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Choosing a Belgian Draft

By: Dr. Dawn Ruben

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The Belgian horse is a much-loved gentle giant. This large heavily muscled horse most likely descended from the heavy prehistoric horses and was indispensable as a workhorse in the Middle Ages.

History

The Belgian is an ancient breed closely connected to the Ardennais. Also known as the Belgian Draught, Belgian Draft, Brabancon and Belgian Heavy draft, this horse was previously known as the Flanders Horse in the Middle Ages. In addition, it is known as the Brabant, named after the main breeding area in Belgium.

Until the early 1900s there were three similar yet distinct types of Belgian breeds. The Big Horse of the Dendre, the Colossal Horse of Mehaigne and the Grey Horse of Nivelles. Over time, these horses were bred together and the final result is the Belgian of today.

The Belgian was not originally as popular as other draft horses such as the Clydesdale, Percheron or Shire. But after being on exhibit at the St. Louis World's Fair and the International Livestock Exposition in Chicago in the early 1900s, interest and importation of the breed continued until World War II. After that, interest in all draft horses waned.

The first Belgian stud book was started in 1885. The American stud book followed in 1887.

Appearance

The Belgian is a horse of great strength, which is obvious when you see him. This horse has a small, relatively plain head with a short neck and strong shoulders. The limbs are short with a deep girthed body and enormous hindquarters. The Belgian is quick to mature and is long lived. He stands 16 to 17 hands and can weigh up to 2200 pounds. The majority of Belgians are predominantly red-roan with black points, but chestnut, sorrel, bay, dun and grey are also available.

Abilities

The Belgian was a renowned and indispensable horse for heavy draft work prior to mechanization of farms and advances in transportation. It was thought by many to be the ideal draft horse for work on land. After World War II, interest in workhorses diminished but now a renewed interest seems to be developing. The Belgian is known for his kind nature and willingness to work. These qualities are much appreciated in North America. In Belgium, this horse is now primarily used for meat.

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