Handling Draft Horses


Belgian draft horse
The average horse outweighs the average human almost 10 to one, which is why safety is such an important element in horse handling. Even the smallest horses can easily overpower a human with his sheer bulk, if he is so inclined. So imagine what an 18-hand, 2,500-pound draft horse can do. Fortunately, draft horses tend to be exceptionally gentle and easy to handle—no accident, since horsemen have always bred larger horses with this trait.

However, people who handle large horses still need to take precautions to ensure they’re safe around these massive equines. First and foremost, watch your feet. If
a draft horse steps on you, he can easily crush the bones in your toes or foot, especially if he is wearing metal shoes. Always wear heavy-duty boots around draft horses to protect your feet should the horse accidentally come down on you but not steel toed boots—they can sever toes.

Although draft horses tend to be mellow individuals, you should always demand respect from any large horse you handle. Don’t allow the horse to crowd you or to rub his head against your body. Teach your horse to stay out of your personal space, whether you are leading him, grooming him or approaching him in his stall.

If you are raising a young draft horse, teach him manners from a very young age. Don’t allow nipping or any other rude behavior. While this might be cute or forgivable in a foal, don’t forget your draft baby is going to grow up to weigh nearly a ton. You don’t want a horse that big thinking he can push you around.

Audrey Pavia is the author of Horses for Dummies.


  1. THanks! I ride a Shire/ QH cross and she always nips at my fingers even if I don’t have or smell like treatrs. She is still young so I’m going to start reprimanding her for it.

  2. the most important draft lesson learned is respect of space, my draft (Belgian) was like a puppy dog, a big cuddly guy who was always in your business, I never realized it was an issue until my new trainer/boarding barn, and he noticed it as a problem, he used pat parelli techniques to teach respect to him and he was a dream

  3. The thing about the steel toed boots is FALSE. The Mythbusters showed it to be wrong. Using an Arbor press, a steel toed boot gave way at 6,000lbs of pressure. A regular boot gave way at less than 1,200lbs of pressure. If a draft horse that weighs 2,500lbs even can apply 6,000lbs pressure by merely stepping, your toes will be crushed anyways, steel-toed boot or not. The choice is yours, but under normal circumstances, the steel-toed boot appears to be safer. One thing it will NOT do, is slice of your toes. It’s a myth, and people would be wise to stop spreading it.

  4. respect is the biggest issue with drafts. I am primary caretaker of a herd of 65 drafts (mainly belgians and percherons) and especially with them in a free herd setting, once they respect you, you dont have much to worry about. Drafts are too big to be “the boss”

  5. i find kindness to be a big thing that all horses want. at the farm i work at there is one big belgian draft who is as gentle as a baby but if you dont lead him with kindness he wont listen he expects you to be kind like he is so he would not move if he thinks youre not kind. also when handaling any horse especially big ones like drafts you want to be careful when youre mounting. the one at the farm if he doesnt see the other horses when you mount he will lunge forward once he feels your weight. i have been steped on by him for i was handed the lead rope and the rider tried mounting him before i got to turn him the right way. luckily i only had a brused foot nothing broke.

  6. the only issue with steel toed boots is in fact if you dont be careful and look at the way there made the steel could hurt youre feet more not necesarily cut youre toes off though.

  7. well, im thirteen and training this 4 year old half green 3/4 draft horse. i find that draft horses are very kind and i know th one im training is VERY willing to please and obeys best with a kind aporach. When she bucks when u ask her to canter the first time, i use a sharp voice and she listens no whip nothing physical just a ‘mad’ voice and she responds. She is soo cute and is very willing to please with a gentle nature!


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