Belgians are the most direct descendant of the now extinct Great Flemish Horse, also known as the “Great Horse” of medieval times, and are the heaviest of all the draft breeds. They were developed for industrial, farm work, and hauling, and were improved to create a fixed type that was regarded in Belgium as a “national treasure.” Stallions were exported throughout Europe.
Belgians were first brought to the US in 1866, and the American Association of Importers and Breeders of Belgian Draft Horses was established in 1887. (This name was changed to the Belgian Draft Horse Corporation of America in January 1937 when it was reorganized under new Indiana laws.)
In 1903, the Belgian government sent exhibition animals to the St. Louis World’s Fair and the International Livestock Exposition in Chicago which generated greater interest in the breed. As they became more popular, additional Belgian horses were imported, but World Wars I & II brought this to an end, and the American horses were cut off from their Belgian cousins.
European and American horses remained similar in type until after World War II when the American animals began to change; American breeders selected for taller horses with more sloping shoulders that were not as heavy as their European counterparts.
The heads of Belgian horses are small compared to their bodies. They have a straight profile and kind eyes. The neck is thick, especially on the stallions. They have broad chests and short, wide backs. Their legs are feathered around their large hooves. Males are usually taller than the females, with mature horses averaging 16-18 hands, and they weigh 1,800-2,200 lbs.; they are full grown by the time they are five years old. Although the originally imported horses were also found in black, roan, red, and gray, American breeders have a preference for sorrel, chestnut, and blond horses, with blond mane and tail, and white socks and blaze, so the other original colors are rarely seen today.
The breed is very gentle, co-operative, and willing to work; they rarely spook. The breed is often shown by children although for showing, the Belgian is exhibited under the general rules of the United States Equestrian Federation which does not allow children to exhibit stallions.
Belgians are known to have a sense of humor and a personality that is distinct among draft breeds. They can adjust well to most climates. Care should be taken to monitor their feed intake if they are not working hard to prevent them from becoming obese.
Did you know:
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