Draft horses developed in the United States are quite rare. Only one breed, the American Cream Draft Horse, continues to exist. It is a horse that instantly recognizable thanks to the unique coat characteristics of the breed. These horses have the champagne gene, which then works with a base coat color that is typically chestnut. It also has the amber eyes that are a trademark of the champagne gene.
Many of the horses of this breed will therefore have a cream color to them, although the champagne gene does not always display and this causes some of the horses to have a chestnut coat.
It is a recent breed as well, developed in Iowa during the early years of the 20th century. By 1944, a breed registry was formed to help encourage growth within the breed. Farming mechanization has since threatened the breed for the last several decades, even leading to the breed registry becoming inactive for some time.
Since 1982, however, the American Cream Draft Horse has been making a comeback. Although it is considered to have critical population numbers, it is believed that there are more than 1,000 horses within this breed that exist today and the numbers continue to grow.
What Is the History of the American Cream Draft Horse
It is believed that the American Cream began after 1900, but before 1905, thanks to a foundation mare that was given the name “Old Granny.” She was purchased in 1911 at an auction and then sold to the Nelson Brothers Farm. Her cream color was passed along to most of her foals, along with her pink skin and amber eyes, and that has become the defining characteristics for the breed itself.
When the breed registry was formed, only 2% of the horses that were accepted to the breed traced their lineage outside of the family that Old Granny started.
In the next 20 years, the generations of foals within the American Cream breed that was being established maintained the color characteristics. Stallions with the cream coloring produced foals with cream coloring and local veterinarians worked with farmers to keep them as stallions to encourage breed growth.
At the time, however, Iowa only allowed stallions of official breeds to be part of a public stud service. Since the American Cream wasn’t recognized, breeding syndicates were started to continue the growth of this unique draft horse.
When the Great Depression came along, it became difficult for farmers to maintain their herds. Bankers and debtors looked at horses to pay off debts. One popular stallion at the time, named Silver Lace, was hidden in a neighbor’s barn during a collection attempt so that he wouldn’t be taken to auction and sold.
The strategy paid off. Silver Lace would become one of the most influential foundation stallions of the American Cream Draft Horse.
From the late 1950s until 1981, the registry for this breed ceased operations. There were only 200 living horses registered and population numbers were dwindling. Those who had been interested in establishing the American Creams were aging and unable to care for their horses. Families had no desire to continue with the work because of the expense, especially in the aftermath of World War II.
In 1982, three families who had preserved their American Cream lines joined together and reactivated the registry once again. It was reorganized into an official organization in 1994 and breeding programs are in place to preserve the American Cream. About 30 new horses are registered every year and up to 300 active adult breeding mares for the breed are available.
What Are the Characteristics of the American Cream Draft Horse?
Blood-typing for American Cream horses began at the same time the registry was reactivated. By 1990, the gene marker data proved that the American Cream is a distinct group with the draft horse classification. Registrations and records that date back to Old Granny show that the breed has stayed within its own bloodlines and only minor changes occurred, most during the time of the Great Depression.
This has led to a horse breed that has a remarkable level of consistency. American Creams have a refined head that features a flat facial profile. Many of the horses will have a white stripe that moves from the forehead down to the nose, a distinctly different shade than the cream coloring along the rest of the coat. The tail and mane color typically matches this striping on the face.
Like other draft horse breeds, their size tends to be what catches the eye first. Then their well-muscled profile, especially within the legs and hindquarters, shows the strength of this breed. Their leg proportioning is solid and as a draft breed, they are extremely sure-footed.
Unlike other draft breeds that tend to move with a somewhat clumsy appearance, the American Cream operates with a distinguished smoothness. Free and easy movements are a trademark of the breed, which has made them an attractive carriage horse.
They are somewhat small as a breed when compared to other draft horses, with both stallions and mares averaging about 16 hands. Some mares may be around 15 hands. Mares tend to weigh around 1,500 pounds, while stallions within the breed can weigh close to 2,000 pounds.
To be accepted as foundation stock, the American Cream must have pink skin, a white mane, and a white tail. Mares with darker skin may also be accepted if they have amber or hazel eyes and a white mane and tail. An appendix registry allows for purebred registrations for foals that may be too dark to meet the standards, but can assist with bloodlines to strength the genetic profile of the breed.
Like most draft breeds, the American Cream is a very calm horse. They are willing to work and prefer to be somewhat active. They are easy keepers, like to form relationships with their human counterparts, and be social with other horses.
Why Do American Cream Horses Have Coat Color Variations?
Although there is some variation within the coat color of the American Cream, the presence of the champagne gene does create consistency within the appearance of this horse. Anything that ranges from an almost pure cream to a very light chestnut is generally considered to be acceptable.
Because there have been other draft breeds used to help improve the American Cream over the years, you’ll also find that there can be white striping or speckling in the socks of some horses. Belgians, Percherons, and Shires have been involved in shoring up the foundation of this breed, so some may show light feathering around the hooves as well.
Despite the variations, all American Cream Draft Horses will have the light mane and tail. Some may have varying colors within their tail and still be considered an acceptable horse for breeding, while others may be considered “tracking stock” and allowed breeding rights under tight regulations.
Temperament of the American Cream Draft Horse
The American Cream is a good riding horse. They are calm, gentle, and intelligent. Their size can make some beginners feel nervous about riding them, but these horses know how to take care of their people.
Like many draft horses, there is a certain sensitivity within the breed. If the horse feels like it is being ignored or isolated, it is not uncommon for the horse to draw attention to itself in some way. This may include kicking, biting, or other unwanted behaviors.
For the most part, however, this is one of the better breeds that can be a family horse. They typically work very well with children, aren’t afraid of some hard work, but can also be trained to compete in show events or pulling competitions.
One issue that does affect this breed is an autosomal recessive condition that is called JEB. It stands for “junctional epidermolysis bullosa. It is a genetic disorder that has lethal consequences. Foals that are born with JEB will lose large areas of skin and may have other birth defects or physical abnormalities. Testing is available to determine if a horse is a carrier and JEB can be avoided if two carriers do not get bred to each other.
Will the American Cream Draft Horse Continue to Survive?
The breed registry for the American Cream has adopted regulations that allow for embryo transfers and artificial insemination so that foals produced by these methods can be registered. Horses that are registered in the appendix registry help to promote genetic diversity and allow for the population to continue moving upward in numbers as well.
The American Cream Draft Horse is one of the most unique breeds of draft horse in the world today. It is the only US survivor of a bygone era when horses were an integral part of families and our greater communities. Although the population numbers for this breed remain at critical levels, preservation programs are in place and have a proven record of success so far to ensure that breed numbers continue to increase.