8 Breathtaking Draft Horse Breeds (History)

draft horse breeds eating in the grass field

Are you fascinated by draft horse breeds and want to know more about them?

We’ve got you covered!

While we love all equines, there’s something unique about these heavy horses with feathered legs that makes them irresistible.

So, keep on reading to discover 8 of the most popular draft horses in the world!

READ MORE: Different Kinds of Horses

8 Breathtaking Draft Horse Breeds with Pictures

When tractors and other machinery were only a vague idea in people’s minds, draft horses were essential for the ordinary farmer. 

They helped around the farm, transported goods to the nearest town, and were the fastest means of transportation. 

But it wasn’t until the 19th century that draft horse breeds grew in popularity.

In those times, people need more horsepower than ever to pull heavy carriages and freights around. 

As you’ll find out, all these workhorses have calm temperaments, well-muscled bodies, and a willingness to follow orders. 

That’s why they remain popular and well-loved, even though we don’t need horsepower anymore to farm or construction work. 

So, let’s see our list of the top 8 draft horse breeds with pictures. 

#1 Shire

Just look at those massive bodies, broad chests, and powerful backs!

You can easily imagine the powerful Shires hauling logs, plowing fields, or pulling heavy machinery.

big shire horse with white feet

Shires originated from Britain and were developed at the end of the 18th and early 19th centuries.

They have distinctive feathering around the legs and are bay, black, brown, or grey with no large white marking. 

Specialists believe that the breed has ties to the ancient Great British Horse, which noblemen, kings, and knights rode into battle.

Looking at the Shire with its impressive 17 to 19 hands height, it’s not that hard to imagine this beautiful horse striking fear into the enemy. 

Besides their staggering height, the Shire is one of the heaviest draft horses with a weight between 1,800 and 2,400 pounds. 

Thanks to its wide chest, deep shoulders, and size, the Shire can also pull great loads.

According to The Book of Draft Horses, “a pair of Shire draft horses pulled 50 tons.” 

Moreover, Shire holds the record for the tallest horse in the world with an impressive height of 21 hands and a weight of over 3 300 pounds.

This stunning animal was named Samson and was born in 1846. 

Despite its frightening size and weight, the Shire is one of the calmest horses in the world and doesn’t spook easily.

That’s why these gentle giants so great for novice riders. 

Unfortunately, the advancement of technology made this farm horse redundant and dwindled their population numbers in the mid 20th century.

Currently, Shires are considered at risk of extinction, according to the Rare Breeds Survival Trust.

But you still can see some in equine shows, parades, or farms. 

#2 Clydesdales

When people think about heavy breeds, they usually imagine the Budweiser Clydesdales, promoting the Anheuser-Busch Brewing Company.

Who can blame them? 

If you ever see a team of Clydesdales pulling a brewage cart, you can’t help but marvel at these elegant and stunning animals with their active gait.

clydesdale with white spots

In general, Clydesdales are bay in color with well-muscled bodies, sloped shoulders, and heavily feathered legs. But the breed standard allows all solid colors. 

The breed originates from Scotland with its bleak and harsh climate.

Shire blood and Flemish horses were used to improve the local mares and create one of the largest horse breeds. 

In the past, Clydesdales used to be smaller and bulkier than the animals we know today.

That’s because they’re used for hauling and farming in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Later on, breeders focused on creating a taller, athletic version of this workhorse breed for pulling carriages and performing at parades and shows. 

As for size, Clydeslades are a little bit smaller than Shires.

They’re still a heavy draft horse with an average height of 16-18 hands and a weight of over 2,000 pounds.

Like most draught breeds, Clydesdales are also intelligent animals with a calm demeanor and easy-going personality.

They’re one of the best draft horses for timid owners and their hardy constitution makes them ideal for trail riding.

Clydesdales aren’t the fastest breed, but they will get you where you’re going, no matter the terrain. 

Unfortunately, like many other draught breeds, Clydesdales are rare nowadays, when people no longer need horsepower. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3PXbCtE2IZI&t=27s

#3 Percheron

a tall percheron brown horse

The Percheron is among the most popular workhorse breeds and draft horse breeds for a reason.

These stunning animals can reach up to 19 hands tall and have incredible stamina and endurance.

These massive animals come from the Huisine valley in France and the province of Le Perche, hence the name Percheron.

They’re usually grey or black in color and with no feathers on the legs. 

Originally, the Percheron was one of the medieval war horses, which is no surprise given their legendary strength, powerful bodies, and endurance. 

However, they gained popularity as a draught horse breed in the 18th and 19th centuries.

That’s when people started using them for hauling goods and carriages. 

In America, the Percheron became popular in the 1900s.

Around that time, breeders added Arabian horses to the bloodline, creating a refined version of the Percheron.

Even nowadays, Percherons are a popular choice for crossbreeding with other light breeds to produce athletic and beautiful horses for sports and competition. 

While Percherons are among the heavy horse breeds with a weight between 1800 and 2.600 pounds, they’ve got a docile temperament and calm disposition.

Most Percherons are willing to work until they drop from exhaustion and are easy to train and manage, even for inexperienced owners.

They’re also smart and sensitive animals, great for getting over the fear of riding.

And if you’re looking for draft horse breeds that can trot or run for miles, Percheron is the right one. 

However, Percherons bred for competitions and shows can be a little bit jumpier and more “hot” tempered than the usual draught breeds.

But Percherons are generally healthy and easy to maintain, as long as you’re not intimidated by their size.  

#4 Belgian Draft Horse

The well-built Belgian comes from Brabant, in Belgian.

It’s one of the heaviest draft horse breeds with short, muscular legs, a flaxen mane, and a small, well-shaped head. 

People often use Belgian and Brabant interchangeably. However, Belgians and Brabants are two different breeds, separated after the World Wars.

Brabants are bulkier and have more extensive feathering on their legs.

two belgian draft horse breed

On the other hand, American Belgian drafts are chestnut in color with taller, slightly slimmer bodies.

Still, Belgian horses usually stand between 16 and 17 hands tall with an average weight of 1 800 to 2, 200 pounds.

You might think that they aren’t as imposing as other draft horse breeds. 

However, the record for the tallest living horse in the world belongs to a Belgian named Big Jack.

This stunning animal is over 20 hands tall (82.75 inches/210 cm tall) and weighs over 2,600 pounds. Check this video!

The only Belgian draft heavier than Big Jack was Brooklyn Supreme, born in the 1920s.

This red roan animal weighed more than 3,000 pounds and was one hand shorter than Big Jack.

Belgians became so popular and well-loved in the United States that their population didn’t suffer so much after machines appeared. 

They’re still used for hauling, farming, and pleasure riding.

And their wonderful temperament and adaptability make them the perfect horse breed for first-time owners.  

Unfortunately, Belgians are predisposed to junctional epidermolysis bullosa, resulting in foals born with abnormalities.  

#5 Ardennes

Do you know that the Ardennes is one of the oldest draft breeds?

Their origin goes back as far as Ancient Rome, and throughout the centuries, they’ve been cavalry mounts, drafting animals, and farm horses. 

Looking at the heavily-boned Ardennes with their thick feathered legs and muscular conformation, it’s easy to imagine them pulling carts in Ancient Rome.

The Ardennes reaches up to 16 hands tall, lacking the staggering height of other types of draft horses, such as Clydesdale or Shire.

But they’re heavy animals with a weight of up to 2 200 pounds and strong enough to pull artillery.

They’re also long-striding animals, despite their short, bulky legs and compact body. 

Like most draft breeds, Ardennes are also calm, docile, and easy-going.

They mature early and are easy to keep since they don’t require as much feed as other draft breeds. 

Nowadays, Ardennes are still one of the popular plow horse breeds and are often used for heavy work, driving competitions, or farming. 

#6 American Cream Draft

Look at those amber eyes and stunning cream color! You can’t mistake this breed for any other than the rare and majestic American Cream. 

As the name suggests, the American Cream is the only American draft horse breed.

It was created in the early 20th century from a mare called Old Granny.

Breeders were striving to improve the breed’s color and features, but the advance of technology in the middle of the 20th century put an end to their efforts.

It wasn’t until the 1980s that breeders started to work on the breed again, increasing the population numbers.

Still, it’s one of the rarest breeds with only around 30 fouls born each year. 

In general, the American Cream stands at 16 hands tall and is lighter than other draft breeds, reaching up to 1,800 pounds.

Despite their heavily-built conformation, the American Cream is also one of the gentle giants in the equine world.

They’re easy to handle, even by children, and have got a wonderful temperament.

That’s why the American Cream Draft is perfect for people that need a workhorse breed but feel uncomfortable around taller drafts. 

Unfortunately, the American Cream is predisposed to junctional epidermolysis bullosa, common in several other draft breeds. 

#7 Haflinger

brown Haflinger horses

The Haflinger or Avelignese is one of the smallest draft horse breeds, originating from Austria and Northern Italy.

While the history of the Haflinger goes back to the Middle Ages, their current appearance results from adding Arabian stallions and other European breeds to the bloodline. 

Unlike other draft breeds we’ve talked about, the Haflinger reaches up to 15 hands tall, with mares being on the smaller side.

They’re always chestnut in color with a flaxen mane and tail.

Thanks to their sloping shoulders, deep chests, and well-muscled backs, Haflingers are excellent working animals.

They’re great at under-saddle disciplines, drafting, and harness work. 

Interestingly, Haflinger’s population continued to grow after the World Wars, even though humans didn’t need draft animals.

Nowadays, specialists estimate that around 250 000 Haflingers exist globally, with most animals still bred in Austria. 

And do you want to know another interesting fact? The first cloned horse is a Haflinger foal named Prometea

#8 Irish Draft 

The gentle Irish Draft is the last but not the least in our list of the best draft horse breeds.

The breed traces its origin to the 18th century and the extinct Irish Hobby.

Since the Irish needed a big-boned animal for farming, the Irish Hobby was crossed with Norman horses and Spanish ones.

That’s how the Irish Draft appeared. 

a tall white Irish draft horse breed

In general, the Irish Draft is a strong, athletic, and elegant animal suited for farming, hunting, eventing, and even police work.

All solid colors are acceptable, but extensive white markings – not. 

As the breed standard specifies, “Irish Draught should stand between 158cms (15.2hh) and a maximum of 170cms (16.3hh).” 

As such, Irish Drafts aren’t the tallest horses breed, but they’re versatile animals with a sturdy constitution.

They aren’t prone to many health problems and are economical to keep.

Moreover, the Irish Draft has an active gait, wonderful personality, and willing nature.

They are perfect for pleasure riding, especially for nervous or inexperienced riders. 

Nowadays, breeders often cross Irish Drafts with Thoroughbreds to create sport horses.

The Irish Sport, for example, excels at show dressage, jumping, and eventing. 

Draft Horse Breeds FAQs

Which Horses are Draft Horses?

In general, draft horse breeds stand between 15 to 19 hands tall and weigh around 2,000 pounds. Of course, individual horses might be bigger or smaller. 

All working breeds share similar characteristics, such as docile nature, great patience, and willingness to work.
They’re also heavy with well-muscled, broad backs, sloping shoulders, and strong hindquarters. That’s what makes them so good at pulling/hauling. 

Do Draft Horses Make Good Riding Horses?

Draft breeds are often called “cold-blooded” because they don’t spook easily, have great patience, and docile temperament. So, they make perfect riding horses, especially for inexperienced riders. It’s all a matter of getting your draft used to the saddle. 

Some draft breeds are also an excellent choice for show dressage, eventing, jumping, and hunting. The sturdy constitution and leveled temperament are also great qualities for trail riding. 

What Is the Biggest Breed of Draft Horse?

The biggest draft breed is the Shire since they stand over 17 hands tall, and it’s not unheard of them to reach over 19 hands. The largest-ever Shire was over 21.2 1/2 or over 219 cm!  

However, the Guinness World record for the tallest living horse belongs to the Belgian Big Jake with an astonishing height of 20.3 hands.

What Is the Rarest Draft Horse Breed in the World?

Currently, the American Cream Draft is the rarest draft breed in the world. The Livestock Conservancy and the Equus Survival Trust both consider the breed critical and nearly extinct.

Currently, around 30 foals are registered every year, and around 100 to 300 active breeding mares exist. Fortunately, breeders are working on increasing the American Cream population, but it’s taking time.

Are Draft Horses Good for Beginners?

Many owners are intimidated by draft breeds because of their giant size and height. However, draft horses are calm and have an easy-going temperament.

These heavy horse breeds don’t spook easily and are good at following commands and directions. As such, they are a great choice for beginners.

Conclusion

Draft horse breeds are the gentle giants of the equine world and make a great choice for novice and experienced owners alike.

Today, you can see these stunning animals at pulling competitions, shows, and heavy horse trials.

And they’re still used for farming and hauling, albeit not in the same numbers as before. 

If you’ve decided to get a draft horse, you should know that caring for these massive animals isn’t cheap.

They need plenty of feed to support their large size and plenty of work to avoid obesity. 

References:

  • “Breed Standard.” n.d. Idhba.ie. Accessed June 1, 2021. http://idhba.ie/Breed_Standard.html.
  • “How Much Can a Shire Horse Pull.” 2020. Horses. October 1, 2020. https://www.skipperwbreeders.com/recommendations/how-much-can-a-shire-horse-pull.html.
  • “Largest Horse Breed for Riding. All You Need to Know about Horses.” 2019. Best Horse Rider. June 14, 2019. https://www.besthorserider.com/top-5-largest-horse-breeds-for-riding-all-you-need-to-know-about-them/.
  • “Prometea- First Cloned Horse.” 2018. Globetrotting. May 6, 2018. https://www.globetrotting.com.au/prometea-the-first-cloned-horse/.
  • “The Livestock Conservancy.” 2015. Livestockconservancy.org. 2015. https://livestockconservancy.org/index.php/heritage/internal/americancream.
Clydesdales horses eating grasses

What do you think about our list of draft horse breeds with pictures? Which one is your favorite? Have you ever owned a draft breed? Share your experience in the comment section!

Grigorina S
Grigorina S

Grigorina grew up surrounded by animals – dogs, cats, cows, goats, sheep, and horses and that has shaped her into what I am today – a crazy cat lady who always has a place for one more cat (or a dog). She has two female cats – Kitty and Roni, and two tomcats – Blacky and Shaggy, but she also feeds her neighbors’ cats when they come for a visit. I just can’t say no to them. Follow her on FACEBOOK AND INSTAGRAM
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