Some Big Boys

...and on the eighth day God created the horse in perfect image, to romp, graze, gallop, play and make manure wherever it darn well pleases, in divine grace.

The Belgian Heavy Draft Horse, sometimes called the Brabant, is an extremely old breed of horse and can be traced to the alluvial period of prehistoric horses. The Belgian, having originated in the country of Belgium, has influenced many other draft horse breeds, including the Ardennes Draft.

For centuries, a large part of the Roman cavalry was made up of Belgian horses.

Also known as the Flanders Horse during the Middle Ages, it has played a major role in the development of heavy English draft breeds such as the Suffolk Punch, Shire and Clydesdale. It may also have contributed to the early Irish Draft horse.

The breed had no particular foundation stallion or stallions, instead becoming a product of its environment. They began to improve in conformation after the government started a breeding stud at Tervueren in 1850. (1)

Before the 20th century, there were three different types of Belgian, all of which were bloodline related. The first type was the "Colossal Horse of Mehaigne," for which the stallion "Jean 1" was responsible; the second was the "Big Horse of the Dendre," which came from the stallion "Orange 1," and the last group was the "Grey Horse of Nivelles," which came from stock produced by the stallion "Bayard." (2)

The progeny from the great stallion Orange 1 were especially successful in the show rings during the 1800s.

By the time the 20th century had arrived, the three groups of horses had become indistinguishable. The studbook for the (Brabant) in Belgium was begun in 1855 by the Societe Royale Le Cheval de Trait Belge. The number of Belgian horses has dropped significantly in England.

They are, however, quite popular in America and the American studbook was started in 1887. At that time the society was called the American Association of Importers and Breeders of Belgian Draft Horses. That name was changed in 1937 to Belgian Draft Horse Corporation of America.(3)

The breed has since changed in America from the original Belgium Brabant, having become more stylish and refined. They make an ideal heavy work horse, and are one of the heaviest draft horses, combining incredible strength with a very generous and willing temperament. Typically, they have huge, powerful shoulders, a thick and muscular neck and a smallish head. Their legs are short with a small amount of feathering on the fetlock.

Their stride can be short and choppy at the trot, typical of draft action, but the walk can be quite nice.

Because of their excellent pulling capacity, the Belgian was exported to America and all over Europe before the age of mechanization. But since the Second World War, their numbers have declined, although they are still bred in Europe for the meat industry. They come in red roan or chestnut, stand 16hh or higher and are considered a coldblood.

Another relatively young draft horse breed is the Dutch Heavy Draft. It was developed in Holland after 1918.

The Dutch Heavy Draft is massive and is the heaviest of all Dutch horses. Through cross-breeding between Zeeland -type Dutch mares, Belgian Ardennais and Brabant drafts, the breed was thus developed. Originally the Dutch Heavy Draft was used for agricultural labor on the heavy clay soils throughout Holland, which tire many other draft breeds out.

Before the age of mechanization, they were popular farming horses throughout North Brabant, Gelderland and Limburg due to their willing temperament and phenomenal strength. They are an easy keep, are generally intelligent and very good workers. They are surprisingly active for their large size and tend to have a long working life.

They are of a colossal build, with a short neck set on loaded shoulders and a wide, strong back. The tail is low set with a sloping croup and the quarters are powerful and muscular. They stand at 16.2hh or higher, come in gray, bay or chestnut and have black feathering and stockings on their legs. Some big boys.

Closing out this week with some horsey trivia:

Dick Turpin, the legendary English Highwayman was publicly hanged in York in 1739 for horse theft and robbery. Before his capture he lived with his parents near the village of Shenton and kept his horse, Black Bess, in a clearing in Lindley Wood.

America’s first rodeo bucking horse was called “Steamboat.” He was born just before the turn of the 20th century in Wyoming and started his long bucking career in 1901 at the Wyoming Frontier Days Festival. He bucked for 13 years, and in all that time only one person, Dick Stanley, ever stayed on him for the compulsory 8 seconds.

So long for this time, folks, leaving you with the immortal words of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, “Happy Trails to You.”

1: “Evans on Horses, A Guide to Selection, Care and Enjoyment,” by J. Warren Evans

2,3: “Encyclopedia of Horses and Ponies,” by Tamsin Pickeral