12 Heavy Horse Breeds

Heavy horse breeds are often tied to a specific location. Certain regions of the world have specific breed preferences because of the unique environmental conditions where the horses would have been working in the past. Though heavy horse breeds are not needed for drafting purposes as often today, the regional preferences still exist.

For that reason, there are several heavy horse breeds which are unfamiliar to many. Here are some that may be more unfamiliar than the Clydesdale, Shire, or Suffolk.

#1. Italian Heavy Draft

This heavy draft horse is one of the more recent additions to this type of breed. Its developed can be traced to 1860 and has continued since by focusing on domestic Italian horses. It is a versatile breed that has helped to improve local stock, while having a horse that can be competitive in pulling and harness events.

Since the 1970s, selective breeding programs have focused more on meat production than competitive or riding preferences. The Italian Heavy Draft is considered more of a livestock animal regionally than the traditional definition of a horse.

#2. Freiberger

This heavy draft horse had its foundations established in the 17th century, but it never really had any guidelines or conformations established. It wouldn’t be until the 1800s when it would become established as a formal breed. This horse tends to be one of the smaller heavy breeds, especially with recent breeding efforts to cross Alsatian genetics into the bloodlines.

The studbook has been closed since 1997 and a better overall set of guidelines has been established. For competition purposes, Freibergers tend to excel in harness events. Some individuals with Thoroughbred bloodlines in their lineage can also compete in some racing events. 

#3. Posavac

This breed was developed in Croatia in a region that runs along the Sava River. It has often been used for pulling wagons because of its strength, though the size of the horse is somewhat diminutive. It is usually less than 15 hands and weighs about 1,200 pounds. The head and neck are short and small, but the body of this breed is very stocky and muscular. The shoulders are deep and broad. 

Like many heavy horse breeds, the temperament of the Posavac is easy-going, patient, and obedient. This horse prefers an environment where hard work is available on a regular basis.

#4. Rhenish-German Cold Blood

In the Rhineland, local farmers were struggling to work their fields. Their horses were just not powerful enough to work the heavy soils that were in the region. Seeing the heavy draft horses from other regions, the communities got together to import Shires, Suffolks, and Clydesdales to breed with their local stock.

The result would be this unique heavy draft horse. Used for farm work and pulling wagons, the aftermath of World War II almost destroyed this breed. More than 50 years of division prevented any interbreeding, which allowed three distinct sub-groups to develop. These sub-groups are now genetically distinct from one another, but still considered to be part of the same overall breed.

#5. Soviet Heavy Draft

This heavy horse breed was established in the 1940s, but its foundation was started in the late 19th century. Multiple regions were used to begin the breeding process for this horse, allowing for a wide range of genetic diversity. Belgian, Suffolks, and Percherons were used to incorporate the desired genetics for a heavy Russian horse.

This breed generally stands above 15 hands and can weigh over 1,700 pounds. Soviet Heavy Drafts have a pronounced jaw, a lean profile compared to other heavy breeds, and a back that is wide and strong.

#6. Jutland

This endangered breed has an estimated population of just 1,000. They are calm, like most cold-blooded breeds, but there is also a playful energy to them that makes Jutlands more active than most heavy breeds. Used to transport heavy goods, it was one of the best horses anyone could how for heavy draft work. Even the US Government promoted the benefits of owning this breed at the turn of the 20th century.

The actual origin of this breed is shrouded in mystery. Some believe that Jutlands came from the lineage of Viking horses that were brought to Great Britain in the 9th century. There is some belief that the origins could date back to ancient Roman horses. Most of the horses in this breed today are used for urban work or bred for horse shows. 

#7. Latvian

This is one of the few warm-blooded heavy horse breeds. Bred specifically for harness work and racing, purpose-driven breeding since the 1960s have transformed this breed into more of a sporting horse. It is a horse that is average in height, but weighs more than 1,300 pounds on average. 

Ten different breeds were used to establish the foundation of the Latvian in 1890. This included Oldenburg’s, Hanoverian, and Holsteiner horses. Some of the harness-type horses still exist, though most of the breed has transitioned to a lighter, more sporting type of horse thanks to Arabian and Thoroughbred infusions that occurred through 1970.

#8. Noriker

This Austrian heavy horse breed comes from the Alpine region. Legend has it that the breed came out of the highest mountain in Austria, called the Grossglockner. What is unique about this breed is its coat, created because of 5 different sire lines that are within the Noriker breed. Standing up to 16 hands and weighing around 1,700 pounds, the coat is dependent on the line.

It is the Elmar Line that is most distinctive. Most of the Norikers from this line are leopard spotted and have the appearance of an Appaloosa. Some of the other lines produce smaller horses, while others were created to for specific working purposes. About half of all Norikers belong to the Vulkan Line, which was established in 1887, and tends to be the heaviest of the lines.

#9. Murakoz

This is a smaller heavy horse breed that was developed in southern Hungary. Although it may not be classified as a heavy draft horse in other nations, it is the established breed of this type for Hungary. Much of the initial breeding for this horse breed occurred around the farms that hug the Mura River. Ardennes, Percheron, and Noriker lineages were brought together with native mares and a handful of stallions to establish this breed.

It does stand at 16 hands, though the weight tends to be more toward the generalized average for all horses. What is notable about this horse is that it has a high work output with extremely low care requirements. The breed matures young as well, allowing horses to begin working sooner than other draft breeds.

#10. Vladimir Heavy Draft

This horse is a strong all-around draft horse, coming out of the former Soviet Union. It is the heaviest of all the Russian breeds, with stallions weighing up to 1,700 pounds and standing above 17 hands on average. Mares average 16 hands and about 1,600 pounds. This breed has a distinguished look, with a Roman nose, supported by a face that is long and quite large.

The temperament of this horse is very calm, but it does have an active gait and a headstrong personality when it comes to work. Most of the horses are bay in color, but chestnut and black are possibilities. White markings on the legs and face are believed to be influenced by Clydesdale bloodlines.

#11. Finnish Horse

This breed is strongly muscled and dry, with solid hooves and a sturdy bone structure. It is a versatile heavy breed, though on the lighter side of this category, making it a good candidate for racing, riding, and general work needs. Early examples of this breed in Finland date back to around 1400 AD, though an official studbook was not established until 1907.

This breed stands at an average of 15 hands, though there are pony versions that are licensed and registered in a separate section of the studbook. There are two other specific breed sections in the studbook as well, with each having distinctive breeding goals. Horses can be registered in multiple sections at once.

The Finnish Horse is also one of the fastest cold-blooded horses which excel at trotting. Many are still used for harness racing.

#12. Comtois

This may be one of the oldest proven heavy horse breeds. It is believed that the Comtois was brought from Germany to France around 300 AD. Breeding programs have existed since the 6th century. They have been used for agricultural work, as war horses, and for hauling wood. The ancient Comtois was likely very different from the modern, however, because several draft horse bloodlines were bred into this breed, producing a horse with stronger legs and better footing.

These heavy horse breeds have been influenced by some of the more popular cold-blooded breeds. Some stand out with centuries of breeding. Many of these horse breeds are endangered, so action needs to be continue to preserve their history. By doing so, we’ll also be preserving our own history.