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Draft Horses

Updated on August 26, 2009

Draft horses are very large and powerful. The breeds of draft horses are more distinct than those of saddle horses. They include the Belgian, the Shire, the Clydesdale, the Percheron and the Suffolk. They have short legs, deep chests, and strong backs, and are heavily muscled.

They usually stand more than 16 hands tall and weigh at least 1,400 pounds. The Belgian is one of the largest of horses, reaching a shoulder height of 68 or more inches and weights of as much as 2500 pounds. The Shire is about the same in size and is distinguished by having long hair on the back of the hind legs up to the hock and on its feet up to the fetlock and .

Clydesdales are smaller than any of the other heavy horse breeds. This breed was founded in Scotland by crossing natives horses with Shire and Belgian horses. The Percheron is also a smaller horse, standing about 66 inches at the shoulder. It is a native of the former district of Le Perche in northwestern France and was produced by crossing the Arabian horse with the old Flemish breed of which was the ancestor of the modern Belgian.

Draft Horse Pros

  • Cheaper
  • Intelligent
  • Remarkable memory
  • It's brain like its strength, lies halfway between that of man and tractor
  • The horse can go into awkward places where a tractor can not. he can also tread on wet or heavy ground which a tractor would tear into pieces or get bogged
  • Horses are environmentally friendly
  • Consumes vegetable matter instead of fossil fuel
  • Contributes to the ecology with its urine and dung enriching the soil

Two of my neighbours: Angus and Velvet
Two of my neighbours: Angus and Velvet

Heavy Horse vs The Tractor

Carting jobs are ideal for your working horses. Tasks such as hauling out hay for the cows, picking up animal manure and taking it out and so on, the horse can often do this while the tractor is on tougher work. There's a true story of a wife of a farmer who happens to love Shetland ponies and has two of them. So if a job such as carting a few bales of hay arises, she claims it. The ponies get their exercise pulling their little trolley. Since they survive on a couple of hours' grazing in every twenty-four their labor is virutally free. The basic principle is well illustrated on this farm, which also has several Shires. If it is uneconomical to use a tractor for what a cart-horse does more cheaply, why use a cart-horse for something which your two tough little Shetlands can do cheaper still?

In partnership with the tractor you might consider carting fertilizer or seed for your drills. This might release your second tractor, which ought to be earning money doing the hard work. There is hardly a place for horses in the corn-harvest, but for potatoes it depends on your system. Horses can cart bags or for that matter or loose potatoes.

A horse and cart can turn in a fraction of the length required by a tractor and trailer. There are lots of places on many farms - some of them relics of the former horse age - where for this reason it is easier to use a horse in doing a clearing-out job.

On all sorts of start-stop work, horses are particularly economic. Erecting fencing, putting feed into a number of mangers, or anything else which involves constant jumping up and down from a tractor. Such jobs are often done at great expense by two men. This is unnecessary if you have a horse. Any routine task he will learn quickly, and stop at the right time and place without even being told.

Many tractor jobs can be started, if the land is unfit, with the horses. Or finish with them if the ground gets too wet and heavy before you have finished.

Start your day by feeding the horses. By the time the milking or other jobs are done, the horses will have digested their food. You cannot do your ploughing with the tractor because the land is too wet, so take the horses out and make a start with them. Go on using them at odd times - the second half of the morning, the otherwise idle afternoon. Then as soon as the ground is dry enough, the tractorcan get to work on the bulk of it. It may be surprising how far ahead you have got, instead of being behind. And it is better than staying indoors fretting and wondering if conditions will ever be righht again. Also there may be certain patches of ground that are a perpetual nuisance to you, why not turn tese over with the horses?

It is much cheaper to spread fertilizer or weed-killer with a horse than from a helicopter. The horse does little more damage than the aircraft, and does not squirt the spray into hedges, roads or your neighbours fields.

However, do not try to invent jobs. Do not use the horse simply because you have him. Live, and work, from day to day. Do not worry if there are days when your horse is doing nothing much.


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      Gabby Boyd 8 years ago

      Some of the most fun I've had has been playing with a belgian cross mare. She was a blueberry roan, pregnant by at least 6 months, and didn't want to slow down one little bit! We got to do relays using just a halter, lead rope, and a few strong tosses to get you up on her back. She was the ultimate nanny-mare for both people-kids and foals:D

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      Andria 8 years ago

      Destrier - Your article is a great intro to the world of heavy horses and I particularly liked the way you discussed their usability regarding farmwork. You give a realistic view of the value of these horses and demonstrate that whilst we live in a modern world, they're still a great animal to have around a farm.

      I loved the picture of your neighbours. I have one zombie, three other apartment blocks and several street lights to look at.

      I used to ride (when forced) a Percheron cross ragbag. Her name was Lady (she was anything but) and when she behaved, she was like riding on an arm chair.

      She was an RDA horse and sweet as pie with the kids and adults that used to ride her. But whenever she got someone able bodied on her back, she could be the devil :)