The Ardennes, or Ardennais, is one of the world’s oldest and heaviest breeds of draft horses. These horses originate in the Ardennes region across France, Luxembourg, and Belgium.

The breed is famous for their use as war horses in Ancient Rome. While relatively rare in North America, Ardennes horses are still used for farm work and driving in Europe. Ardennes horses also influenced the development of several draft breeds throughout history.

Modern Ardennes horses are recognizable by their massive stature. However, their heavy muscling and large size are associated with health problems common in many draft breeds. Large breeds also need different management from average horses to stay healthy.

This breed profile will review the history, characteristics, health problems, and nutritional needs of the Ardennes breed. Keep reading to learn more about feeding and caring for Ardennes horses.

Ardennes Horse History

Some historians believe the Ardennes breed descends directly from the ancient Belgian heavy horses once praised by Julius Caesar. These horses originally stood at only 14 hands tall, but the breed’s strength and size have significantly increased over the past 2,000 years.


Heavy draft horse breeds originated in the fertile farmland of present-day Belgium. Rich soil and abundant rain in the Ardennes region and nearby areas could support the nutritional needs of large animals.

The Ardennes is one of the oldest known breeds of draft horses. For millennia, farmers selectively bred these horses for size and power. The ancestors of Ardennes horses contributed to the development of several French and Belgian draft breeds, including the Auxois. [1]

Napoleon Bonaparte bred Ardennes war horses with Arabians to increase their stamina and endurance. Crosses to Percherons and Thoroughbreds also occurred, but these bloodlines had minimal impact on the Ardennes type.

Ardennes horses are also closely related to the modern Belgian Draft Horse. These horses share a common ancestry, and Belgian Drafts were used in the 19th century to increase the size and develop the heavier conformation that is characteristic of Ardennes horses today.

Historic Use

The farmers who originally developed the heavy ancestors of Ardennes horses needed large, powerful working animals for farm and draft work. However, the size of the Ardennes also attracted the attention of ancient military leaders.

Julius Caesar recommended the Ardennes horses for newly formed heavy horse cavalry units. The horses excelled as large war horses, carrying cavalry and pulling heavy artillery. Early Roman Emperors continued using the breed in military units for centuries. [2]

Great horses from the Ardennes region also served as war horses during the Crusades and artillery horses during the French Revolution.

In 1812, Napoleon Bonaparte used large numbers of Ardennes horses during his Russian campaign. The breed survived pulling the army’s wagon train during the winter retreat from Moscow thanks to their hardiness. [3]

Populations of draft horses declined worldwide following the mechanization of agriculture and the modernization of warfare. But the breed is becoming more popular for recreational owners.

Breed Registry

In 1929, the first breed registry for Ardennes was established in Europe. Today, studbooks for Ardennes are maintained in France, Belgium, and Luxembourg.

Although not a breed registry, The Ardennes Horse Society of Great Britain works to preserve and promote the breed across the United Kingdom.

Ardennes horses were first imported to North America in the early 20th century. Some early imports were registered as Belgian draft horses, but no official breed registries for the Ardennes exist in North America.

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Breed Characteristics

The Ardennes horse is significantly taller and heavier today than its ancestors were during the Roman age. Breeding in recent centuries selected for horses with heavy mus