Draft (Draught) Horses – Percherons
By Michael Russell
Although the exact origins of the Percheron have been lost over the years, there are several different beliefs about their roots. There are those who believe that this large draft horse is descended from the original horses of the Ice Age. Still others think that it’s closely related to the Boulonnais horse that the Romans used to invade Brittany. And a third group maintains that the horse is from a herd of Arabians, or some of the horses used by the Moors during the battle of Poitiers. Whatever one chooses to believe, the consensus among all is that the Percheron can be traced to Normandy at an area called La Perche. Once again, a draft breed has at its roots the Belgian-Flemish blood.
While modern-day Percherons are notable for their heavy draft work, during the 8th century the heavier native and cob stock were crossbred with Arabians and other Oriental horses. The Percheron produced by this breeding made the horses more suitable for riding and lighter draft work. As time passed, the use of a Percheron as a carriage horse developed into the more practical need as a heavier draft animal. The smaller-boned breed of the late 1800s was crossed with the heavier mares of Brittany, resulting in the stockier Percheron that is most familiar today.
Description and Conformation
The preferred Percherons are black or grey but browns, sorrels, and bays are acceptable for registration. Due to the Oriental-type blood throughout their history, while a heavy horse, the elegance of the heritage shows. The Percheron is not as choppy in its movements as other heavy draft horses tend to be. The head is ideally medium sized, has a lean, clean cut, and a broad width between the eyes. While the chest is deep and wide, the shoulders of the Percheron should not stand out prominently, as they tend to do on other drafts. The back is straight and strong in proportion to the neck length and shoulder height.
Today’s average Percheron measures 17 to 18 hands (68 to 72 in., or 173 to 183 cm.) at the shoulder. Mature Percherons can weigh from 1600 pounds (113.6 stones) up to, and in excess of, 2400 pounds (170.4 stones).
This breed of draft horse has been acclaimed as being very adaptable in any environment And it is characterized by a long smooth stride which shows determination and willingness. It is also known for its intelligence, affable temperament, willingness to work, and reputation for ease of handling.
Draft (Draught) Horses – The Shire
The last of six articles about Draft (Draught) Horses, this one is about the Shire, and English draft horse which can be traced back as far as the Roman Conquest.
The Shire, an English draft horse, can be traced back to the days of the Roman Conquest. The horse has been depicted in paintings, as far back as the 15th century, in full war regalia. There are those who do not doubt that this heavy draft was used by knights in battle. Others, however, do not share this belief. In any event, once the tournaments and heavily armored knights passed into history, the ancestors of the Shire were put to use pulling wagons on the roads and ploughs in the fields. It soon became the largest and most powerful horse in Britain. Still today, brewers in English cities use the Shire to pull beer wagons and, they are used for weight-pulling and ploughing competitions.
Although the Shire was found and developed throughout England, what is know today as the Midlands (Lincoln, Huntington, Derby, Norfolk, Leicester, Cambridge, and Norfolk shires) were where the highest concentration of this draft could be found. As with other draft horses, the Shire bloodline was improved with the mixture of other breeds throughout history. There are relatively accurate records, which date back about 1000 years, that show when the Belgian and Flanders breeds were crossed with the Shire.
The Shire was first imported to America in 1853. In the early 1900s it seemed that the Shire might overshadow the Percheron as America’s favored draft horse. However, the Percheron prevailed.
Description and Conformation
The typical colors for the modern Shire includes grey, brown, bay, and black. There is the occasional white, but it is a rarity. The mature stallion stand 16.2 to 17.2 hands (165 to 175 cm., or 65 to 69 in.) at the shoulder and weighs up to 2200 pounds (156 stones). The mares and geldings are slightly smaller.
This draft has the convex, or “Roman”, nose. Its eyes are large, wide-spread, and intelligently expressive. The shoulders are large and prominent. The body is relatively thick. And the legs are long with a good deal of feathering around the feet.
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