Belgian Horses

Once used to carry soldiers into war, the classic heavy Belgian horse is used primarily for draft purposes.

by Dani Yokhna

Use: Belgian horses are most often used for draft purposes. Some are still used on traditional farms to work the fields, while others are shown in harness at draft horse shows. Some Belgians are ridden.

History: The Belgian horse breed began in the Middle Ages. Draft horses were used to carry soldiers into battle. When their warring days ended, these heavily muscled horses went on to become the farm horses of Europe. The Belgian Provinces became known for their excellent horses at the time of the Roman Emperor Augustus. The same sturdy animals that were admired by Julius Caesar went on to create the magnificent work horses in later years. In the late 1800s, the Belgian people began to selectively breed their farm horses, creating the Flemish, Brabant and Ardennes breeds. It is from these breeds that the horse known in America as the Belgian was created. In 1887, a group of horsemen formed the American Association of Importers and Breeders of Belgian Draft Horses, and the Belgian breed club, which would later be known as the Belgian Draft Horse Corporation of America. Motivated by a fondness for the sorrel color sometimes seen in the Brabant horse, breeders began to focus on appearance as well as working ability. An American type of Belgian horse began to evolve, and could be seen working in fields from Wisconsin to Ohio alongside the horses that had been imported from European shores. The breed suffered a steep decline during World War II and was nearly lost. It wasn’t until the 1950s that the breed experienced a resurgence. Today, the Belgian is the most popular draft horse in the United States.

Conformation: The American Belgian is a classic heavy horse with a large head and a huge neck, and a powerful, round body. While the American Belgian is a direct descendant of the European draft horse, there are substantial differences in the two. The American horse is most often seen in a sorrel coloration with a flaxen mane and tail, and a white stripe. The European Brabant on the other hand, is usually red roan with a black mane and tail. There is a distinct difference in conformation between the two breeds as well. The American Belgian is more finely built and somewhat taller at 18 hands. The European horse is heavier and stockier.

Special Considerations/Notes: Because of their large size, Belgian horses require more feed and sturdier living quarters than light breeds.

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