Use and characteristics of the Belgian Draft
Belgian Draft Horses are immensely strong. Standing between 16.2 hands (66 inches/168 cm) and 17 hands (68 inches/173 cm) high, they weigh around 2,000 pounds (900 kilograms). The popularity of the Belgian Draft is so great in the USA that a distinctive type has emerged that is very different from its Belgian counterpart. In America, when people buy a Belgian Draft they are usually purchasing a light chestnut draft horse with flaxen-coloured mane and tail, whereas most of those in Belgium are roan with black points. Breeders who sell a Belgian Draft in Belgium present an altogether heavier horse with a larger head and plenty of feather on the legs. In Belgium, the horses are also used for meat whereas in the States they are mainly working and show animals, featuring in displays of strength at agricultural events.
Origin and history of breeding Belgian Draft horses
Belgium has been breeding strong and powerful horses since medieval times when rulers of European kingdoms admired their great horses. Although not as large as modern-day draft horse breeds, they were nonetheless animals of substance that could be crossbred to produce war horses or animals to draw or carry heavy loads. Claims of great antiquity are made for large horses from this region, even going back as far as Roman times, although this is unproven. Originally mainly black in colour, three diverse types developed in Belgium, with roan and chestnut colouring beginning to predominate. By the late nineteenth century, the heavy horses of Belgium were still greatly in demand in the surrounding countries, where they were known by various names, including the Belgisch trekpaard and Brabants trekpaard in the Netherlands, and the Cheval de trait belge or Brabançon in France. The first Belgian Draft horses arrived in the USA in 1866, proving an instant success with farmers. The official studbook in Belgium was established in 1885, closely followed by the American Association of Importers and Breeders of Belgian Draft Horses in 1887. This had its headquarters in Wabash, Indiana, where there were many enthusiasts of the breed, and the association remains there today. Belgian Draft horses are the most numerous heavy horse breed in the USA today.
Belgian Draft horses in equestrianism
After centuries of development, Belgian Drafts are some of the most powerful horses in the world and have broken many records. In one Heavyweight class, two Belgian Drafts with a combined weight of 4,800 pounds (2,200 kg) pulled 17,000 pounds (7,700 kg) for a distance of 7 ft 2 in (2.18 m). In 2010, a Belgian Draft named Big Jake entered the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s tallest living horse. He stands 20 hands 2 ¾ inches (82.75 inches/210 cm) high!