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Horse Breeds – The Belgian Draft

Belgian Draft Horses – Facts, Origin & History

Next up in our Tally-Ho horse breeds mini-series is the Belgian draft horse. While Belgian drafts share some similarities with our two previously featured breeds, the iconic Clydesdale and the majestic Percheron, they have a unique history and characteristics that are all their own. 

The Origin of the Belgian Draft Horse

As the name suggests, the Belgian draft Horse originates from Belgium.  Among many breed historians, the Belgian is believed to be descendant from the Flemish “destriers” of the Middle Ages.  The word destrier does not refer to a specific breed of horse, but rather a type of horse.  The destrier, also referred to by contemporary sources as The Great Horse, was highly prized by medieval knights and men-at-arms and was coveted as the finest and strongest of the era’s warhorses. 

The foundation stock for the Belgian was originally known as the Brabant, named after the specific region within Belgium from which the breed originates.  Historically, the breed has gone by several names including Cheval de trait Belge, Brabançon, Trait Belge and Belgisch Trekpaard.

The large, well-muscled Belgian quickly gained notoriety as one of the strongest of the heavy draft breeds.  Export across Europe, and exposure in district show circuits which culminated in the National Show in Brussels, established the Belgian breed as a fixture in Belgium’s national heritage.  By 1891, Belgian draft horses taking up residents in government stables in Russia, Italy, Germany, France and the old Austria-Hungary Empire.

The Modern History of the Belgian Draft Horse

It wasn’t until 1866 that the first Belgian was exported to the United States and though the breed was accepted by draft horse enthusiasts, at the time it was not nearly so popular as the Percheron.  Over the next two decades the Belgian gained favour, and in 1887 three residents of Wabash, Indiana – Harmon Wolf, Abraham Status and Nathan Meyer – founded The American Association of Importers and Breeders of Belgian Draft Horses, which was more efficiently renamed the Belgian Draft Horse Corporation of America.

In 1903, the government of Belgium sent an exhibit of their finest Belgian drafts to the St. Louis World’s Fair and the International Livestock Exposition in Chicago, Illinois.  This further solidified the breed’s following in the States and although exports from Belgium experienced significant downturns at the onset of both the first and second world wars, breeding programs in America ensured the Belgian gained in numbers.  

Prior to the 1940s the Belgian and the Brabant were essentially interchangeable.  Following World War II, however, the Brabant in Europe was selectively bred to have thicker, heavier bodies and notably crested necks.  Meanwhile, in the USA, breeding programs sought to develop a Belgian draft with somewhat lighter, more agile bodies with taller frames.

In the 1960s a man named Albert Stankiewicz, disappointed in the changes he was seeing in the American-bred Belgians, sought to return the breed to its original pre-war heavy working draft, breeding his imported stallions to old-style domestic Belgian mares. That traditional breed line became known as the American Brabant and its preservation is championed by the American Brabant Association, which was formed in 1999.

Today in the United States, Belgians (together with American Brabant horses) out number all other heavy draft breeds combined.    

Belgian Draft Horses in Canada

The Belgian Government produced a National Stud Book in 1886 and the first imported Belgian arrived in Canada in 1902, landing in Quebec.  The Canadian Belgian Draft Breeder’s Association was incorporated in 1907, and since then, there have been over 37,000 registrations. As was the case in America, registrations hit an extreme low during the second world war, but rebounded thanks in large part to Amish and Mennonite communities that remain heavily dependent on draft breeds for farm use.

Past and Present Uses of the Belgian Draft Horse

While many historians claim its original role was that of a mighty medieval war horse, the Belgian breed as we know it today, was founded in heavy agricultural work, logging and hauling.  In exhibition environments, Belgian horses have been reported pulling weights over three times their own body weight. 

Developments to the domestic Belgian and Brabant bloodlines have led to an extraordinarily versatile horse.  While Belgian Drafts are still used as working horses, these draft horses often compete in the show ring in halter, hitch and riding classes, and are enjoyed in a vast number of recreational equine activities.

Belgian Draft Conformation and Colour

The Belgian is widely considered to be one of (if not, the) strongest and heaviest of the draft breeds.  Early Belgians imported from Europe were seen in a variety of coat colours including, bay, black, chestnut and roan.  Modern-day, North American-bred Belgians have seen a surge in sorrel-coloured horses (chestnut bodies with flaxen manes and tails).  

While domestic Belgians have been bred to be taller and slightly finer than their European counterparts, they stand slightly shorter and heavier bodied than the average Clydesdale.  Belgians measure at an average height of 16-17 hands (1.62 to 1.72 metres from the ground to their wither) and typically weigh between 2,100 and 2,300 lbs.  By comparison, the iconic Clydesdale horse can measure 18 hands and still be approximately 200 lbs lighter!

While they may not be known as the tallest of the heavy draft breeds, the world’s largest Belgian Draft horse named Big Jake, was recorded as standing 20.3 hands (2.06 metres) and weighed in at an astonishing 2,600 lbs.

Character Traits & Trainability of the Belgian Draft Horse

Due to their superb temperament, Belgian horses are gaining popularity as schooling horses and therapy horses in riding programs.  Known as gentle giants, they are quiet and docile in hand and under saddle and yet exceptionally willing to please, especially when they are confident in their understanding of the task at hand.  Belgian enthusiasts will tell you they are exceptionally intelligent and perceptive animals capable of developing strong working bonds with their human handlers.

Meet the Tally Ho Belgian Draft Horses

Tally Ho is honoured to play a small role in preserving this incredible draft breed.  We currently have two purebred Belgians, Remy & Delilah, as well as a pair of Belgian-Percheron cross geldings (Timber and Tucker) whose Percheron origins are detailed in our last horse breed blog.   

If you’d like to learn more about our beloved Belgians, or any members of our herd, you can choose to sponsor a horse or visit our website at www.tallyhotours.com to book a tour to experience these majestic horses in person. Can’t get enough of our gentle horses? Take your very own plush horse home to love. Available in 7.5″ or 12.5″ heights, “Clyde” and “Rimsky” are available in our online gift shop. They come complete with pulling harnesses and make a wonderful keepsake!  

Horse Breeds – The Percheron

Percheron Horses – Facts, Origin & History

In November we introduced a blog mini-series featuring the five draft horse breeds that make up the Tally-Ho working herd.  Our first article featured the iconic Clydesdale horse, explaining that the origin, history and many wonderful traits of the Clydesdale goes far beyond its association with the popular branding by Budweiser. In this entry we’ll dive into the backstory of the majestic Percheron horse, of which we have two full bred and two half Percheron half Belgian bred (another draft breed we’ll learn about in the coming weeks). 

A History of the Percheron Horse

Early ancestors of the breed were first noted in Western France, more specifically, the Huisne River Valley in the former Perche Province from which the Percheron claims its name. 

While the exact origin of the Percheron horse is a matter of some mystery and much debate, one theory speculates that foundation stock came from a small number of mares captured by Clovis the First King of the Franks from the Bretons sometime after 496 AD.  Another theory suggests that some of the first Percheron foals were sired by Andalusian cavalry stallions brought over from Spain by the Moors, then confiscated by warriors of Perche upon the Moors’ defeat at the Battle Poitiers (Battle of Tours) in 732 AD.  A third theory is that the Percheron and the Boulonnais breed— brought to Brittany as reinforcements for Caesar’s legions— are closely related.  

Between 1789 and the early 1800s, the Percheron was in danger of extinction due to a suppression of horse breeding during the French Revolution. It was shortly after this time, in the late 18th century and early 19th century, that two gray Arabian stallions from Le Pin were said to have been introduced to the bloodline. This is contested by modern day breed historians who maintain there were still enough Percheron breeding stock without the introduction of additional breeds. Today, all Percherons are able to trace their ancestry back to a 1823 foundation stallion named Jean le Blanc, who’s progeny saw the breed become larger.

In 1893 the first Percheron stud book was created in France, which was followed by the first exported Percherons to the United States.  The first exportations of Percherons were less than successful with several animals perishing during or shortly after the lengthy and turbulent journey across the seas.  However, one stallion aptly named Diligence was credited with siring nearly 400 foals in the USA.  

The Modern History of the Percheron

Over the next 75 years, the export of Percherons to the United States saw dramatic fluctuations in numbers until 1906 when 13,000 arrived in the USA in the one year alone.  By the 1930s, Percherons accounted for over 70 percent of the purebred draft horses in the United States, with a 1930 census of horses accounting for over 33,000 Percherons in the country.  

The story went similarly in Canada.  By 1930, the Percheron was so popular that a Canadian census showed that there were three times as many Percherons registered as there were of the other four main draft breeds combined.  

But the Percheron boom was not long lived.  The end of World War II and a subsequent increase in mechanization led to a dramatic decline in the population.  By 1954 only 85 Percherons were registered in the US, a record low, and the subsequent two decades the breed did not fare much better.

Percheron Horses in Canada

In Canada, however, the Percheron continued to be a mainstay in Amish communities.  At one point, the highest concentration of Percherons in the world was said to be in Alberta, in a 50 mile radius of Calgary, and was referred to as the “Percheron Mafia”.  Pete Thumond of Sage Hill Percherons is quoted as saying that 90 percent of Percherons in the US today can be traced back to Alberta stock.

In the 1970s Canadian’s Bill and Opal Lucas imported the last known French Percheron to Canada.  The impressive grey stallion named Farman, was the first import from France since the 1930s and would become pivotal to domestic bloodlines.  Another prominent Canadian Percheron stallion was Justamere Showtime out of Saskatchewan.  By 1983, approximately 300 of the 512 registered Percherons could trace their lineage back to Justamere Showtime.   

The late 90s and early 2000s saw a resurgence of the Percheron breed in the United States (and Canada) with 2,500 new horses being registered with the Percheron Horse Association of America annually by 2009.  The Percheron horse is now listed as “recovering” by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. 

Past and Present Uses of the Percheron Horse

Originally bred for use as war horses, Percherons were later used for pulling large stagecoaches and, later still, for work in agriculture and for hauling heavy goods.  The Percheron is the most notable and populous of all the French draft breeds in the world today.  They have been favoured over the centuries for cross breeding to improve bloodlines in Ardennes and Vladimir Heavy Drafts (among many others) and were also crossed with Andalusian horses to create the Spanish-Norman breed.    

Percherons are still used around the world today in parades and sleigh or hay rides, and are used to pull large carriages in cities. The most extensive team of working Percherons in Europe is found at Disneyland Paris, making up 30 percent of the horses in the park.

In Canada, Percherons are still the draft horse of choice for those lucky enough to win private sustainable logging contracts.  On Prince Edward Island, Percherons are still used for the harvest of a type of seaweed called Irish Moss, navigating rocky shores and bringing approximately $1M annually to the region.

In Great Britain, the Percheron is favoured among horse breeds for advertising and publicity due to their commanding stature and presence.  They are also still actively used in forestry and agricultural work.  

Percherons are also exceptional riding horses, particularly for heavier riders and more demanding riding disciplines.  Some purebred Percherons have proven useful at show jumping, though it is more common to see Percherons crossed with Thoroughbreds and Warmbloods for the show ring.  In Australia, Thoroughbred-Percheron crosses are also used as mounted police horses. 

Percheron Conformation and Colour

Though the conformation – or physical make-up of the breed – has evolved over the years, modern breed standard describes a horse that is anywhere from 15-19 hands high (or 60 to 76 inches from the ground to the top of their wither).  Their weight ranges from 1,600 lbs in the shorter or more refined builds, to an imposing 2,400 lbs on the larger end of the scale.  

Percherons have striking, broadheads with alert and forward ears and bright, prominent eyes that communicate intelligence and spirit.  The neck is longer than some draft breeds and considerably arched, flowing into a long sloping shoulder that typically sits at a 45 degree angle to support free, forward movement and naturally expressive carriage.

A well-bred Percheron should have a deep, wide chest to accommodate a strong heart and a big lung capacity.  Other characteristics of the breed include well-defined withers, a short back, a deep girth, a longer level croup, a large and well-rounded hip and powerfully defined muscling in the lower thigh.  Percherons may appear slightly “cow hocked” in the hind end – or stand with their hocks fairly close together.  While this may not be a particularly desirable trait in, say, a dressage horse, for the Percheron it provides power and action for hauling or pulling heavy loads.  Unlike the Clydesdale with its iconic feathered lower limbs, the Percheron has very little feathering.   

They are most commonly grey or black in colour, but sorrel (or chestnut) and bay Percherons appear on occasion and are still accepted by most Percheron Registries.  

Character Traits & Trainability of the Percheron Horse

Like the Clydesdale, Percherons are referred to as “cold blooded”, which means that they tend to be very level headed and measured in their interactions with people and their environments, as opposed to other breeds that can be more flighty, reactive or “hot”.  

Those who work with Percherons will tell you that they quickly earn their handlers’ allegiance.  Extremely willing, Percherons will tackle any job set before them with power, grace and determination.  They are also a very intelligent breed that learn new tasks with ease and have a soft, yet commanding presence. 

Meet the Tally-Ho Herd of Horses

Tally-Ho is honoured to play a small role in preserving this incredible draft breed.  We currently have two purebred Percherons (Jinx and King) as well as a pair of Percheron-Belgian cross geldings (Timber and Tucker) who were formerly a logging duo.   

If you’d like to learn more about our beloved Percherons, or any members of our herd, you can choose to sponsor a horse or visit our website at www.tallyhotours.com to book a tour to experience these majestic horses in person. Can’t get enough of our gentle horses? Take your very own plush horse home to love. Available in 7.5″ or 12.5″ heights, “Clyde” and “Rimsky” are available in our online gift shop. They come complete with pulling harnesses and make a wonderful keepsake!  

Horse Breeds – the Clydesdale

Clydesdale Horse: Facts, Origin & History

In today’s urban landscape, few sounds can elicit the wonder and excitement of the clip-clopping of a horse’s feet down a city street.  If you live or work in downtown Victoria or have had the privilege to visit our historic waterfront city, you’ve undoubtedly heard this sound and seen some of the colourful horses from the Tally-Ho herd.  

Aside from their different coat colours and markings, you might think they are the same kind of horse. However, there are several unique draft breeds across the world that range in size from light to heavy types.  

Over our next series of blog posts, we’re going to take you through the unique history and features of five of these breeds – including the Clydesdale, Percheron, Belgian, Shire and Suffolk Punch – that make up the Tally-Ho herd. First up, is the iconic Clydesdale horse. 

A Brief History of the Clydesdale Horse

These days, Clydesdale horses are often synonymous with the Budweiser brand.  We’ve all seen, and likely gushed over the heartwarming Budweiser Clydesdale ads that debut each year as part of a popular sporting event in the USA, which for trademark purposes, shall remain unnamed in this blog.  But the Clydesdale horse has a rich and lengthy history that extends much further back than the brewery’s ownership, which began in the 1930s at the end of prohibition.  

The Clydesdale is a mid-18th century Scottish breed named after the valley of the River Clyde.  Brabant and Belgian Drafts, and later Flemish Stallions, were imported and bred to local mares resulting in a new crop of foals that were significantly larger than traditional local stock.  A black unnamed stallion imported from England by John Paterson of Lochlyloch was particularly pivotal to the breed and is said to be the sire of an 1806 born filly known as “Lampits Mare”.  Lampits Mare and her progeny, Glancer (also known as Thompson’s Black Horse) can be traced in the ancestry of the vast majority of Clydesdales still living today.

For years the Clydesdale horse could only be found throughout Scotland and into Northern England.  However, following the formation of the American Clydesdale Association (later renamed the Clydesdale Breeders of the USA), the breed began to earn favour in the United States and Canada.  In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, large numbers of Clydesdale horses were exported from Scotland, with a recorded 1,617 breeding stallions leaving the country in a single year.  Over the course of approximately 60 years, export certificates were issued for over 20,000 Clydesdales, which made their way to North America, but also South America, Russia, and continental Europe as well.  Clydesdale horses also became popular in New Zealand and Australia and have even been called “the breed that built Australia”.

During the First World War, thousands of Clydesdale horses were conscripted, as was the case (though in more limited numbers) for the Second World War.  Between the two wars and in subsequent years, Clydesdale horses began to decline in numbers as farms and other traditionally horse-powered industries became more mechanized.  By 1975 the Rare Breeds Survival Trust considered them “vulnerable to extinction”.  In the years since, this iconic breed’s status has fluctuated to “at risk” and recently back to “vulnerable”, with less than 5,000 Clydesdale horses currently worldwide.  

Past and Present Uses of the Clydesdale Horse

Like many draft horses, Clydesdales were originally used for agricultural work and, in their home county of Lanarkshire in Scotland, they were specifically bred to haul coal from local mines.  As the breed became popular in regions across the world, they were also used for logging and driving, and many are still used as heavy working horses to this day.

In more recent times, Clydesdales have become riding horses and even found their way into the show ring.  With carriage services, and for festivals, they have become a favourite partly because of their show-stopping looks and white, feathery legs.

Clydesdales are also used by the British Household Cavalry as drum horses, leading parades on ceremonial and state occasions, carrying the Musical Ride Officer and two silver drums weighing 123 lbs each.    

Clydesdale Conformation and Colour

In general, draft horses (spelled ‘draught’ in the UK and derived from the Old English word dragan, meaning “to draw or haul”) are easily identifiable by their imposing stature and strong, muscular builds, and the modern-day Clydesdale is no different.  But the conformation – or physicality – of the breed has evolved significantly throughout history.  

In earlier years, the Clydesdale was a compact horse that was smaller than several other draft breeds including Belgians, Shires and Percherons.  In later years, selective breeding resulted in larger horses that were believed to be even better suited for heavy hauling and would appear more impressive in shows and parades.  Today’s Clydesdales are rarely under 17 hands high (or 68 inches from the ground to the top of their wither) and can weigh in excess of 2,000 lbs.

Typical Clydesdales have either straight or slightly convex facial profiles with broad muzzles and foreheads.  They tend to have a thick and arched medium-set neck, higher wither profiles and big sloped shoulders.  Clydesdales are often noted to have an expressive, high-stepping gait. 

As previously mentioned, Clydesdales are among the most famous of draft breeds due to their association with Budweiser Brewery.  Budweiser’s breeding program has influenced the look of the breed in North America to such a degree that many people believe Clydesdales only come in Bay colour (reddish-brown body with black mane and tail) and white markings.  However, the breed can also come in black, grey and chestnut and can sometimes come with subtle roaning (white flecked coat variation) or a more overt Sabino pattern, which is said to be a genetic colour mutation.  While breed associations support all these colours, Bay and Black Clydesdales with four white legs and facial markings are the most sought after and therefore, most plentiful.

Character Traits & Trainability of the Clydesdale Horse

Clydesdales – and most heavy draft breeds – are often referred to as “coldblooded”.   Unlike the reptilian association to the term, in the equestrian world this means that they tend to be very calm, collected and gentle in their interactions with people and their environments.  By contrast, high-flight, high-spirited thoroughbreds that have been bred for racing, would be considered “hotblooded”.

However, being coldblooded doesn’t also mean that the Clydesdale is lacking in spirit or personality.  They are known to be highly intelligent and keen to work (sometimes bordering on competitive), and they are also known to exert a not-too-subtle degree of stubbornness if they feel their trainer or handler is not setting clear and fair expectations.  Some avid Clydesdale enthusiasts will go as far as to say they have big expressive personalities that are matched only by their physicality.  

While there may be individual exceptions, the breed is very level-headed and adaptable to new environments and activities.  This, coupled with their aforementioned intelligence and eagerness to work, make them a highly trainable breed.  

Meet the Tally-Ho Clydesdale Horses

In earlier years, Scotland alone was said to have approximately 140,000 Clydesdales in towns, cities and working farms.  By 1975, their numbers in the UK had plummeted to between 500-900 animals and the breed was listed as “vulnerable to extinction”.  Thankfully, due to export to other countries, including Canada, numbers have been very slowly climbing.  However, with only 5,000 currently living worldwide, Clydesdales are still considered a threatened breed.  

Tally-Ho is honoured to play a small role in preserving this incredible draft breed.  We currently have 6 incredible Clydesdales (Clay, Jerry, Kashe, Major, Sarge and Spot) who are members of our working carriage team and serve as tremendous educational ambassadors for their breed.  If you’d like to learn more about our beloved Clydesdales, or any members of our herd, you can visit our website to sponsor a horse or book a tour to experience these majestic horses in person.