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Draft Horse Breeds

Before tractors and farm machinery, draft horses were an essential part of family farms. These large, hardworking horses pulled plows and logs in many countries, fulfilling their jobs in a quiet, steadfast manner.

Although machines have mostly replaced horsepower, draft horses are still valued and admired today. They are imposing, usually standing over 16 hands high. These heavy horse breeds feature massive bone, large hooves, and incredible strength.
Along with these powerful physical characteristics, draft horses have another quality in abundance: gentleness, which is another reason they have been beloved family horses for generations.

Let’s meet six fabulous draft breeds!

Belgians are easily recognized by their chestnut coloring and flaxen manes and tails. Photo by Sari Oneal/Shutterstock


We all know draft horses are impressive in size, but one towers above the rest. Big Jake, a Belgian gelding who stands just under 21 hands high, currently holds the Guinness World Record as the tallest living horse.

Belgians have earned a reputation for being gentle giants thanks to their kind dispositions and imposing size. They originally came from Belgium, and they’ve been used as farm horses in the United States since the early part of the 20th century. They are easily recognized by their chestnut coloring and flaxen manes and tails.

The world-famous Budweiser Clydesdales have made the breed an icon in the USA. Photo by Roberto Galan/Shutterstock


If you’ve ever tuned in to watch a Super Bowl game, then you’ve seen the beautiful (and oh-so-famous) Budweiser Clydesdales. They have been a staple of Super Bowl commercials for many years, and the horses draw crowds at appearances all across the country.

Clydesdales originally came from Scotland in an area called Clyde (hence the name). The breed is known for its eye-catching appearance: usually bay, brown, or black, with extensive white markings that include tall stockings and wide blazes.

Shires are one of the tallest breeds, and come in bay, brown, black, gray, and occasional chestnut. Photo by Alla-Berlezova/Shutterstock


The word “shire” means county, and England is dotted with places like Derbyshire, Staffordshire, and Hertfordshire. England is also the birthplace of shires of another kind: Shire horses.

Shires are tall—over 16.2 hands—and are found in bay, brown, black, gray, and occasionally chestnut. But while extravagant white markings are desirable in Clydesdales, they aren’t considered ideal in Shires.

While Big Jake the Belgian may hold the record for the tallest living horse, a Shire horse named Sampson (born in 1846) still holds the distinction of being the tallest horse ever recorded, at 21.2 1⁄2 hands high—that’s 7 feet, 2 1⁄2 inches at the withers!

Percherons are strong driving horses loved by draft enthusiasts, and are most often black or gray. Photo by V J Matthew/Shutterstock


The Percheron is a French breed (its name comes from the La Perche region of France), and it’s usually black or gray. Their versatility and strength make them a top choice of draft enthusiasts. The Percheron is said to have been influenced by the Arabian at some point in its history.

Percherons have been a very popular draft breed in the United States since the late 1800s.

The American Cream Draft is a rare breed, with only 400 registered in the U.S. Photo Courtesy American Cream Draft Horse Association

American Cream Draft

An American breed, the American Cream Draft was developed in Iowa during the first half of the 20th century. The American Cream Draft Horse Association is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, and the breed had its moment in the spotlight when a team of American Cream Drafts proudly participated in the Rose Parade on January 1, 2019.

As you might also guess from the name, American Cream Drafts are cream-colored (technically the color is called “champagne”), with pink skin and amber-colored eyes. The foundation of the breed was a cream-colored draft-type mare named Old Granny, and in 1946 it was estimated that 98 percent of registered American Cream Drafts traced their lineage to her. These horses are quite rare, with less than 400 registered, but efforts are underway to increase awareness for this fascinating breed.

The Suffolk Punch is more compact than some of the other draft breeds, and was developed as a quiet farm horse in England. Photo by Nicole Ciscato/Shutterstock

Suffolk Punch

The Suffolk Punch has a long history in England, where it was developed as a reliable horse for farm work. The breed is still prized today for its quiet temperament and hardy nature.

In appearance, Suffolk Punch horses are a bit more compact than some of
the other draft breeds. They are always chestnut (or chesnut to the registry, who spells the color without a “t”) with minimal white markings, although the exact shade of chestnut varies depending on the individual.

As you can see, there’s a lot to love about draft horses! With their fascinating histories, record-setting size, and kind hearts, draft horses are truly awesome individuals.

Breed Associations

Belgian Draft Horse Corporation of America
Clydesdale Breeders of the USA
American Shire Horse Association
Percheron Horse Association of America
American Cream Draft Horse Association
American Suffolk Horse Association

This article about various draft horse breeds
originally appeared in the September/October 2019 issue of Young Rider magazine. Click here to subscribe!

Samantha Johnson @

Samantha Johnson is a freelance writer and the author of several books, including The Field Guide to Horses, (Voyageur Press, 2009). She raises Welsh Mountain Ponies in northern Wisconsin and is a certified horse show judge. She loves Corgis and shares her home with her Pembroke Welsh Corgi, Peaches.

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