The Breton horse is a French draft breed from Bretagne, or Brittany, a province in northwest France. There are three types of Breton horses: the Postier Breton, the Central Mountain Breton, and the Heavy Draft Breton.

This breed has ancient origins tracing back to the Celtic tribes that once occupied the Bretagne region. Once sought after by military leaders during the Crusades, Breton horses are still a popular draft breed in France today.

Bretons are closely related to several other draft breeds and share a predisposition to common heavy horse health problems. These breeds generally have shorter lifespans than lighter horses, so proper care is essential for keeping them healthy as long as possible.

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

Breton Horse History

Breton horses have a long history in Brittany, a northwestern region of France. The area’s challenging climate and evolving culture significantly influenced the breed over centuries. Throughout that time, Bretons also impacted the development of several French and domestic horse breeds.

Origin

Genetic research shows that the Breton horse breed has an ancient origin. The modern Breton likely descended from horses bred by the Celtic tribes before they invaded the British Isles in the Iron Age. [1]

Descendants of Celtic horses inhabited the Breton mountains for thousands of years. Horses needed strength and hardiness to survive the challenging climate and poor-quality land of the region. Today, the modern Central Mountain Breton still closely resembles these original horses.

After the Crusades, imported oriental breeds crossed with the Breton mountain horses to produce the Bidet Breton horse, an extinct breed of small, versatile horses once popular in France.

Studies show genetic links between Breton horses and Boulonais, Percheron, and Ardennes breeds. Crossbreeding was common to improve the strength of heavy French breeds. Modern Bretons with these draft horse lines have a heavier type. [1]

Crossing with the Norfolk Trotter produced a refined type known as the Postier Breton. When crossbreeding declined after 1930, breeding began focusing on selection within the Breton horse population.

Historic Use

Celtic warriors rode the ancestors of Breton horses during their conquests. Horses also served essential roles for agriculture work and transportation in everyday Celtic life.

Some Celts remained in Brittany, while others returned from Britain following the Roman invasions that began in the 1st century AD. Today, Brittany is considered one of six official Celtic nations. [2]

Demand grew for heavy war horses during the Middle Ages. Breton horses of the time were significantly shorter but had the strength to carry heavily armoured medieval knights. The breed also had a comfortable gait and surefootedness suitable for long mountain journeys.

Breton horses exported worldwide influenced several horse breeds, including the Canadian Horse. [3]

Breed Registry

The first Breton horse studbook began in 1909. Studbooks for the different types of Breton horses merged in 1912, and the first breed association was formed in 1920.

There are French breed registries for modern Breton horses but no official breed organizations in North America.

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Breed Characteristics

Breton horses of all types share several standard characteristics, but overall impressions can vary. These traits help Bretons excel in the same disciplines popular with other modern draft breeds.

Conformation

Breton horses can range from 14.3 to 16.2 hands tall. The Central Mountain Breton is the smallest type, with a height range of 14.3 to 15.1 hands. Postier Bretons stand an average of 15.1 hands, while Heavy Draft Bretons stand between 15.2 and 16.2 hands.

All Breton horses have square heads with broad foreheads, straight noses, wide nostrils, lively eyes, and small ears. Their necks are short but strong. They also have short backs, round rib cages, wide croups, and long shoulders. Limbs are short and muscular.

Unique traits found in different Breton types include more dished faces in Central Mountain Bretons, more attractive gaits in Postier Bretons, and heavier muscling in Heavy Draft Bretons.

Colours

Most Breton horses are chestnut or chestnut roan. Many of these horses also have a flaxen mane and tail. Bay, blue roan, and black coat colours are rare.

Temperament

Breton horses are gentle giants with calm and willing temperaments. Like many draft breeds, they have excellent work ethics and easygoing personalities. While these horses are shorter than some draft breeds, their size and strength can still intimidate beginners.

Disciplines

The different subtypes of Breton horses are suitable for a variety of disciplines. Smaller and lighter Br