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Origin and history of breeding Ardennes
While great claims are made for the antiquity of Ardennes horses, these are impossible to prove. It’s said that the modern breed descends from the large warhorses of the region that were praised by Julius Caesar and Tacitus. Breed enthusiasts have also suggested that some of the ancestors of the Ardennes were medieval war horses. Although these might both be true, the ancestors of the Ardennes, while they were clearly prized for their quality, would not have been the mighty horses that we know today. They may well have had the toughness of the modern breed, though. From the 17th century onward, the horses of the region were used for riding, particularly as cavalry mounts, and also as artillery horses. Napoleon drew on the horses of Ardennes for his campaigns, particularly the march into Russia. Ardennes were still being used as artillery horses in WWI. However, the greatest increase in size and strength came about as a response to the changing needs of agriculture. Throughout all these developments, a smaller mountain-bred Ardennes around 14.3 hands high (59 inches/150 cm) retained some of the qualities of the original breed. Despite their size, they are not expensive to feed, and this is one of the reasons they were chosen as draught horses for the Swedish forests. The stud book for the French Ardennais, which stands slightly smaller on average than its Belgian counterpart, was set up in 1929. Both types of Ardennes have been altered by other Belgian draught horse breeding, particularly by the Brabant, which was probably responsible for the increase in the height of the Ardennes in the 19th century. Most draught horse breeds have come under threat with the arrival of widespread mechanisation, and one of the principal uses of the Ardennes today is for meat. Having said that, the general good nature and immense strength of this hardworking breed are likely to ensure that some of them always have a role as working horses.
Ardennes in equestrianism
Horses of the Ardennes breed can still be found working on the streets of European cities, as well as in forestry, agriculture and viniculture. They are a popular choice for family farms and smallholdings the world over. When Britain began its own heavy horse revival in the 1970s, the short-legged Ardennes were found to be ideal for working on hillsides where taller breeds would struggle.