Alternate Names: Belgian horse, Belgian Heavy Draft, The Belgian
Country of Origin - Belgium
Ancestors - Brabant
The Belgian Draft is one of the largest and most popular horse breeds in the world. They are known for their gentle temperament and ability to perform heavy work. With roots tracing back to the heavy horses that carried Medieval knights into battle, the Belgian has an impressive stature and exceptional power. Once relied upon for agricultural work, the breed continues to gain popularity thanks to their versatility and good dispositions. While Belgian Drafts are still used for driving, many Belgian owners enjoy riding these giant gentles.
On this page, we will discuss the history, characteristics, and common uses of the Belgian Draft horse.
So, if you are interested in learning more about this breed, keep reading!
Belgian Draught Horse Facts & Information (Breed Profile)
The Belgian Draft hails from the Brabant area of modern-day Belgium and is one of the most powerful heavy breeds.
Formal breeding of the Belgian draft horse began in Belgium in the 17th century.
Although there is no evidence to support this claim, some people believe this horse is descended from the great destriers of the Middle Ages who carried knights into battle.
Belgians are descended from a stock previously known as Brabant.
In the decades following World War II, selective breeding led to the Brabant being developed in Europe into a breed with a heavier and more robust body type, whereas in the United States, the Belgian was bred to be somewhat taller and lighter.
The main use was as a farm horse.
In 1886, the studbook was established, and ever since then, breeding has been methodically recorded.
The Belgian is the most common draft horse breed in the United States.
The world’s largest horse was a Belgian Draft named Big Jake, a gelding born in 2001.
He stood 20.2 3⁄4 hands high (82.75 inches, 210 cm).
Centuries of selective breeding have reinforced characteristics in the Belgian Draft, making the breed instantly recognisable. These horses are typically gentle giants with massive builds and kind personalities.
The Belgian Draft isn’t the tallest breed of draft horse in the world, and most stand between 16.2 and 17 hands. But they can weigh twice as much as light breeds with similar heights at 1800 to 2400 pounds.
American Belgian Drafts are less stocky than the original Belgian Heavy Drafts, but have similar proportions. These horses have compact bodies with short, wide backs. Powerful loins connect to massive hindquarters, which add to the pulling power of muscular shoulders.
These draft horses have short, strong legs with limited feathering. They have relatively short necks and proportional heads. Tails are sometimes docked in this breed, but the practice is unnecessary and can have negative welfare implications.
They are very tall and have a massive stature.
They are well muscled, with powerful hindquarters, and a broad chest.
The back is short and wide, and the neck is thick.
The head is somewhat small compared to the rest of the body, and it has a clean, straight profile and a kind eye.
Like Friesian horses, the coat is often left feathered around the feet, and it’s not uncommon to see the tail trimmed short on horses that are used for regular carriage work.
They do especially well in cold climates, where they can usually live outside for most of the winter.
With a protective outer coat that absorbs rain and snow, the undercoat remains dry and keeps the horse comfortable even in tough weather conditions.
American breeding has favoured Belgian Drafts with chestnut or sorrel coats, white face stripes, and four white socks. Other colours seen in the breed include bay (the most popular colour), black, and roan variations in bay, blue, and strawberry. Grey coats are possible, but rare.
Despite their size, most Belgian Drafts have good temperaments, being calm, gentle, kind, steady and easy-to-handle. They are also known to have a sense of humour and the foals are very playful. However, as adults, their strength may not be suitable for beginner riders without guidance.
These horses also have willing work ethics, and many Belgian Draft owners admire the breed for their bravery and loyalty.
Disciplines and Common Uses
Draft breeds like the Belgian have conformations well-suited for pulling. Belgian Drafts are most commonly used for driving disciplines, and many are seen pulling recreational carriages and sleighs.
Some modern Belgian Drafts are still working horses. On the Belgian coast, fishermen use traditional shrimp fishing practices with Belgian Drafts, riding the horses into the water while dragging a net behind them.
Belgian Drafts also make enjoyable pleasure mounts for larger riders. These horses have more whoa than go under saddle and often prefer leisurely rides to faster gaits.
Belgian Draft Horse Breed Info
Information courtesy of the Fédération Équestre Internationale