The Belgian Draft is one of the largest horse breeds in the world. With roots tracing back to the heavy horses that carried Medieval knights into battle, the Belgian has an impressive stature and exceptional power.

In North America, Belgian Draft horses outnumber the population of all other draft breeds combined. These American Belgian Drafts became genetically distinct when importations of European horses slowed in the early twentieth century.

Once relied upon for agricultural work, the breed continues to gain popularity thanks to their versatility and good dispositions. While Belgian Drafts are still used for driving, many Belgian owners enjoy riding these giant gentles.

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

Belgian Draft Horse History

Throughout history, Belgian Drafts have helped humans win wars, cultivate fields, and haul heavy loads. Historical evidence suggests this breed is a descendant of the “Great Horse” that dominated battlefields in the Middle Ages. [1]

Origin

The demand for horses with the strength to pull large farm equipment and carry knights with heavy armour led to the development of several heavy draft breeds in Europe.

Fertile soil in the lowlands of Western Europe provided farmers with the pastures necessary to raise large horses. Historians believe the “Great Horses” of Medieval texts originated from Flemish horses bred in the region that is now modern Belgium.  [1]

Large, muscled horses were also necessary for cultivating the thick, heavy soil of the region. Unlike other areas of Europe where the trends shifted to lighter riding horses, Belgian breeders focused on the Belgian Heavy Draft, also known as the Brabant.

Records of Belgian draft breeding date back to the 17th century, and the first studbook began in 1886.

Historic Use

Belgian stallions were exported worldwide to produce larger animals for industrial and farming use. Their stocky builds were particularly well-suited for pulling heavy plows, and the breed gained recognition as a powerful working horse. [2]

Belgian breeders organized exhibits to showcase their stallions, including the Great National Show in Brussels. Inspection committees evaluated the stallions, leading to a rapid improvement and establishment of a fixed breed type.

The first Belgian Drafts imported to North America arrived in the 19th century. In 1904, the Belgian government sent an exhibit of Belgian Drafts for the St. Louis World’s Fair and International Livestock Exposition.

The exhibit generated significant interest in the breed, and imports skyrocketed until the First World War suddenly brought them to a halt. After that, American breeders used their existing stock to develop a distinct line of American Belgian Drafts.

While demand for the breed fell after the mechanization of agriculture, the numbers rebounded as Belgian Drafts gained popularity as recreational horses. [3]

Breed Registry

In 1887, breed enthusiasts founded the American Association of Importers and Breeders of Belgian Draft Horses. The organization changed its name to the Belgian Draft Horse Corporation of America in 1937.

The BDCHA maintains the official breed registry for American Belgian Drafts and promotes the preservation of the purebred Belgian Draft in North America.

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Breed Characteristics

Centuries of selective breeding have reinforced characteristics in the Belgian Draft, making the breed instantly recognizable. These horses are typically gentle giants with massive builds and kind personalities.

Conformation

The Belgian Draft isn’t the tallest breed of draft horse in the world, and most stand between 16.2 and 17 hands. But they can weigh twice as much as light breeds with similar heights at 1800 to 2400 pounds.

American Belgian Drafts are less stocky than the original Belgian Heavy Drafts but have similar proportions. These horses have compact bodies</