what is a draft horse

What is a Draft Horse: a Complete Rundown of Nature’s Majestic Beats

“Draft Horses aren’t for everyone, but the best never is.”

Draft Horses have stood the test of time and have roots deeply intertwined with human civilization.

From their vital role in agriculture to their unwavering dedication to hard labor, these majestic beasts have been the closest ally to mankind. But if you are new to the equestrian universe and are still wondering what is a draft horse, allow me to be your guide.

In this article, I will be talking about the fascinating stories shaping these breeds, tracing their origins and understanding their profound significance.

Moreover, from the regal Belgian to the graceful Percheron, I will try to discuss their distinct traits and share every essential thing you need to know about these famous Draft Horse breeds.

Bottom Lines Up Front

Unlike most horses, Draft Horses have a heavy and strong body structure, which allows them to perform strenuous tasks. Though most of these breeds lack agility, their power still makes them useful in farming and carriage.

With almost 40-50 different Draft horse breeds, the breed that caught my eye was the Clydesdale due to its majestic presence, striking appearance, and immense power.

List of Draft Horses in this Guide

Although a number of different Draft Horse breeds exist in the world, the 15 notable breeds that deserve special recognition and warrant a place in our discussion include:

  • Belgian
  • Suffolk Punch
  • Percheron
  • American Cream Draft
  • Clydesdale
  • Brabant
  • Shire
  • Boulonnais
  • Ardennes
  • Irish Draught
  • Noriker
  • Haflinger
  • Rhenish German Coldblood
  • Dole Gudbrandsdal
  • Friesian Horse


belgian draft horse

  • Height: 16-17 hands
  • Weight: 1800-2200 pounds
  • Color: Chestnut, Roan, Sorrel

The Belgian draft horse, a breed synonymous with power and magnificence, originates from Belgium’s fertile fields. This breed stands tall at about 17 hands and is known for its immense size and sturdy build, further exemplifying its ability to undertake the most demanding tasks.

Weighing an average of 1,800 to 2,200 pounds, the Belgian horse is a giant among Draft horses. Still, these horses possess one of the most gentle personalities and amiable natures; something that really attracts me towards them.

Talking about its appearance, it features a distinct chestnut coat and flowing white mane and tail. These traits are also part of the Belgian breeding standards maintained by the Belgian official association in America, the Belgian Corp.

If you want to feel the true power of this breed, don’t forget to take a look at the magnificent Baron Van‘t Zeegat, a Belgian Draft known for its strength and impressive pulling power, with an outstanding 51 registered offspring.

Suffolk Punch

suffolk punch draft horse

  • Height: 16-17 hands
  • Weight: 2000-2200 pounds
  • Color: Chestnut

If you think Ed Sheeran is the official symbol of the Suffolk region, you need to reconsider it.

Originating in Southeast England, the Suffolk Punch Draft horse is not only considered the smallest draft horse breed but also one of the oldest and purest horse breeds, tracing its lineage to a single stallion named Crisp’s Horse of Ufford, born in 1768.

The Suffolk Punch is a breed that is also famous for its versatility, as its shorter stature gives it the perfect balance to work on any rough terrain. The breed also has strict breeding standards maintained by the American Suffolk Horse Association, i.e., a plain chestnut coat with flaxen markings on the head and feet together with massive hoves.

But even with its robust physique, the Suffolk Punch is known for its docile and energetic temperament, making it easy to train. It is also considered an excellent option for farm work, but the only catch is you have to pay almost 10 grand to get one.


percheron draft horse

  • Height: 16-17 hands
  • Weight: 1800-2600 pounds
  • Color: Black, Gray, Chestnut, Bay, Roan, Sorrel

Steeped in elegance and strength, the Percheron draft horse is a sight to behold. And I firmly believe if unicorns ever existed, their closest descendants would be Percheron; after all, not many breeds stand tall with an arching neck and thick tail.

Originating from the Perche region of France, the Percheron has a history deeply rooted in war and conquests. The most common colors among this breed include black and grey.

And with its average weight of 2200 pounds, when linked with its broad chest, well-defined shoulders, and sturdy legs, the Percheron showcases the epitome of power.

Still, even beyond its physical prowess, the Percheron is known for its sweet and gentle nature, making it easy to train; however, they are hard to stop while riding.

But if you’re thinking about getting one, I must warn you that EPSM, characterized by abnormal polysaccharides in the skeletal muscles, is a common disease amongst the breed.

American Cream Draft

american cream draft horse

  • Height: 15-16.5 hands
  • Weight: 1600-2000 pounds
  • Color: Medium Cream

The American Cream Draft Horse originated in Iowa in 1900 and is a breed known for its rare bloodline. Build-wise, this breed is seen with a refined head, a flat facial profile, a broad chest, and sloping shoulders.

And looking at its characteristics, I would say it is pretty similar to another American classic, the American Quarter Horse, as both even share the same Champagne gene.

The American Draft Horse also exhibits a visually captivating appearance with a medium cream coat, pink skin, and striking amber eyes. And their white mane and tail, attributed to the Champagne gene, further enhance their charm.

Although the American Crem Draft does not have a very heavy build like Belgian and Percheron, I should tell you that breed is prone to a genetic disease called Junctional Epidermolysis Bullosa (JEB), which makes the horse’s skin quite fragile. Moreover, this breed is also on the list of endangered species, so they are not easy to come by.

If you want to know more about this breed,  don’t forget to take a look at the Old Granny, as all Cream Drafts today have descended from this single mare.


clydesdale draft horse

  • Height: 17-19 hands
  • Weight: 1800-1900 pounds
  • Color: Bay, Brown, Gray, Black, Roan

The Clydesdale is another magnificent draft horse that originated from Lanarkshire, Scotland. But before you mistake its legs for an extraordinary build, remember that the Clydesdale is prone to Chronic Progressive Lymphedema, which causes leg swelling and skin infections under its leg hair.

Taking about its build, the Clydesdale stands at an average of 18 hands, which is on the taller side when it comes to Draft horses. However, this breed is not as heavy as most draft horses, averaging 1800-1900 pounds for a full-grown adult.

Still, that doesn’t make the breed any less beautiful, as it usually features darker colors like bay, dark brown, or black, with prominent white markings, which in my opinion, goes excellent with its larger build.

What I really like about this breed is its graceful gait, which always steals the limelight of any escort or parade. Though the Clydesdale breed was introduced almost 4 centuries ago, its most comprehensive registries are maintained by The Clydesdale Breeders of the U.S.A and The Clydesdale Horse Association of Canada.


brabant draft horse

  • Height: 16-17 hands
  • Weight: 2000-3000 pounds
  • Color: Chestnut, Bay, Black, Roan, Gray

Originating from the Brabant region of Belgium, the most interesting fact about the Barbant breed is that it boasts a rich history deeply intertwined with the development of Western European heavy draft horse breeds, including the Belgian horse.

However, though it boasts a similar height, it is quite heavier, around 2600 pounds, than its Belgian counterpart.

With their registry maintained by the American Brabant Association, in terms of appearance, the Brabant draft horse possesses a square head with a straight profile, complemented by a short yet strong neck.

And you can easily recognize it through its deep, broad chest and well-muscled back and legs. Talking about its nature, I would put it between a Belgian and a Morgan, as it is good-natured and gentle but also displays liveliness and bravery.

When it comes to its significance, the breed has a relatively thick coat making it well-suited for various outdoor jobs, especially in snow and challenging terrain.

Also, despite the fact they share a pretty bloated look, with their height reaching about 16-17 hands, Brabant is considered one of the humungous horse breeds in the world.

But I have to warn you that if you are thinking about owning a Brabant horse, remember that this breed has a shorter life span compared to other draft horses and develops age-related problems at a young age.


shire draft horse

  • Height: 16-17.5 hands
  • Weight: 1800-2400 pounds
  • Color: Black, Bay, Brown, Gray

If I talk about some pure English breeds, it’s hard to overlook the Shire horse for its colossal size and strength. This draft breed is considered the strongest of the British heavy horses and was even famous for carrying the knights in shining armor into the battlefield.

Weighing between 1,800 to 2,400 pounds and standing at an average height of 17 hands, this breed towers over most English horse breeds; not to mention, a Shire horse named Majestic Goliath also held the title of one of the tallest horses in the world.

Appearance-wise, the Shire can be seen in black, bay, or gray, with distinct white markings on the face and legs. Moreover, it is also famous for its fine head and long neck, which gives it a noble appearance.

But even with its imposing stature, the Shire is known for its gentle temperament and intelligence. The breed also has a fairly long lifespan of around 30 years, which I think is impressive for a breed this size.


boulonnais draft horse

  • Height: 15.1-15.3hands
  • Weight: 1400-1600 pounds
  • Color: Gray, Chestnut, Black

The Boulonnais draft horse, often hailed as the epitome of grace and vigor, has earned the nickname “The Thoroughbreds of Draft Horses” for a good reason.

And though the exact origins remain in mystery, the Boulonnais is believed to have emerged from France by crossing French mares and the Numidian stallions over two millennia ago, lending it a timeless and captivating history.

In terms of appearance, the Boulonnals showcase a variety of coat colors, including chestnut, red roan, bay, roan, and various shades of grey all the way to black.

Although I have to say that the Boulonnais is shorter than most Draft horse breeds, standing at about 14.5 hands. But with its 1400-1600 pound weight, broad forehead, and sloping shoulders, it does exhibit a compact yet robust build.

For those seeking to add a Boulonnais to their equestrian family, the good news is that these magnificent horses can be acquired for as low as $3000. However, let me warn you that the breed is susceptible to Chronic Progressive Lymphedema, necessitating attentive care and attention.


ardennes draft horse

  • Height: 15.3-16 hands
  • Weight: 1500-2200 pounds
  • Color: Palomino, Bay, Roan, Chestnut, Iron Gray

Now moving on to one of the oldest breeds on this list, the Ardennes draft horse, which dates back to Ancient Rome. But while the breed’s origins can be traced to the war times, it might be interesting to know that it also originated in Belgium.

Ardennes horses find their niche as mountain horses, thriving in colder climates. Looking at their height and weight, the Ardennes are similar to the Boulonnais draft horses, with their heavy neck and not-so-big stature.

However, they have a much more muscular build than the Boulonnais. Also, the Ardennes differ in their thick tails and heavy manes and have distinct dark hair featured around their feet.

When it comes to their immunity, Ardennes horses are not susceptible to most diseases and have a long lifespan of around 30 years. And that, together with their gentle nature and people skills, make them a great beginners breed.

Irish Draught

irish draught draft horse

  • Height: 15.2-16.3 hands
  • Weight: 1300-1500 pounds
  • Color: Bay, Gray, Chestnut, Black, Brown, Dun

Though there is a big debate about whether to include the Irish Draught in the category of the draft horse or not, I believe, even though they don’t share heavy features as that of many draft breeds, for their role throughout history, they could be considered on-diet draft horses.

The Irish Draught has an average height of 15.8 hands and weighs around 1400 pounds. With its kind eyes and large ears, the breed comes in various coat colors; however, its official association discourages excessive white markings.

Thanks to Thoroughbred influence, the breed is also unique with respect to its solid loins and hindquarters.

But let us also not ignore its good temperament, which makes this breed a perfect fit as police horses. Furthermore, it is considered a staple breed for sport horse breeding and is even crossed with Warmbloods to produce high-quality sport horses.

However, this breed does not come cheap; due to its endangered status, the Irish Draught breed can be quite valuable, with prices ranging from $10,000 and upwards.


noriker draft horse

  • Height: 15-16 hands
  • Weight: 1500-1600 pounds
  • Color: Roan

Formerly known as the Pinzgauer, this breed is one of Europe’s oldest horse breeds and is famous for its use in ceremonial and parade events, such as the Kufenstechen festival.

Despite being a Draft horse, Noriker is renowned for its agility. And though this breed has five different bloodlines, each with its own distinct features, on average, an adult Noriker stands at 15 hands and weighs around 1500 pounds.

Some characteristics worth mentioning include its convex facial profile and long tail; not to mention, its iconic coat depicts a stunning spotted pattern, featuring round black spots on a white base.

Just like Appaloosa, while being energetic and spirited, this breed thoroughly enjoys training and working alongside its human companions. And what makes the Noriker even more appealing is its affordability, with an average price of around $4000-5000.


haflinger draft horse

  • Height: 13-15 hands
  • Weight: 800-1300 pounds
  • Color: Chestnut

When it comes to the draft horse category, one breed that cannot be overlooked is the Haflinger, which holds a special place in my heart due to its distinctive appearance.

Originating from Austria and Italy, the Haflinger is a cross between Arabian Stallions and Tyrolean Mares, resulting in its remarkable traits. Not to mention, all modern Haflingers can be traced back 249 Folie.

Haflinger can be easily identified by its straight and short hair and thick coat, which usually ranges from light gold to dark chestnut. Standing at a height similar to the Boulonnais breed but weighing almost half as much, the Haflinger are the light version of draft horses.

Even though this draft breed excels in several disciplines, such as dressage, jumping, driving, trail riding, and even vaulting, if you’re planning to buy a Haflinger, In that case, you should know that it is prone to conditions like Equine Metabolic Syndrome, which leads to insulin resistance.

Be that as it may, a fully trained Haflinger can still cost you $18,000-20,000.

Rhenish German Coldblood

rhenish german coldblood draft horse

  • Height: 15-17 hands
  • Weight: 1800-2200 pounds
  • Color: Roan, Chestnut

The Rhenish German Coldbloods are amongst the most pleasant draft breeds the equestrian world has to offer.

Originating in the Rhineland region of Germany, this breed has a cute-looking face, which is a little small compared to most other horses. Furthermore, it has a sturdy frame, broad chest, and well-developed hindquarters, which enables this breed to handle demanding tasks efficiently.

The Rhenish German Coldblood showcases a stunning array of coats, including bay, chestnut, black, and roan. And that, coupled with its expressive eyes, flowing mane, and majestic tail, gives this an undeniable allure that is hard to overlook.

Though an average adult male Rhenish German Coldblood has a height of 16 hands and a sturdy build, this breed is often vulnerable to Chronic progressive lymphedema (CPL), which usually results in calluses, scaling, and exudative wounds.

Dole Gudbrandsdal

dole gudbrandsdal draft horse

  • Height: 14.5-15.5 hands
  • Weight: 1200-1400 pounds
  • Color: Palomino, Black, Chestnut, Gray, Buckskin, Dun

Before you start ruminating over this breed’s name, this Norwegian beauty dates back to 400-500 BC, and thanks to the efforts of the Ministry of Agriculture and Food (LMD) and the Norwegian Genetic Resource Center, this once-considered endangered breed is now among the most common draft horses of Norway.

Standing at a height of 14.5-15.5 hands, the Dole Gudbrandsdal draft horse breed primarily exists in two distinct types. The Trotter stock, the light build Dole breed perfect for harness racing and leisure riding, and the Heavy stock, a heavy build breed mainly used for farming, pulling, and sledging.

In terms of appearance, these horses come in several shades of brown and black, even dun. However, it can be recognized from its darker mane and tail. Weighing around 1200-1400 pounds, the Dole Gudbrandsdal is considered a light draft breed and one of the world’s most agile draft breeds.

Friesian Horse

friesian horse draft horse

  • Height: 14.5-17 hands
  • Weight: 1200-1400 pounds
  • Color: Black

Before I begin, I should mention that most of the exotic Black horses you see in movies or advertisements belong to this breed; after all, not many horses, as a reporter put it, have Brad’s body, Cooney’s charm, and Harrington’s hair.

The Friesian Horse traces its ancestry back to its Arabian ancestors, which is evident from its luxuriant mane, tail, and forelock, something that has become the iconic features of this breed. Moreover, the Arabian gene also makes them lively and full of energy.

Talking about its build, this majestic breed, though varying between 14.5 to 17 hands, is slightly taller than the Dole Gudbrandsdal; however, this draft breed falls in a similar weight bracket. Also, the Friesian horse has an arching neck which adds to the allure of this breed.

Something that I really love about this breed is its regal black coat and smooth yet graceful trot. No wonder they are always a sight to behold in dressage competitions.

But don’t take my word for it, as among the famous horses of this breed, “Frederik the Great” holds the title of “World’s Most Handsome Horse.” However, if you’re planning to buy one, let me tell you that a pure Friesian may cost a whopping $40,000!

What Is a Draft Horse: FAQs

Question: What is the Purpose of a Draft Horse?

Answer: The primary purpose of a Draft horse is to perform heavy work that requires significant pulling power. And while Draft horses have been traditionally used in agriculture for plowing fields, hauling equipment, and transporting goods, they were also used on battlefields for their strength.

In today’s world, Draft horses have found their roles in parades, dressage, and carriage. Not to mention, their calm temperament and endurance also make them a good learning horse for many aspiring equestrians.

Question: Can Draft Horses be Ridden?

Answer: Absolutely! While Draft horses are primarily bred and trained for heavy work, they can indeed be ridden. Draft horses have a slower and more comfortable gait, making them well-suited for leisure and trail riding.
However, due to their large size and sturdy build, riding a Draft horse may feel slightly different compared to riding lighter horse breeds.
Moreover, most Draft horse breeds can be easily trained, which makes them very suitable for different types of activities.

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