Draft horses used to be one of the most popular animals on the planet. Not only did their size and strength make them suitable for farm work, but their calm nature and courageous disposition made them fantastic war horses. Once technologies evolved so that tractors were on the farm and tanks were on the battlefield, draft horses took a back seat.
Some breeds of draft horses were almost extinct before finally being able to make a comeback.
These draft horse facts show that these gentle giants show that they can still be productive, whether it’s for a small farm, a ride down a trail, or even for competition.
#1. The most popular breed of draft horse is the Belgian.
This is based on the number of registrations that the Belgian Draft Horse Corporation of America receives every year. The number of Belgians that are registered outnumbers all of the other draft horse breeds when their numbers are combined. Their popularity is due to their intuition, willingness to work, and fantastic temperament. They are also known for their relatively low maintenance needs.
#2. The largest and the tallest horses are draft horses.
The largest draft horse ever recorded was a fellow who was named Brooklyn Supreme. He stood at just over 19 hands, but weighed an incredible 3,200 pounds. He was foaled in 1928. The tallest recorded draft horse stands at just under 21 hands and is named Big Jake. Despite his height, Big Jake actually weighs over 600 pounds less than Brooklyn Supreme.
#3. One breed of draft horse only reaches about 16 hands in height.
The rarest breed of draft horse today is called the American Cream. It is also notable for the fact that it is the only breed of draft horse that was developed in the United States. The foundations of this rare breed are in Iowa in the days before the Great Depression. A breed registry was formed in 1944, but because of the low numbers, it was inactive until 1982. Population numbers for this breed are considered to be critical by several organizations as there are only 200 of them currently registered.
#4. Many draft horses have feathers.
When people are unfamiliar with horses and hear that some breeds have “feathers,” you’ll generally get a laugh. “Aren’t birds the only animals that have feathers?” you might get asked. The long, silky hair that extends over the lower half of the leg is considered a feather on a horse and most draft horses today have them. This is because the bloodlines of many draft horse breeds have be combined with one another to improve standards and conformation. Percherons and Belgians tend to have light feathering, while Clydesdales and Shires tend to have heavy feathering.
#5. The best-known horses in the world are draft horses.
The Budweiser Clydesdales are one of the most recognizable horses in the world. A majority of them reside at Grant’s Farm in St. Louis. That property is interesting because not only was it the home of the Busch family, a brewing giant in the US, but it was also property that was once owned by Ulysses S. Grant. Budweiser Clydesdales have their own standards that must be met, including standing at least 18 hands in height and weighing a minimum of 2,000 pounds.
#6. Draft horses compete in a number of different events.
Watching these gentle giants compete in events can be quite the sight. Many draft horses will participate in pulling contests, which involves each horse or a team of horses that pull a massive amount of weight. Halter competitions are also popular for draft horses since these breeds present an imposing and impressive look. Open shows, pleasure driving, and dressage have also seen draft horses compete on a regular basis.
#7. Draft horses did more in war than just carry a rider.
Draft horses were often used in cavalry to carry riders through a daring charge or for protection in up-close battles. They were also used regularly by divisions to pull artillery or provision wagons behind the initial battle lines.
#8. Jousting knights often used draft horses.
In the days of the Renaissance, when knights would joust with one another as a form of competition, it was often a draft horse that they rode upon. This was due to the height, weight, and stability of the horse so knight could absorb the impact and still be able to stay upright with the horse pressing forward at a consistent speed.
#9. Draft horses are called “cold-blooded” horses.
This is because of their overall temperament. Any horse that is calm, willing to work, and responsive to commands without protest is referred to as a cold-blooded breed. Virtually all of the draft horse breeds are considered to be this way.
#10. The Suffolk Punch has its own unique color.
This breed of draft horse is always a shade of chestnut. Yet within the sphere of the breed, it is believed that this color is slightly different than what other chestnut horses in other breeds tend to be. For this reason, the color shade given to this breed is referred to as “chesnut.” There are more than 10 times the number of Suffolk Punch draft horses in the US compared to where they originated in the UK.
#11. Draft horses are often associated with heavy harness work.
There are several different team styles available to those who need to drive draft horses. A “team” refers to two horses that are hitched side-by-side. A “tandem” has the two horses in a single-file formation. A “unicorn hitch” refers to a team which has one horse in front. If you have a four-horse or six-horse hitch, then you have 2 or 3 teams of horses. To select a team, the process involves more than strength or willingness. There is also a certain aesthetic requirement to make a team of draft horses look uniform.
#12. Some draft breeds really struggle with PSSM.
Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy, or PSSM, is a common genetic metabolic muscle problem that is found in at least 20 total horse breeds. It causes the horse to tremble after exercise, suffer from muscle wasting in the shoulders and hindquarters, and creates muscles that can become stiff and painful. The gene which causes PSSM has been found to be in over 60% of Percherons and nearly 40% of Belgians according to 2010 research.
#13. Many draft horses can be prone to heat stress and dehydration.
Even the simple act of turning out a draft horse can be enough to cause heat problems if there aren’t any shaded areas available. Draft horses do not dissipate heat from their working muscles as well as other breeds do, so they need more water and shade than other horses. Owners are even encouraged to install fans in their barns to keep air moving at all times so draft horses can stay cool.
#14. Some draft horses actually eat less than their light-horse counterparts.
The average draft horse is going to eat a minimum of 1% of its body weight per day in dry matter. That amount can rise up to 2.5%. Most of the food requirements will involve roughage. Although their size is impressive, the metabolism of light-horse breeds can be greater, which means they would need 0.25 mcal more per 100 pounds of body weight than the draft horse to maintain their health.
#15. Most draft horse breeds require a custom saddle.
You can’t just throw a standard saddle on a draft horse and expect to be able to go for a ride. Most draft horses have minimal withers and rounded backs, which causes a standard saddle to create back pain for the horse. Draft horses are more sensitive about the bit as well, since bits that are too small for them will pinch. Although the cost of a custom saddle and tack can be several thousand dollars at times, it is worth the investment.
#16. Draft horses often suffer from “sweeny,” which is caused by improper yokes and harnesses.
When a yoke or harness does not fit a draft horse properly, it tends to apply pressure to a nerve in the horse that is just above the point of the shoulder. When consistent pressure is applied to the nerve, it can be damaged over time. This creates muscle wasting, atrophy over both shoulders, and can even impair the movement of the horse.
#17. Many draft horse mares have twins.
1 in 4 draft horse mares will ovulate two follicles when they are in heat. With their larger size, this creates the potential for having twin foals more often because they can carry both to a later gestation date – some even to term.
These draft horse facts show that the various breeds may not be large in number around the world, but they are still very important to our current lifestyle. Whether it’s farm work or dressage, you’ll find that these gentle giants are ready, willing, and able to take on virtually any task that is asked of them.