~by Susi Pittman

The father of all Draft Horses can be traced back to a horse known as The Black Horse of Flanders, found in the European low country of what is now Belgium and Northern France. These horses were distinctive from all other horses in their appearance due to their immense size and muscular strength. They were docile in temperament and could handle heavy tasks which made them indispensable to generations of pre-industrial age farmers down through the centuries.

Typically, a Draft Horse will range from 16 to 19 hands high and weigh up to 2,000 pounds. The largest Draft Horse ever recorded was a Shire named Mammoth, which stood 21.2 hands (86-inches) high and weighed 3,300 pounds.

Thousands draft horses were imported to America in the 19th century from Europe. Percherons came from France, Belgians  from Belgium, Shires from England and Clydesdales from Scotland. The breed that was developed exclusively in the United States was called the American Cream Draft, but the breed suffers from a recessive gene disorder and has caused the breed to become a rarity.

The revolution in agricultural technology between 1820 to 1870westward expansion, and the growth of American cities during the nineteenth century, led to the emergence of the Draft Horse as America’s principal work animal and created a demand for a larger and stronger horse to power the new equipment.

Farms in America were growing in number in the 19th century, thanks mainly to the aid of these great horses to plow and pull at a faster rate than oxen and be able to do it in all types of weather.

American populations were advancing West where railroads and mines were being built and more agricultural land was being farmed and the draft horses were irreplaceable in the abilities to aid in the growth.

The Draft Horse played a significant role in the growth of urban America. From the end of the Civil War to the beginning of World War I, the United States was in transition from an agrarian to an urban society. As cities, grew, so did the need for mass transportation. Used for pulling street cars, fire trucks, deliveries and the such, the Draft Horse WAS the transit system in this country. At one time during the 19th century, there were more than 50,000 Draft Horses powering transportation in this country. By the 20th century there were more than 3 million Draft Horses were in use in non-farm capacities.

World War I saw the Draft Horses exported to Europe to aid in the trenches.

Following the war, the industrial revolution in America was emerging and the Draft Horse would see its decline for use, never to rise again. Farming had turned into a get big or get out choice and heavy industrial tractors were brought to the farm and the Draft Horse was fired.

Today, we primarily see them in show rings and in a variety of hauling competitions. However, the use of the Draft Horse on small family farms is making a comeback. A recent news report from ABC News on Horse power gains favor among small –scale farmers reflects that farmers are loving the Draft Horse for a number of reasons; horses don’t use fossil fuels, their manure contributes to the farm’s fertility, and they cost less than tractors.

These noble animals have provided the world and its people with assistance in many areas through the ages and we should NEVER forget that.

Please help support folks like the Gentle Giants Draft Horse Rescue who help insure that these magnificent animals do not end up in slaughter houses and are around for our children and grand children to enjoy. Who knows, they may be using the help of these great creatures once again in an effort to renew this world in good stewardship of the land!

A little known fact exists about the Clydesdale. During WWII, when most draft horses were sent to war, the Busch family, owners of the Budweiser Clydesdales, managed to keep their prized Clydesdales at home preserving the breed in America. Raised in Scotland, one of the distinguishing characteristics of the Clydesdale is its “prance-like movements.” While the Belgian and Percheron shuffle across the ground, the Clydesdales tend to lift their knees and hicks, and seem to prance across the terrain.

Susi Pittman is founder of and Owner-President of Twin Oaks Publishing; she is author of Animals in Heaven? Catholics Want to Know!; an advocate for the Florida Catholic Conference; a member of the St. Joseph’s Catholic Council of Women in Jacksonville, Florida; an Associate of the Sisters of St. Joseph, St. Augustine;a member of the Florida Publishers Association, Independent Book Publishers Association, the National Association of Professional Women, the ASPCA, the Humane Society of the United States and the National Audubon society.

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