Belgian horses are known for their amazing strength and calm, friendly nature. These giant horses come from a country called Belgium and are some of the largest horses in the world.
People who love horses really like Belgians!
In this blog post, we will learn about what Belgian horses look like, where they come from, the different jobs they do, and fun facts about them.
Let’s find out why these big, beautiful horses are so special to people who love horses!
Origins and Breed History
The Belgian Draft horse, also known as the Belgian horse or the Belgisch Trekpaard, originates from the Brabant region of modern-day Belgium.
During the Middle Ages, it was known as the Flanders Horse, named after the region of Europe in which it originated, and was renowned for its strength and stature.
Its influence was so significant that it played a role in the development of other well-known draft horse breeds, such as the Suffolk Punch, the Clydesdale, and the Shire.
Throughout the centuries, Belgian breeders resisted the pressure to produce lighter cavalry horses. Instead, they concentrated on breeding the Brabant, or Belgian Heavy Draft, a horse breed well-suited to the region’s climate and rich, heavy soil.
This decision to preserve the breed’s characteristics and resist foreign blood, along with selective breeding to promote desired qualities, resulted in a versatile heavy draft horse with exceptional power.
Recorded breeding of the Belgian Draft dates back to the 17th century, with the first studbook established in 1886.
By the late 19th century, selective breeding led to the establishment of the modern Belgian Draft horse we know today.
Here are some key points about their historical significance:
- Farming Workhorses: Belgian horses have been integral to the success of Belgian agriculture for generations. They were used extensively in fields to pull heavy loads, plow the land, and transport goods.
- Medieval Origins: The exact origins of Belgian horses are unclear, but their lineage can be traced back to medieval warhorses and draft horses. Over time, selective breeding refined their characteristics and solidified them as a distinct breed.
- Belgian Draft Horse: The Belgian horse breed gained prominence in the late 19th century when breeders focused on developing a powerful and versatile draft horse. Their reputation for strength and reliability spread, and they became highly sought after both locally and internationally.
Belgian Draught vs. American Belgian Draft
While the Belgian Draught and the American Belgian Draft share the same lineage, they should not be confused.
The original Flemish Horses were crossbred with the Brabant in Europe to develop the Belgian Draught.
On the other hand, in North America, the Flemish Horses retained their original characteristics due to preservation efforts by the Amish community and in Canada.
This resulted in a divergence, where the European Belgian Draught developed a shorter, more heavily built structure and varied coat color distribution compared to the American or Flemish Horse breeds.
Post-Second World War, the Brabant remained confined to Europe and was bred selectively to attain a thicker and heavier stature along with a greater amount of feathering on its limbs, while the Belgian breed evolved in the United States as tall and light-bodied horses with clean legs (devoid of feathers).
Physical Characteristics Of The Belgian Draft
|Body||Massively built with well-muscled, short, strong backs and wide, deep chests. Equipped with powerful loins and a short, broad back.|
|Head||Small compared to their body, with a straight or slightly concave profile and expressive eyes.|
|Legs||Short, stocky but extremely strong and sturdy. Belgian Drafts also have heavily muscled gaskins and medium-sized hooves.|
|Mane and Tail||The mane is typically thick, often light in color. Tails are often docked, although this practice is decreasing. Some draft horses might have their tail hair cut short so that it doesn’t get tangled in the harness.|
|Color||Most common colors in the US are sorrel and roan. The most prized color is chestnut or sorrel with a white mane and tail, white stripe on the face, and four white socks.|
|Calm and Docile||Belgian Draft Horses are known for their calm demeanor, which allows them to work effectively in a variety of situations without getting stressed or nervous.|
|Friendly||They are sociable creatures, demonstrating an amiable attitude towards humans and other animals. This friendliness makes them easy to work with and handle.|
|Patient||Their patience is reflected in their ability to remain calm and composed during lengthy or repetitive tasks, making them well-suited to heavy draft work.|
|Intelligent||These horses have a good level of intelligence, which is shown in their capacity to learn tasks quickly and respond to commands effectively.|
|Willing||They display a willingness to work and can often be seen pushing through tasks that other breeds may find challenging. This makes them reliable work horses.|
|Steady||Belgian Draft Horses possess a steady nature that contributes to their reliability and effectiveness in various tasks. They do not startle easily, which is a valuable trait in a working horse.|
|Easy-to-handle||Despite their massive size, Belgian Draft Horses are surprisingly easy to handle. This is largely due to their calm disposition and responsive nature.|
|Gentle||Despite their significant strength, these horses exhibit a gentle approach when interacting with people and other animals. This makes them particularly suitable for beginner riders or those with less experience in handling horses.|
Are Belgian Draft Horses Good for Beginners?
Belgian Drafts can make excellent horses for beginners due to their calm, patient, and gentle nature. However, their size and strength demand respect and appropriate handling.
Beginners must ensure they are comfortable with the scale of this breed before choosing a Belgian.
Calm and Patient Temperament:
The Belgian Draft Horse’s calm and docile nature makes it a particularly good fit for those new to horse handling or riding. Its patient disposition allows beginners to learn without the worry of dealing with an overly energetic or temperamental horse.
Intelligent and Trainable:
Belgian Draft Horses are intelligent animals, capable of learning quickly and adapting to new tasks or routines. This quality makes them easier to train, and therefore, an excellent choice for beginners who are still learning the ropes of horse training and care.
Belgian Draft Horses are steady creatures, not easily spooked or startled. This makes them safer for beginners to handle and ride, as they are less likely to react unpredictably to new or unexpected stimuli.
Strength and Size:
While their large size might seem intimidating, this is actually an advantage for beginners. Their strong build and heavy weight mean they can comfortably carry adult riders, and their size can often make riders feel more secure.
Belgians are also known for being affectionate, forming strong bonds with their human caretakers. This can help to build the confidence of beginners, creating a strong foundation for a lifelong love of horse riding and care.
Belgian Draft Horses were originally bred as a working horse, utilized in farming for tasks such as plowing fields and pulling heavy loads. Even today, especially in areas with a preference for traditional farming methods, you can still see these powerful horses being used for agricultural purposes.
Given their incredible strength, Belgians are frequently used in the logging industry. They are adept at navigating difficult terrains where modern machinery would struggle, making them invaluable in certain logging operations.
Carriage and Sleigh Pulling
Belgians are often seen pulling carriages or sleighs, both for practical transportation and as part of tourist attractions. They are also popular in parades and other festivities, where their impressive stature and calm demeanor make them crowd favorites.
Belgian horses have become popular participants in draft horse shows and competitions worldwide. Their impressive size, grace, and well-groomed appearance make them a captivating sight in the show ring.
Despite their large size, Belgian horses can also be gentle companions for pleasure riding. Their calm demeanor and smooth gaits make them suitable for riders of various experience levels.
Therapeutic Riding Programs
The gentle and steady temperament of the Belgian Draft makes them excellent therapy horses. They are often used in therapeutic riding programs, helping people with disabilities to improve their physical and mental health.
Unique Uses in Belgian Coastal Communities
In some coastal regions of Belgium, Belgian Draft horses have a unique job. Fishermen use them for crab and shrimp fishing, demonstrating the sheer versatility of this breed.
Belgian Draft Health Concerns
While they are generally healthy, Belgian Drafts are susceptible to a few breed-specific issues:
- Junctional Epidermolysis Bullosa (JEB): A genetic disorder where newborn foals may lose a lot of their skin and show other abnormalities.
- Chronic Progressive Lymphedema (CPL): A condition that causes progressive swelling, thickening or hyperkeratosis, and fibrosis of the distal limbs.
- Mud fever: A common skin infection that results from prolonged exposure to wet and muddy conditions.
- Azoturia: Also known as ‘tying up,’ this condition is characterized by muscle stiffness, pain, and dark urine following exercise.
Prospective owners should ensure that a Belgian Draft has been tested for these conditions before purchasing.
Famous Belgian Draft Horses
Big Jake and Brooklyn Supreme are two of the most famous Belgian Draft horses.
- Big Jake set the record in the Guinness Book of World Records in 2013 for being the tallest living horse in the world at 20.2¾ hands, also weighing a massive 2600 pounds.
- Brooklyn Supreme, a Belgian Draft stallion (1928-1948), is the largest Belgian Draft horse, weighing 3200 pounds and standing 19.2 hands tall.
Wrapping Up About The Belgian Draft Horse
Belgian Draft horses are a true testament to the power and beauty of horses. They are reliable, hardworking, and gentle creatures, deserving of all the respect and admiration they receive.
Whether it’s for farming, pulling, riding, or companionship, you can’t go wrong with a Belgian Draft horse.
Disclaimer: Before buying any horse, it’s recommended to spend time with the breed in person, talk to current owners and breed experts, and consider all aspects of care, cost, and individual horse personality.