As an animal lover, novice horse rider and a “trying to improve photographer”, I visited a local Heavy Horse show with my camera at the ready. There were plenty of horses listed for the many events; Shires, Suffolk, Clydesdale and some breeds I had not heard of; Jutland, Comtois, Percheron and Ardennes. These horses really are gentle giants and very graceful too in the arena despite their size.
They may have been used for pulling barges, working the land, pulling carriages or logs but as the saying goes “they scrub up nicely”. Very nicely in fact; shining gleaming coats plaited and dressed manes and tails. Tail braiding can be done from the ground but…mane braiding requires a table to stand on for most as the height of these breeds varies from around 15hh up to a possible 19hh. Of course it helps a great deal if the horse stands still!
The horses were superb and their owners were happy to chat about them. I learned quite a bit, saw breeds and colours I’d never seen before. Exercised the camera a lot and really wanted to take a Shire foal home with me but even at only 4 months old she wouldn’t fit into my car, so I took lots of photographs instead.
Heavy horse breeds are declining which is such a shame, there are around 1000 Jutland horses left in the world today.
The Shire Horse
Is largest of the heavy draught breeds. Stallions are around 17-18hh+ but have been known to grow to 19hh and weigh upwards of 1100kgs. The Shire was a warhorse during the Middle Ages. Improved breeding by crossing with imported Dutch stock, this blend was known as the “Old English Black Horse” in the 17th Century. By the 19th and early 20th centuries, the Shire was used in agriculture for ploughing fields, pulling canal barges, and hauling commercial drays. Today, ridden Shires are much sought after. The Shire’s highly recognisable silky, straight, white leg feather makes a lovely contrast to the acceptable black, brown, bay or grey coat colours. Stallions are required to be one of these 4 colours, whereas Shire mares are permitted to be roan. Their kind nature is legendary.
The Comtois is a light draught breed. Believed to have been bred in the 6th century in the Franche-Comte province of eastern France; which includes most of the French portion of the Jura Mountains. They were also used as warhorses in the Middle Ages. Their standard height is 14h1” to 15h2” and they are usually chestnut with flaxen manes and tails, although bay is also seen. With strong, short legs and powerful bodies, they are now used for hauling wood in pine forests and for working in vineyards in the Arbois commune of France.
From the Clyde Valley in Lanarkshire, Scotland, was developed in the mid 18th century when native horses of the area were crossed with imported Flemish stallions in an effort to create greater substance and weight. Their use in agriculture was coupled with their abilities in the coal mining industry, forestry work, and draught employment in the cities. Today we see quite a number of Clydesdales ridden for pleasure and competitively in dressage. Today’s modern Clydesdales are larger than their ancestors. 17hh is the typical height, with some achieving well over 18hh. The acceptable colours are bay, brown, roan and black with white markings. The Clydesdale has a fluidity of movement and a delightful agreeable temperament.
The Percheron Horse
Dates back to the seven hundreds in historical records. The Percheron comes from an area in France called La Perche, in Normandy. There are two types – the heavy draught and the lighter draught. The infusion of Arab blood gave the Percheron a beauty and grace not typical of many draught horses. The breed is either grey or black, with a minimum of white, they have clean un-feathered legs, and stand from 16h2” to over 18hh. With a lovely willing temperament, the Percheron can turn its hooves to a variety of tasks;t heavy farm work, circus acts, pulling carriages for show or pleasure, and riding.
The Ardennes is a very heavily built draught horse, developed in the mountainous region on the French/Belgian borders. They existed in the time of Caesar and are the foundation on which most modern draught breeds were developed. The Belgian Ardennes and the French Ardennes were once presumed to be the same breed. Standing at approximately 15h2”, the Ardennes can be bay, roan or chestnut. The breeds are compact and very muscular, which makes them suited to hill work, farming, and transportation. Having very fetching heads for such heavy breeds, their eye is extremely kind, and they have expressive ears. Everything about the breeds conveys strength and power, very wide deep bodies, massive quarters, and short thick feathered limbs. Their gait is surprisingly free and light. Above all, the breeds have exceptionally gentle temperaments.
The Suffolk Punch
The Suffolk Punch is the oldest breed of heavy horse in the UK. It is also the rarest. Dating from the 16th century, all Suffolks today can trace their male line to a stallion called “Crisp’s Horse of Ufford” foaled in 1768. The breed stands between 16hh and 18hh, with short clean un-feathered legs. It is always chesnut (traditionally spelt without the central “t” and the only time the word is spelt this way – referring to the Suffolk horse.) There are 7 shades of chesnut; yellow, golden, bright, red, light, dark and dull dark. The breed is a power house on heavy clay soil, not having leg feather to clog up their legs and impede their work.
These horses are the “Clydesdales of Denmark, being the Carlsberg Brewery’s draught horse of choice. They are powerful cold bloods most commonly found on Denmark’s Jutland peninsula. The breed is predominantly chestnut in colour, with pale blond manes and tales, but can be bay, grey, roan or dark chestnut with dark manes and tales. Black and very dark bay do occur, but are very rare. White facial markings are permitted and their legs are heavily feathered. They are muscular with thick necks, bodies, and legs. They can be as tall as 16h1”, but tend to be a hand shorter. There are only about 1000 Jutland horses left in the world.
You’re finally at the end of my blog now! Hope I didn’t bore you too much, just wanted to share what I had found out.
So in my dreams when I have enough money to invest in some serious acreage, I would buy some heavy horses; my tail and mane braiding would need some work and I’d need a good table too as I’m quite short!
Meanwhile......if any DT photographers spot a heavy horse get your camera out and capture that image. Let's see how many different colours and breeds we can spot before they all disappear :) We may not be able to save all the breeds but we can capture their images forever!
Photo credits: Julie Denham.
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