The Belgian Draft Horse is the largest breed of horse in the world. These regal animals have held the record for the tallest and strongest horses in the equine world.
With their beautiful smooth skin covering their rippling muscles, they are the most powerful of all the draft horse breeds. These horses originate from the Brabant region of central Belgium.
They have been used throughout history and go by other names, such as Belgisch Trekpaard, Brabants Trekpaard, Cheval de trait Belge, and Belgian Heavy Draft.
The stunning blond-colored Belgian horse that is often seen in the United States can trace its roots back to Western Europe. During the Middle Ages, the Belgian was referred to as a Flanders Horse after the region of Belgium that it came from.
It’s also possible that the Belgians came from ancestors called Destriers, powerful war horses used during medieval times. The Belgian has influenced other breeds of draft horses, such as the Clydesdale, The Shire, and the Suffolk Punch.
Over the centuries, the breeders of Belgians continued to produce heavy calvary horses that could easily adapt to the climate and richly soiled grounds. With their strict breeding habits, the breeders ensured the desired traits along with the horses’ exceptional power.
The original stock for the Belgian was called Brabant, and until the 1940s the Brabant and the Belgian were much in the same. In Europe, by the end of World War II, the Brabant began to be selectively bred to be heavier, with a thicker body.
However, in the United States, the Belgian Draft was being bred taller and lighter, as its main use was for farming. The importation of these horses to the United States began during the Second World War.
In Wabash, Indiana, in the year 1887, the American Association of Importers and Breeders of Belgian Draft Horses was founded.
Today, the Belgian is the most popular of all the draft horse breeds in the United States.
Belgian Draft Horses share some wonderful traits that make them invaluable and precious to man, not only for service but for companionship. These gentle giants are humored, and kind along with having a love for working.
They are incredibly patient, which makes them excellent workhorses. Their personality is ideal for farm work or carriage work in the city.
They are brave and tough but also very sensitive, with an adoring temper. They are naturally curious about the world around them and eager to learn.
Belgians are well suited to various jobs, whether it’s trail riding, parades, working, or simply being a friend. They are favored among children for their gentle demeanor.
Because the history of these horses was to act as farm machinery, they were traditionally fed homegrown grain and roughage. Commons food provided to them would have been oat, rolled barley, and corn. Harvested forage would have included alfalfa, timothy, or grass-alfalfa mixture.
Modern-day feeding relies on understanding their nutritional requirements, which is determined by their size, and the amount of work they do. The calorie content of their diet will depend on the amount of activity that is asked of them.
A draft horse that works at a slow walk will not need as much food as those working at a trot. Horses that are used for pulling will require large amounts of food to use as fuel during the intense workload.
If a draft horse is being fed too much, it can affect their body weight, but their weight can drop if they are not being fed enough. The horse’s rate of metabolism needs to be taken into consideration.
In addition to energy, they also require plenty of protein and essential minerals and vitamins. The requirement for these also depends on the activity of the horse, and you also need to take pregnancy into account as well.
As with any animal, proper feeding is vital to their health. A working draft horse would traditionally be given the majority of its calories in the morning and afternoon. At night, they should be given free forage with small amounts of grain.
Breeding And Uses
Due to their kind temperament, Belgians are used for all manner of hard work, including draft work, logging, pulling carriages or sleighs, and plowing.
A team of these horses can pull over 15,000 pounds across a distance of roughly 10 feet! Aside from being used for hard work, the riding of the draft horse has become more popular.
This mighty and powerful draft breed stands between 16.2 and 17 hands and can weigh up to 3000 pounds.
These beautiful horses come in several colors. There are three basic colors, being bay, black, and chestnut. However, a gray factor can occur in draft horses, giving you a superb result.
Called a roan, it’s where there are white hairs between the principal color of the coat. You will see beautiful colors such as bay roan, blue roan, and red roan. These are all stunning colors on this beautiful horse.
What Do They Look Like?
Compared to the body, this great horse’s head is rather small and established. Their expression is one of intelligence and keen awareness. To this day, the European Belgian, or Brabant, is considerably bigger than the American Belgian.
A compact body and short, wide legs give this horse its authoritative appearance. Its quarters are quite substantial, with an abundance of muscles over the croup. The hooves are of medium size despite the largeness of the breed.
The earlier breeds of Belgians were almost always chestnut or sorrel. But after coming to the United States, breeders have begun breeding for the sorrel and roan, which today is the most common of colors.
One of the most elegant colors is a chestnut color with a white flaxen mane and tail, complete with a white stripe on the muzzle and four white feet, giving the horse “socks”.
Where Do They Live?
Belgian heavy draft horses were imported from Europe and brought to the United States, but many different variations of draft horses still live in Europe. Shires are still popular in England, and Clydesdales are from Scotland, and Percherons came from France.
How Long Do They Live?
While the average life span of a horse is between twenty-five and thirty years, the same can not be said for the Belgian.
Most heavy draft horses don’t live as long, with a lifespan of about 18 years. Some may live past 20, but this is not usually the case.
Unfortunately, draft horses have their fair share of health issues, which can lead to a shortened life span.
Equine Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy
Also known as EPSM, this is the most common condition that can affect draft horses. When this occurs, there is a build-up of glycogen and polysaccharides in the skeletal muscles. Horses affected with this disorder are not able to metabolize starches and sugar.
Because of the abnormality of the glycogen synthesis regulation, the result is unmetabolized carbohydrates in the muscles. This creates an energy deficit and muscle fiber necrosis. Mares appear to be more affected by EPSM than geldings.
The symptoms of this affliction are weakness, especially after working, reluctance to work or exercise, and intense sweating with exercise. You may often recognize the initial signs when you begin training, but some horses don’t show symptoms every time they work.
Diagnosis is made through blood work, genetic testing, and muscle biopsy. Sadly there is no cure for EPSM, but through a modified diet, many horses can do alright. The sugar and carbs in their diet need to be replaced with fat to balance out the calories.
It’s also important to keep up with their exercise, even if they are reluctant. This will prevent further muscle weakness.
This neuromuscular disease affects the hindquarters of horses and is most common in draft breeds. Symptoms include trembling of the rear when flexed, shaking of the tail when raised, having difficulty backing up, and muscle atrophy.
There is also difficulty picking up their feet, and this is where some owners noticed something is amiss. Stress can amplify this problem, so much patience is required when handling horses who have shivers.
Monday Morning Disease
Known as Azoturia, this is the release of muscle breakdown in the urine. It is thought to be related to EPSM, as muscle damage can occur with exercise.
The symptoms are usually not as severe as EPSM, consisting of muscle pain, cramping, and discolored urine.
Junctional Epidermal Bullosa
This is a hereditary disease that is known among Belgian Draft Horses. JPB is a necessary protein for the adhesion of the layers of skin. A lack of protein will cause your horse’s skin to be very fragile and blister at the pressure points.
Your horse can also form painful ulcers in his mouth and tongue, as well as a soughing of the hooves. If a foal is affected at birth, they usually die within a few weeks. Because the condition is so painful, humane euthanasia is sometimes the best thing.
Fortunately, there is a genetic test that can be done to determine whether or not your horse is a carrier. The gene is recessive, meaning it takes one copy from each parent in order to be passed on.
How Much Do They Cost?
This beautiful horse will be well worth your money in the amount of work and companionship it can offer.
Pricing depends on breeding and age as well as geographics but in the United States, prices range from $5,000 up to $20,000.
It’s also important to remember the cost of daily care will well surpass what you may pay up front.
Belgian Draft Horses remain one of the most powerful breeds of working horses. With their kind nature and willingness to work, they will make a wonderful addition to your farm or to your family.