Le Cheval Comtois

...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.

Romping into my column this week is the Comtois Heavy Draft Horse, out of the Comte region in eastern France, a harsh, mountainous area.

Pronounced “ Kom -Twah,” this is a very old breed, with the Roman writer Publius Vegetius penning about them in the 4th century AD. (1)

France’s Louis 14th used them during his reign from 1643-1715, as artillery and cavalry horses of war. Napoleon also used them in his attack on Russia.

The Comtois may have originated in Germany, but French citizens in the Burgundy region wanted to improve the Burgundy Horse, so they imported some Comtois Drafts to begin a breeding program. (2)

I searched for information on the French Burgundy Horse, from Burgundy, but could not find any horse listed under this name; it may be extinct.

The Comtois stock was itself improved during the 19th century, with stock being interbred from Percheron and Boulonnais Draft Horses, and also the Norman Horse. (3)

Possibly around 1905, some Ardennais Draft Horse blood was infused into the breed, greatly improving the breed’s durability and strength.

The breeding experiments paid off in a positive way, with a Comtois stud book being opened in 1921. (4)

The official Comtois Stud Book states breed specifics, such as weight variations from 1,100 to 1,300 pounds, and a height from 14.3HH to 15HH. (5)

The Comtois Draft is a versatile animal, being used today for farming, riding and draft hauling for logs, and even grape wagons in vineyards.

They do well in the mountain climates and terrain, and are bred throughout the Massif Central, Pyrenees, and Alps mountains. (6)

Their shape is draft horse in appearance, with dark, carmel color coats and light-colored manes and tails.

They have a nice crest on their profile, and thick throat-latch, with the neck short and muscular.

The chest is deep and wide, with a nicely-shaped barrel, good, beefy haunches and hind quarters, and a nicely-placed tail set.

The legs are short with hard hooves and durable joints, but sometimes they have a conformation flaw of being sickle-hocked.

The feathering is minimal on the fetlocks, giving a clean line in the overall scope of the animal.

This draft breed remains quite common, unlike many other draft breeds in France that are actually considered “endangered.” (7)

Unfortunately, the Comtois Heavy Draft is bred for the meat and slaughter industry, and the French serve horsemeat on a platter for dinner.

The meat trade motivates breeders to keep this heavy horse in large numbers nationwide, however, conformation, outward visible aspects, and appearance suffers, since they are bred for stockiness and bulk, and not quality of animal.

Deterioration is evident as generations progress, and it is hoped that the Comtois Stud Book of registered animals can maintain a well-formed, well-conformed equine. (7)

The Comtois Heavy Draft Horse is considered a Cold Blood and comes in at 14HH to 15.3HH, with a distinct dark chestnut coat and blonde mane and tail. (8)

They originate in France, have a nice temperament, and are an all-around favorite of French equine enthusiasts, coming in a close second place to the Breton Heavy Draft, out of Brittany.

I like a beefy-looking draft horse, with a nice, arching crest and plenty of poll to set in harness and hames, along with a nice, round barrel, a big, beefy butt and a well-placed tailset.

It seems that many of the modern, American draft horses are thin and saddley-looking, with goosey croups and low tailsets. I think I’ll pass-- you know what they say about low tailsets, just ask Marge Wenzel.

Look to Europe for old-style, fat and stocky draft horses, with big, thick necks and big butts.

There once was a Belgian Heavy Draft Horse named “Brooklyn Supreme,” aka “Brookie,” who came in at 19.2HH and weighed 3,200 pounds.

He was born in 1928, had a girth that measured 10 feet, 2 inches around, and sported a 40 inch collar when in the harness and hitch. It took 30 inches of iron just to make one horseshoe for him. (9)

Check him out at ruralheritage.com, that’s my kind of horse.

Wrapping it up with some big boys, more next week.

Bidding you adieu and au revoir to the immortal words of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, “Happy Trails to You.”

1: Wikipedia/internet

2-4, 7,8 : “The Encyclopedia of Horses & Ponies,” by Tamsin Pickeral

5,6: “Horses,” by Yann Arthus-Bertrand and Jean-Louis Gourand

9: internet/www.ruralheritage.com/ courtesy Jim Richendollar Draft Horse Archives