Flemish horses, or ‘Vlaams Paard’ in Dutch, are a breed of draught horses. Whilst they initially originated in France but have come to be known as a Belgian breed.
Unfortunately, during the 19th century, the Flemish horse breed became extinct. However, in 1993, Amish people in the United States had kept some stock and resurrected the Flemish horse breed.
These heavy breeds are now considered endangered, but where did they come from and what are their unique qualities?
Despite originally being an old French breed, these horses are significant to Belgian history. They have descended from the ‘Great Horse’ of Mediaeval times.
During the Mediaeval times, Flemish horses were given as gifts and were amongst the gifts that ‘Charles the Great’ sent to ‘Aaron the Just’ in 807.
The Flemish horse became one of Europe’s most famous heavy horse breeds. As there was a lack of heavy horse breeds, they were commonly used during the wars and for farming life.
The Belgian Draft horse descended from the Great Flemish Horse during the Middle Ages when breeders merged the Flemish horse with the Brabant breed.
In 1866, the first Belgian Draft horse was taken to the United States. After they arrived in the United States, Belgian horse breeds have become extremely popular.
Flemish horses are an obedient breed and have a kind temperament. They are sometimes known as ‘Gentle Giants’.
As they were mainly used as workhorses during the Middle Ages, these horses are capable of working well. They are friendly, intelligent and will happily help with tasks.
They are easy to train and are an extremely skilled breed. Combined with their willing work ethic, breeders use Flemish horses as exemplary horses with transferable traits.
As the Flemish horse breed typically carry out their work outside, they spend most of their time in the fields.
Their diets mainly consist of grass, other vegetation, grains, and hay.
They should also be given a horse supplement that gives them the required vitamins and minerals that they need to function.
As Belgian draft horses tend to be larger, it is a common mistake to think that they need more grains within their diet, when they don’t as they have lower energy requirements.
When feeding horses, you should be mindful of overfeeding them as this can lead to some serious problems, such as colic, and other digestive issues.
Similar to most Belgian draft horses, the Flemish horse can weigh between 820-1000kg and between 163-173cm tall (averaging around 16 hands to 17 hands in height).
Flemish draft horses, like Belgian draft horses, are known for their muscular bodies, elegant well-shaped heads, light feathering on their legs, and sorrel or roan coats.
Their bones are typically thick and strong and they have heavy bodies and a strong back.
These physical traits make them ideal for supporting their heavier workloads.
Flemish horse breeds are quite often black but they can also be chestnut or bay.
In the United States, the most common color for American Belgian draft horses are chestnut and sorrel colors with a white mane and tail.
Each coat has a roan variant, which is a white patterning that combines white and colored hairs in the body, but the lower legs, mane, and tail are still colored.
For the Flemish breeds, the roan variant would typically be blue, bay or red.
Therefore, this means that each horse can look different and their coats may feature a variety of shades.
What Are They Used For?
Belgian horses, including Flemish horses, are used for draft work.
This can include:
- Carriage pulling
- Sleigh pulling
- Forestry Work
Typically, a Belgian draft horse breed can work for up to 10 hours a day and manage to pull a load of up to 8,000lbs.
Where Do They Live?
In 1887, the American Association of Importers and Breeders of Belgian Draft Horses in Indiana began to track all of the Belgian Draft Horses.
The last one left Europe at the beginning of World War Two. This means that all Belgian Draft Horses reside in the United States and make up the largest populated breed.
How Long Do They Live?
The lifespan of Belgian horses can be up to 20 years, although this is dependent on their health.
As the horses are a larger build, they may encounter heart problems or other types of diseases which could potentially affect their lifespan.
There is a range of diseases that draft horses can contract. These horses are subject to the same diseases, apart from Chronic Progressive Lymphoedema (CPL).
Draft horses, including Flemish horses, are known for their strong and robust form and a majority of diseases threaten their stability by targeting their muscular form.
Draft horses have some undeniably irreplaceable qualities and they must be efficiently cared for.
Most Common Diseases:
1. Equine Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy (EPSM)
Symptoms: Muscle weakness, muscle wasting, exercise intolerance, excessive sweating, recumbency (typically noticed when exercising).
Diagnosis/Treatment: Made through blood work, muscle biopsy, and genetic testing. Currently, there is no cure for EPSM.
2. Azoturia – possibly linked to EPSM
Symptoms: Muscle damage and pain, cramping, recumbency, and discolored urine.
Diagnosis/Treatment: Tested for EPSM and change in diet.
3. Junctional Epidermolysis Bullosa – hereditary Belgian Draft horse disease
Symptoms: Fragile skin, ulcers in mouth and tongue, sloughing of the hooves.
Diagnosis/Treatment: Genetic Testing can be carried out to see if the horse is a carrier of the gene.
Symptoms: Blurry vision formed by a coating over the eyes, jumpiness, incapable of walking straight.
Diagnosis/Treatment: Physical examination including vision tests i.e. blink reflex and pupillary light reflex. After a positive diagnosis, medication will be administered before a surgical procedure is used to remove cataracts from the horse’s eye/s.
It is sad to say that the Flemish horse is an endangered breed and is at risk of becoming extinct.
They are amongst one of the friendliest horse breeds and their qualities of loyalty, obedience, hard-working and intelligence demonstrate just how much of a ‘Great Horse’ they are.