Most horse breeds fall around the median average in the equine world. Adults tend to be around 15 hands and weigh about 1,100 pounds, with stallions perhaps a little taller and heavier. Then there are a select few horses that are part of the biggest horse breeds in the world. The horses in this category can stand upward of 20 hands and weigh more than 3,000 pounds.
Despite their size, virtually all of the largest horse breeds are coldblooded in temperament, which means they are calm, gentle, and not easily spooked.
Here are the biggest horse breeds in the world today.
This British horse breed is usually gray, bay, or black. It is also a very tall breed of horse, having held the world record for largest and tallest horse at various times. Shires are highly regarded for their pulling abilities and are often used for forestry work still today.
In order for a Shire stallion to be registered, it must stand at least 17 hands in height. Geldings must be at least 16.2 hands and mares must be 16 hands. Stallions can weigh up to 2,400 pounds.
In 1924 at a pulling exhibition, a pair of Shire horses actually exceeded the reading on the dynamometer, but were estimated to pull a starting load of 45 tons. Their strength helped them find a place on the farm, especially with plowing, before the invention of the modern tractor.
At one point, Shires were quite endangered, but today they are growing and very popular.
Named after the region in Scotland from where they came, these distinctive horses have the long feathers on their legs that are often used for show pulling and other events. Clydesdales have the sabino gene present quite frequently, so white markings along the legs and nose are very common.
Clydesdales used to be a rather small, but heavy breed. Through improvements with other draft horses over the last 100 years, however, it has become a tall breed today.
Originally used for agriculture, today’s Clydesdales are used in competitive events, as riding horses, and for some farm work by those who prefer to avoid modern technology. The most famous horses of this breed are owned by the Budweiser brand.
Coming from the Huisne River valley in France, Percherons don’t have the same thickness to their neck and chest like many other draft or heavy horses. Part of this is due to the infusion of Arabian genetics into the breed in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Until the days after World War I, this breed was used almost exclusively as a war horse, thanks to its calm temperament and protective personality.
This is one of the few horse breeds where the ideal size depends on the country where the registry is located. In France, for example, the ideal height of a Percheron is up to 18 hands, with a weight up to 2,600 pounds. In the US, Percherons have a range up to 19 hands, while in Britain, height requirements begin at 16 hands instead of 15.
Only gray or black horses are registered in Europe. In North America, chestnut, roan, or bay horses are also allowed.
#4. Belgian Draft (Brabant)
This big horse breed is also one of the oldest breeds that is maintained in the world today. The average Belgian stands between 16.2-17 hands and weighs about 2,000 pounds. It is a stocky horse, with a relatively small head, but a thick neck and broad shoulders that allow it to take on a tremendous amount of pulling weight.
One of the tallest horses in the world right now belongs to this breed. His name is Big Jake and he stands at 20.275 hands.
Throughout much of history, Belgian Draft horses were primarily used for farm work. As that need phased out, their duties shifted to show work, riding, and miscellaneous agricultural work instead.
Unlike many of the other heavy draft breeds, the Belgian is neither rare nor endangered. It is the most popular breed of draft horse in the United States and the total number globally is believed to be over 100,000.
#5. Dutch Draft
This horse breed is relatively new to the world. It wasn’t developed until after World War I and it was bred to fill needs in heavy draft and farm work in the Netherlands. It appeared through the crossbreeding of a Belgian Draft and a Belgian Ardennes. Since 1925, no horse other than those from registered parents are admitted into the studbook.
Most Dutch Draft horses stand at 16 hands and are usually bay, gray, or chestnut. This horse has a very pronounced jaw, a straight profile, and a powerful neck. The legs are shorter than other draft horses, but just as strong.
#6. American Cream
This is one of the rarest horse breeds in the world today. It is the only draft horse that was developed in the United States that is still in existence, with fewer than 1,000 believed to still exist globally. Initially developed in Iowa, this breed features a refined head with a flat facial profile and a distinctive coat color.
Stallions and geldings are typically above 16 hands and will weigh at least 1,800 pounds. Mares stand between 15-16 hands and weigh about 1,600 pounds.
It is the Champagne gene which creates the distinctive appearance of this breed. The ideal American Cream will have pink skin, amber eyes, and a white mane and tail. Purebred foals that have a darker coat that isn’t as desired won’t go into the main registry, but can be recorded into an appendix registry.
#7. Russian Heavy Draft
This breed is the shortest heavy draft horse, standing between 14-15 hands. It’s size, however, is often between 1,500-1,800 pounds when fully mature. Developed by crossing Percheron, Ardennes, and Orlov Trotter breeds, the Russian Heavy Draft horse was first recognized as a breed in 1952.
Many of these horses still work in the agriculture sector, helping to complete regular farm chores with greater ease. This breed also produces milk at a higher capacity than most breeds. It is often collected and then fermented, creating a drink that is called “kumys.”
Suffolks tend to be 16-17 hands in height and can weigh up to 2,200 pounds. They only have one coat color, which is officially recognized as being “chesnut.” It is a chestnut color, but without the “t” in the middle of the word. Different shades of “chesnut” are allowed, ranging from reddish colors to light or dark brown.
This breed’s registry is the oldest in English breed society, with the first mention of the hose being published in 1586. Suffolks are also the oldest breed of horse that is recognizable in the same form today as it was historically.
What makes the breed a rare horse breed are the genetic restrictions that have been placed on it. There are about 1,500 Suffolks in the United States, but only around 300 in the UK. Horses from the United States are not allowed to breed with horses in the UK because of US breed habits that included allowing some Belgians to be bred into the breed.
Although it is a relatively small horse compared to some of the other biggest horse breeds, its agility and strength is equal to any other horse. The breed is one of the world’s oldest and is a popular harness horse and used under saddle because it has a generally good temperament. There are no variations of the horse, with a dun color and all white markings except for a forehead star discouraged.
It is believed that the ancestors of the modern Fjord horse migrated to Norway more than 4,000 years ago and were domesticated by the local population. Viking burial sites indicate a Fjord-like horse being selectively bred for nearly 2,000 years. Up until World War II, it was almost used exclusively as a farm horse, able to handle the rough terrain with relative ease.
Although it is technically a draft horse, Doles have had Arabian, Thoroughbred, and other blood added in to create a horse that is a bit different in size and height than what it was historically. The influence is still there, however, as the average Dole weighs about 1,500 pounds and can stand close to 16 hands in height.
As part of their studbook inspection, Doles are required to be tested on their strength and agility. Lighter horses in this breed must also have x-rays taken of their legs to prove that they are free of defects. They are often used as a racehorse today.
There are several additional large horse breeds in the world, such as the Haflnger, Breton, Friesian, and Jutland that all deserve mentions as well.
The biggest horse breeds have helped human civilization grow and thrive. Although technology has largely replaced their work duties, these beautiful horses still have many different roles to play around the world.