Draft Horse Breeds: American Classics

The draft horse breeds your grandparents raised are still the best for small farmsteads. Our illustrated guide will help you choose which breed is right for yours.
By the MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors
January/February 1990
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Belgian
KAY HOLMES STAFFORD
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American Cream

Near extinction, this is America's only native-bred draft horse. It was developed in the '30s for its medium size, good disposition, and characteristic pink skin, amber eyes, and cream-colored coat. Mature Height: 15.2–16.2  hands (one hand = 4"). Mature Weight: 1,600–2,000 pounds. This breed has strong, short legs and is intelligent, calm, and gentle. American Minor Breeds Conservancy Status: Rare, which means it has less than 200 registrations per year.

Belgian

The compact, powerful Belgian has been the most popular U.S. draft breed since 1937.  It shares honors with the Shire as the heaviest of the drafters, but often eats less than a thoroughbred. Mature Height: 15.2–17  hands. Mature Weight: 1,900–2,200 pounds. This breed is blocky, wide-bodied, an easy keeper, and a hard puller. AMBC Status: Watch, meaning it has less than 5,000 registrations per year or a declining population.

Cleveland Bay

This is the oldest existing general-purpose light breed suitable for riding, driving, and farm work. It is used today primarily as a carriage horse and in riding events and dressage. Mature Height: 16–17  hands. Mature Weight: 1,150–1,550 pounds. This breed is quiet, tolerates heat, and has small feed requirements. AMBC Status: Rare (less than 200 registrations per year).

Old-Type Morgan

Developed early in the 1800s as a light-breed, all-purpose farm horse, the hardy old-type Morgan is smaller than, and minus the Saddlebred blood of "modern" Morgans. Mature Height: 14.2–15  hands. Mature Weight: 800–1,200 pounds. This breed is versatile and tough and performs well in harness and saddle. AMBC Status: Rare (less than 200 registrations per year).

Clydesdale

No other breed equals this one for high-stepping, feather-legged flash. It's a hard worker, with a long stride better suited to hauling and haying than to plowing or logging. Mature Height: 16–18 hands. Mature Weight: 1,600–1,900 pounds. This breed is nimble, quiet, a fast-paced worker and a quick learner. AMBC Status: Minor, meaning less than 1,000 registrations per year.

Suffolk

Smallest of the draft types and the only one bred solely for farm use, the fast-paced Suffolk will do a lot of work on relatively little feed—and will work for longer periods than most other drafters. Mature Height: 15.2–17  hands. Mature Weight: 1,500–1,900 pounds. This breed shows exceptional stamina and longevity, and makes a gentle, willing worker.  AMBC Status: Rare (less than 200 registrations per year).

Percheron

This handsome animal is known for its refined lines, lively action, and hard-pulling stamina. In 1930, two-thirds of all draft horses registered in the U.S. were Percherons. Mature Height: 16–17  hands. Mature Weight: 1,800–2,100 pounds. This breed is long-lived and heat-tolerant; it is also bold and shows quick action at a trot. AMBC Status: Watch (less than 5,000 registrations per year or a declining population).

Shire

Dubbed "gentle giants" in deference to their imposing size and mild disposition, Shires are believed to closely resemble the Great Horse ridden by medieval knights. Mature Height: 16.2–18  hands. Mature Weight: 1,900–2,200 pounds. This is the tallest of the breeds, hardworking, responsive, and tractable. AMBC Status: Rare (less than 200 registrations per year).

Canadian

Used for coach and carriage as well as farm work, Canadians served as cavalry mounts in the Civil War and were foundation sires for such American breeds as the Morgan and the Saddlebred. Mature Height: 14.2–15.2  hands. Mature Weight: 1,000–1,200 pounds. This breed is hardy and versatile, and is known for its lively gait  AMBC Status: Rare (less than 200 registrations per year).


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