What Is A Draft Horse? (A Complete Guide)

A draft horse is a huge muscular horse bred to be specifically used in carrying loads. Draft horses are extremely strong and often used to draw carts with heavy loads of wine, beer, artillery and other stuff. These work horses are the typical heavy horse breed and weigh around 2000 pounds. Draft horses were also used for farm work decades ago.

These gentle giants are popular across the United States of America and other parts of the world. In recent times, these horses are bred and domesticated even more, for they are kind to humans.

Dutch Draft Horse


Draft horses are unique and stand out from the rest of the horse breeds. They are large, and have short bodies with muscular hindquarters for pulling. They have strong front legs and shoulders, and broad faces, something that is hard to find with other horses. These horses are friendly, have an ideal temperament, docile and patient. You can even allow your children to play around and ride them without any fear.

Draft horses are also beautiful. Several breeds come with feathered feet, making them look even prettier. The tufts of hair over their hooves are no ordinary. These hardworking animals are graceful, getting popular by the day and are being adopted as pets by horse lovers.

Origin / History

Humans, since time immemorial have domesticated horses and used their abilities to get a variety of tasks done. An important task among them was pulling heavy loads. A heavy, strong and muscular animal with a great pulling capacity was required for the job. On the other hand, an energetic and light horse was desired for riding and recreation.

Selective breeding was done and different types of horses were developed to take on different kinds of work.

The 19th century saw the development of railroads and industries. These demanded energetic and muscular horses that can easily pull loads. By the early 20th century, a number of draft horses were brought from Europe into North America.

While Percherons were imported from France, Shires came from England. The Belgians came from Belgium and Clydesdales breed from Scotland. In the 1930s, the American Cream Draft was exclusively developed in the U.S. Mechanization increased in the 20th century after which the use of draft horses reduced.

In recent times, you can see them at pulling competitions, shows and heavy horse trials. They can also be found on some smaller farms in Europe and the US.

Draft Horse Breeds

There are a number of draft horse breeds you should know. Each comes with a unique color, ability and characteristic while all of them are truly amazing.

1. American Cream

This is one of the most beautiful draft breeds you can come across. American Cream draft horses come with an attractive cream coat and graceful amber eyes. They are mid-sized among the draft horses and believed to have originated in Iowa. They have strong feet, come with a good nature and are a rare heritage breed.

The horses of this breed measure around 16 hands in height.

Unfortunately, their numbers are reducing and efforts are on to preserve them.

Belgian Draft Horses

2. Belgian Draft

Belgian draft horses originated in Belgium. These horses measure 17 hands, come with a white tail and mane and a chestnut colored coat. They are powerful, strongly built, have wide nostrils and one of the ideally tempered. This type of horse is also willing and docile.

Popularly used for pleasure and recreation riding, the Belgian draft horse is also used as work horse. Big Jake, a Belgian horse is the tallest recorded and stands 20 hands high.

Clydesdale Horses

3. Clydesdale

Clydesdale is a beautiful draft breed with white legs and markings. While the fur on their legs extends up to the knees, the appearance of the markings is due to the ‘sabino’ gene. Since centuries, they have been used in forests and for agricultural purposes however of late these horses are used in shows and for riding.

Clydesdale horses stand as high as 16-18 hands while they come in beautiful brown, bay and black colors. These are popular and easily recognizable draft horses, and said to have originated in Scotland.

Percheron Horse

4. Percheron

The Percheron is one of the amazing draft horse breeds. It originated in La Perche in France and one of the first horse breeds to come into the U.S. The Percheron is a heavy horse and usually dapple gray or black. Even today, this work horse is used by small farmers in the United States.

The famous French draft breed, the Percheron was used in wars in the olden days. Later it was largely used to pull carriages and put on several other heavy tasks. Since this heavy draft featured impressive characteristics, it was often used to improve the other horses. This graceful animal grows up to 15-18 hands high.

5. Irish Draught

Also called the Irish draft, this is one of those horse breeds that is athletic as well features a bold look. The horse possesses incredible jumping skills and comes with great muscular strength. It is the national horse of Ireland.

The Irish draft horses were used for farm work during the weekdays and hunts on the weekends. They are also cross-bred with warm bloods to develop amazing sport horses. They are slimmer and one of the popular light horses ideal to be used on farms.

Shire Horse

6. Shire

Shire horses are the largest and can grow up to 19 hands high. The gorgeous horses come in brown, black, bay and gray colors, and are said to have originated in England.

The Shire draft horses are special. They have beautiful markings and plumed feathers, and have a tendency to show their beauty. They are lively, turn heads wherever they go, have a good temperament and used to stylishly pull tourist wagons.

This heavy horse has great strength, is used for riding and agricultural work and can best perform in shows.

Draft Horses Health

Like any other animal, the draft horse is also susceptible to certain diseases.

Some are relatable to light horses while several others are specific to sport horses.

Let us look at some health issues the draft breeds are prone to:

1. Junctional Epidermolysis Bullosa (JEB)

JEB is a health condition where the horse lacks Laminin-5, the skin protein. The Belgian draft horses are prone to this disease which is incurable. The foals born with this disease die within a few days after birth. Under this condition, the skin layers of the draft cannot stick to each other and the hooves slough off. The disease also causes ulcers in the tongue and mouth.

A mutating gene causes JEB. Today, a DNA test can identify whether the breeding stock carry this gene. Mating should not be done if both horses are carriers.

2. Azoturia

Also called the Monday Morning disease, Azoturia is a commonly occurring metabolic disorder in draft horse breeds. It occurs after a draft has rested and put back on heavy tasks. The symptoms of this disease are heavy sweating, rapid pulse, nervous behavior, and muscle stiffness in the hindquarters. The draft also suffers severe pain and spasms.

Draft horses with Azoturia should be taken to a vet and appropriate medical care provided. If he is put under more stress, he may collapse worsening the condition.

3. Shivers

Shivering is a health condition that mostly affects the crossbreeds. It is a neuromuscular health issue where the horse experiences sudden jerking and trembling of the hind area. The hind legs get flexed and stuck due to which he cannot back up.

Shivers disease is believed to be inherited, though there is no certain evidence to prove the speculation. Vitamin E and Selenium rich diet can help prevent further episodes. The disease is chronic and the symptoms can worsen if the horse is made to overwork.

A general rule of thumb is to take care of your horse health like you take care of your own. The draft breeds need proper diet and medical attention, failing which they may end up diseased. We recommend taking your draft to the vet at regular intervals. Furthermore, you can give your draft access to clean shelter, and groom him regularly.

Physical activity is equally important.

World Records

The Shire draft holds the world record for the biggest draft horse. Born in 1846 in England, Sampson stood over 20 hands high and weighed around 3360 lb. Another Shire named Goliath stood over 19 hands and held the world record for being the tallest horse.

The heavy bone horses are also popular worldwide for their shows, gracefulness and liveliness.


Whatever the draft breed and color, every draft horse is special. The tall statured, Roman nosed animal is truly magnificent.

The draft breed is also perfect if you want a horse for your family. The horses from this breed quickly learn to get along with family members.

These horses are easy to train and take care. They are obedient, polite and very social.

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