Belgian Draft Horses are giants in the equestrian world. Their massive size comes with immense pulling power, coupled with a gentle spirit and kind heart. These wonderful horses are increasingly popular in the United States, and not just as a workhorse, but also as a riding horse and pet. While his looks may make him easy to recognize, here are 7 facts about the Belgian horse you probably never knew, including one about that signature chestnut coat.
1- Belgian Drafts Likely Descend From Medieval War Horses.
It is plain to see that Belgian Drafts resemble the mighty destriers of the Middle Ages. They are blessed with strong bone, tall stature, and abundant muscling still fit to carry a knight. Many sources agree that Belgian Drafts are direct descendents of the medieval “Great Horse”, although there is no evidence to support this.
According to the FEI, selective breeding of the Belgian Draft Horse began in the 17th century. Since Belgium has fertile soil and abundant rainfall, there was no shortage of crops to support the creation of heavy horse breeds. Alongside the Belgian, other related horse breeds emerged from the country, such as the Ardennais and Dutch Draft.
The foundation stock used to develop the Belgian Draft consisted of Brabant horses. In fact, the two breeds were essentially the same until the 1940s, when the United States took over the breeding of Belgian Drafts. Some sources still use “Belgian” and “Brabant” interchangeably, however, this is incorrect.
2- The Modern Belgian Draft Horse Was Developed In America.
Although the breed began its journey in Belgium, the Americans took the reins of breeding from the late 19th century. To keep records of all the Belgian Draft Horses in the States, the American Association of Importers and Breeders of Belgian Draft Horses was founded in 1887.
3- Most Belgians Are Chestnut With A Flaxen Mane And Tail.
Before the American influence, Belgian Drafts came in a variety of coat colors. The most common color was bay, but chestnuts, roans, and grays were also typical.
By the ’20s and ’30s, the predominant colors in the breed were chestnut and roan. American breeders also selected for a flaxen mane and tail, a white blaze, and four white socks.
Over time, chestnut became the sole desirable color in the breed. Hence why most Belgian Drafts today have chestnut coats. Although roans and bays also occur, they are becoming less and less common, while gray Belgians are an extremely rare sight.
4- The American Belgian Draft Differs From The European Type.
When the Belgian Draft first set foot in the United States, many people disliked its thick outline, round bones, and straight shoulders. On the other hand, they appreciated the breed’s work ethic, docile temperament, and economical upkeep. And so, American breeders decided to make changes to the Belgian Draft while keeping its best qualities.
The American Belgian Draft became taller and lighter than its European cousin, with sloping shoulders and flat bone. It still retained its flawless manners, pulling power, and willingness to work. Meanwhile, the Brabant in Europe developed into a thick and heavy workhorse with coarse features and abundant feathering.
While the Brabant and Belgian are both great workers, the latter breed also has a talent for driving. Belgian Drafts regularly take part in both pulling and driving competitions, which further highlights the breed’s versatility.
5- The Belgian Draft Was Originally A Farm Horse.
Since the early days of the breed, Belgian Drafts have been bred for agricultural and industrial work. Its strong bones and heavy muscling make the breed ideal for pulling plows, towing barges and transporting heavy goods.
While Belgians are still used for forestry and farm work today, they have become popular in various equestrian disciplines.
Besides pulling contests, Belgian Drafts have also been seen on shows, driving competitions, and even dressage events. Admirers of this charming breed sometimes keep them as pets or pleasure riding/driving horses.
6- One Of The Strongest Draft Horse Breeds.
All that muscle and bone on a Belgian Draft is not only for showing purposes. An average Belgian can pull up to 8,000 pounds (3628.7 kg) of load, which is over twice their weight. They can also labor 8 to 10 hours a day without growing tired.
There are many examples of Belgian Drafts pulling impressive weights on the record. A team of Belgians, collectively weighing 4,800 pounds (2,200 kg), once pulled 17,000 pounds (7,700 kg) a distance of 7 ft 2 (2.18 m) at the National Western Stock Show in Denver, Colorado.
Another memorable demonstration of the Belgian’s power happened at the Iowa State fair pulling contest. A pair of Belgian and Percheron horses weighing 3,600 pounds (1,600 kg) pulled 14,600 pounds (6,690 kg) a distance of 15 ft 4.6 m). While the Shire horses might hold the world record for pulling, Belgian Drafts are not far behind!
7- Belgian Draft Horses Are Low Maintenance.
Most people wouldn’t expect such large and heavy horses to be easy keepers. However, Belgian Drafts are surprisingly economical to keep and don’t require much grain and supplements to put on weight. They are also happy to live out all year round, regardless of weather.
However, when there is abundant food available, a Belgian Draft can eat over 50 pounds (22.7 kg) of forage a day. If they are actively working or exercising, their appetite can be even bigger.
With that being said, there is no need for fancy concentrate feeds to keep them in good condition; a forage-only diet will suffice.
Have you ever met a Belgian draft horse ?