However, Shire Horses have undergone a revival since the 1970s, and they remain a treasured part of English agricultural and rural culture.
One of the traditional uses for Shire horses was to pull carts to deliver beer from breweries. While this is no longer widespread, a few brewers in the UK continue to transport beer by horse-drawn cart to this day.
The tallest horse ever documented is said to be a gelded Shire called Samson, whose name was subsequently changed to Mammoth when he grew to legendary dimensions.
2. Suffolk Punch
The Suffolk Punch, sometimes known as the “Suffolk Horse,” is an English breed that originated in Suffolk, hence the name. It is shorter and stockier than breeds such as the Shire, measuring 16.2-17.2 hands on average (165-178cm, 56-70in). It is usually chestnut in hue (traditionally written “chesnut”).
It was bred for agricultural labor and is known for being hardworking and kind. This breed also requires less feed than other similar types of horse, making it a more convenient, practical and economical animal to keep.
The Suffolk Punch was created in the 16th century and is said to be the world’s oldest breed of draft horse that still has the same recognized look today. However, it is now relatively rare and is considered “critical” by the UK Rare Breeds Survival Trust.
Clydesdales are descended from Clydesdale, the historic name for what is now largely the county of Lanarkshire in Scotland. The breed is supposed to have originated when Flemish stallions were mixed with local mares to boost their size. Shire blood was also used in the nineteenth century to improve the breed.
Clydesdales are tall and strong, standing at 16-18 hands (162-183cm, 63.5-72in), however they used to be shorter. They are usually bay in color with marked feathering around the legs, although other colors are possible.
With the introduction of automated farming, the breed suffered a significant decrease and was on the verge of extinction by the 1970s. Nowadays, they are a popular parade or carriage horse and are famously used by the Anheuser-Busch brewery in the United States for publicity purposes.
4. Irish Draught
The Irish Draught is the product of decades of breeding, including crosses between the Irish Hobby and Anglo-Norman military horses, Iberian breeds, Clydesdales, Thoroughbreds, and Connemara Ponies.
It is a versatile workhorse with a calm disposition and a height of 5.2-16.3 hands (158-170cm, 62-67in).
This horse is often mated with Thoroughbreds or warmbloods to generate a variety of sports horses. However, this practice has put the survival of the breed at risk since many breeders concentrate on breeding sports horses while neglecting to allow mares to produce purebred horses and continue the line.
5. Dutch Draft
The Dutch Draft is a huge, stocky, muscular horse that was developed in the early twentieth century after the conclusion of World War I. For a time, it was the most important Dutch breed of draft horse, but like many other breeds, it went into decline as farming became mechanized after the Second World War.
It has a calm nature and a lot of endurance. It displays heavy feathering about the legs.
Another Dutch breed is the Friesian, which is one of the lighter, more elegant draft horses. They are normally black, although chestnut and bay varieties are sometimes available. They range in height from 14.2 to 17 hands (147-173cm, 58-68in), with an average of 15.3 hands (160cm, 63 inches).
They are currently employed in harness and under saddle as a versatile horse, notably in dressage. However, due to their relatively slight frame, they are not a common choice for more arduous work like farming.
The Ardennes is a horse with an ancient lineage. It is one of the earliest contemporary draft horse breeds, having originated in the Ardennes area of France, Belgium, and Luxembourg.
These horses’ ancestors served in the army of Ancient Rome, and descendants of that original breed were utilized as war horses throughout the years, both as mounts and to haul artillery.
They are a rather small and stocky breed with robust muscle, with stallions standing approximately 16 hands (162cm, 63.5in). They are now utilized for agriculture labor, forestry, and recreation. This is a breed that is often bred for meat.
8. Jutland Horse
The Jutland Horse, which originated on Denmark’s Jutland Peninsula, is most likely a descendent of a breed of horse employed by Viking raids in the 9th century.
The contemporary Jutland was developed by crossbreeding with other horses and has existed in its present form since the late 1800s.
Formerly utilized on farms, these horses are now more typically seen at horse events. The Carlsberg Brewery in Copenhagen still uses Jutland Horses to transport beer around the city.
Jutland horses are small and stocky, standing at around 15-16.1 hands (152—165cm, 60-65in). They are generally chestnut in color and have a calm and cooperative demeanor. Just around 1000 purebred Jutland Horses are considered to be left.
9. South German Coldblood
The South German Coldblood horse is mostly found in Bavaria, Germany’s southernmost state. It is closely related to the Noriker horse of Austria, although the two breeds are considered distinct.
This breed is notable for its ability to show “leopard complex” patterns; it is one of the few horse breeds capable of doing so.
The most well-known of the current French draft horse breeds is the Percheron. It originated in the Huisne river valley in France, a region that was formally known as Perche, hence the horse’s name.
This breed’s forefathers were battle horses. In the early 19th century, Arabian blood was added to the bloodline, after which, stallions from other parts of France were also brought in to increase the size of the breed, transforming it from a coach horse to a draft horse.
Before to WWII, this breed was immensely prevalent in the United States, accounting for 70% of all draft horses in the nation. However, after the War, numbers declined due to the increased mechanization of agriculture and and the reduced need for working horses.
Percherons in France are between 15.1 and 18.1 hands tall (155-185cm, 61-73in). They are typically gray or black in color, and they are still widely used as a workhorse. They are a popular horse in show jumping and are often utilized in contests. In France, they are also reared for meat.
The Belgian, together with the Shire, Clydesdale, and Percheron, was one of the four major draft horse breeds in use in Europe at the turn of the twentieth century. It originated in the Brabant region of Belgium and is valued for its strength.
The name of this horse is slightly misleading. Brabant and Belgian horses were formerly considered the same breed, and the names could be used interchangeably.
With the conclusion of WWII, however, Belgian horses in the United States and Brabant horses in Europe diverged; in the United States, they were bred to be taller and lighter, whilst European horses were chosen for strength and stockiness.
As a consequence, they are today considered two distinct breeds, with the “Belgian” horse really being an American horse, and the “Brabant” horse remaining in Europe. In any case, the two breeds are very close and retain many similarities.
American Belgians are light chestnut in color and stand between 16.2 and 17 hands (168-173cm, 66-68in).
They are still employed as working animals today, but they are also often utilized as show horses or for leisure riding. Their meat is also highly valued in certain areas, and the Brabant is often reared for meat.
12. North Swedish Horse
The North Swedish Horse is a tiny but powerful horse that was bred for forestry and agricultural labor.
They are highly recognized for their pleasant nature and docility, and despite their small stature for a draft horse, they are remarkably strong creatures.
They are especially regarded for their superb health, which allows them to live long lives in northern Europe’s typically harsh environment.
North Swedish Horses, like almost other draft horse breeds, are less needed for agricultural labor in the contemporary world. However, they are also commonly used for recreation and are one of the only coldblood horse breeds used for harness racing.
13. Fjord Horse
The Fjord Horse is a Norwegian breed from the country’s western area and is another Scandinavian horse. It is a particularly beneficial breed in the hilly region of Norway where it originated due to its surefootedness. It is a versatile animal that may be utilized for a variety of tasks such as ploughing, hauling, driving, and riding.
The Fjord Horse is only around 13.1-14.3 hands (135-150cm, 53-59in) tall, yet despite its small height, it is not weak. It is also generally willing to work and has a mild and amenable character.
The majority of Fjord Horses are brown dun, however four additional colors are officially recognized. It naturally sports a long mane, although this is usually cut short to make grooming easier as well as to accentuate the musculature of the neck.
Curiously, this breed is one of the world’s oldest and is claimed to be closely connected to Przewalski’s Horse, a Central Asian native regarded to be the world’s last real wild horse. The Fjord Horse is another breed that was used by the Vikings as a war horse.
14. Russian Heavy Draft
The Russian Heavy Draft is a little but remarkably robust horse that was developed in Russia in the late nineteenth century.
It was developed as a working horse for agricultural usage. Nonetheless, it is currently also maintained for milk since mares may produce a large amount during each lactation session. Mare’s milk is an essential part of the diet of many peoples in Central Asia. It is also reared for meat.
15. American Cream Draft
The American Cream Draft is unique in that it is the only draft breed that was bred in the United States. As the name suggests, it is usually a distinctive cream color, and it also displays amber eyes.
It was initially meant as a farm animal, but like with many other breeds, its numbers dwindled as agriculture became more mechanized. Nowadays, this breed is increasingly rare – there are currently probably fewer than 2000 left in the world today.
A beautiful animal that is finding its place in the modern world
While draft horses are no longer required for agricultural labor, forestry, transportation, or any of the other traditional applications for draft horses, they are increasingly seen in exhibits and are popular for recreational reasons.
This implies that the breeds and bloodlines will be preserved, enabling us to pass on these beautiful, elegant, and clever animals to future generations to admire and enjoy.
What are the 5 draft horses?
The traditional list in North America included five draft horse breeds: Belgian, Clydesdale, Percheron, Shire, and Suffolk. Draft horses are recognized by the Draft Cross Breeders and Owners Association as the following breeds: Ardennes American Cream Draft.
What types of draft horses are there?
Draft horse/Representative species
What is a Draught horse breed?
Draft horses are massive, heavy breeds of horses distinguished by their tall height (>16 hands), muscular physique, and enormous body size (>1400 kg). Common breeds include Percheron, Belgian, Shire, and Clydesdale, and they are often used in pulling, plowing, and farm labor.
What is the best draft horse?
Shire – For pure pulling power and strength, nothing beats a Shire draft horse. It is an old breed that originated in the United Kingdom and was historically widely utilized to pull carts of ale from brewers to pubs.