Draft horses are the gentle giants of the horse kingdom. Also called heavy horses and workhorses, these are horses whose primary purpose is to pull heavy loads. There are many dozens of draft horse breeds throughout the world. The most common in North America are the Belgian, Clydesdale, Percheron, and Shire. The Clydesdale is likely the most well known now, thanks to Budweiser, however all draft breeds are celebrated for their calm, friendly temperaments, strength and patience. They make great work partners.
Draft horses weigh a ton – literally! Most drafts tip the scales at close to 2,000 pounds or more, and will eat 40-50 pounds of hay a day. Built for power and stamina, they can pull several times their own weight (our carriage horses only use about 25% of that capacity), and will happily do so all day long.
Draft horses LOVE to work! They thrive when provided with a regular, fulfilling job to do day after day in partnership with their favourite human. It is not uncommon for drafts to show signs of boredom, frustration, and even depression when lacking regular work. When given a meaningful job and attentive care, most draft horses will be found waiting at their gate every morning, and would likely harness themselves if they had opposable thumbs!
The ancestors of our modern-day draft horses date back at least as far as the time of the Roman Empire, when the likes of Julius Caesar rode big black horses into battle. Noted for their size, strength, and bravery, these ancient warhorses proved reliable in the farm fields as well, and have been carefully bred over the centuries to produce many different outstanding draft horse breeds.
Draft horses built our civilization as we know it. From plowing fields to building roads to transporting construction materials, these horses played an invaluable role in the development of our country. Nowadays, draft horses have many different jobs around the world. In North America, they are most commonly seen doing farm work, logging, and giving carriage, wagon, and sleigh rides, as well as showing off in parades, fairs, and pulling contests. Next time you hear of draft horses making an appearance in your community, be sure to take the opportunity to meet them up close. The size, power, and grace of these gentle giants will amaze you!
Contributor: Christine Beattie