• Katrien Van Miert

Belgian Draft Horse breeding today

1 September 2017 | Translation for the Royal Belgian Draft Horse Studbook

Original text (Dutch): Jan De Boitselier, president

Draft Horses have been an important part of our culture for a very long time. We can go as far back as the Romans praising the exceptional horses the Belgians had bred. Throughout history, Belgian Draft Horses have managed to adapt themselves to the ever changing society. From the brave knight horses during the Middle Ages, our favorite giants evolved into indispensable farmer assistants. At that time, Belgian Draft Horses literally pulled along the entire Belgian economy. As of today, they have again re-invented themselves. Now, they are facing a promising future, primarily as recreational horses.

In comparison to the heydays between the 1840’s and the 1940’s foal numbers have dropped quite a bit. Between 1846 and the mid 1940’s, Belgian was home to 270,000 horses. Most of them were Draft Horses. Every year, 30,000 to 40,000 foals were born. As of today, we see less and less Draft Horses in the Belgian pastures and breeding declines year after year.

Nevertheless, the colossal Draft Horses remain Belgium’s favorites, showing the best of themselves at manifestations, events and local parades more often than not depicting historical occurrences.

The whole world is interested in Belgian Draft Horses. Breeders can put their horses up for sale on our website and buyers originating from all parts of the earth find them there. Consequently, our beloved breed can be found all around the world. International buyers are especially looking for horses with healthy legs and specific coat colors. Our classic roans remain very popular with more traditional breeders and still constitute the greater part of all quality horses. But good horses always find their way to a buyer, no matter what their color is.

Because demand for horses with specific coats is high, more breeders focus their attention on breeding colored foals. Seven coat colors occur in Belgian Draft Horses: Roan, blue roan, bay, black, chestnut and chestnut roan (rare). Combining color and quality is clearly the biggest challenge our present-day breeders have to face.

These past years, we have made a lot of progress in the field of selection and breeding for healthy legs. We have the investments and efforts of our breeders to thank for this very positive development. At official breeding competitions, the legs of all horses aged two and up are being checked by veterinarians. Leg scores are registered and archived. At stallion approvals all breeders are informed about the leg scores of their horses. They also receive the results of veterinary tests conducted at the universities of Ghent and Liège prior to the approval. Moreover all data gets published in this magazine.

It is striking, our official breeding competitions are increasingly visited by aspiring buyers from Belgium as well as other countries. The market is growing and we hope in the future this evolution will crank up the amount of foals being born each year.

Also, more and more people are using Draft Horses for many purposes. Belgians are ideal recreation horses providing pleasure for entire families. At the same time, Draft Horses are being used in forestry economics and have found numerous jobs at organic farms. Courses teaching people to work with Draft Horses get fully booked in the wink of an eye. Their pleasant personalities make them a very popular breed for equine assisted therapy and even some ‘English’ riders trade in their sports horses for Belgians. Show jumping horses, for instance, need daily training because of their fierce nature. This is not the case for Draft Horses, allowing their riders to dedicate more quality time to their families and other hobbies.

Our Belgian Draft Horses also play an important role in the craft industry. For instance, farriers using a traditional ‘travail’ and harness makers are a part of the Draft Horse culture we cherish a great deal.

In addition, Belgian Draft Horses bring people together. They put their best foot forward at fairs, entertaining children, at shows with traditional carriages and during competitions (tilting at the ring, draft events, log pulling contests, plowing competitions,…). These events attract many visitors, and most of them primarily come to see the Draft Horses. Even local annual fairs and events that are solely dedicated to the Belgian Draft Horse are very popular.

The Belgian Draft Horse is our very own. These giants invoke happiness, nostalgia and sympathy. To enjoy simple things is a true art. Children floating away on a flying carpet pulled by Draft Horses are experiencing something they will never forget. In cities where garbage is collected using Draft Horses, people finally come out of their homes and pet the horses. A similar evolution occurred in the city of Ath, where Draft Horses are helping to plant flowers and other vegetation.

The Belgian Draft Horse is a truly Belgian product… a product that conquered the entire world. Like our Belgian beers, chocolates, fries, cities (Brussels, Bruges), Eddy Merckx,… these horses are famous all over the earth.

Pictures: Centrum Voor Agrarische Geschiedenis | Ann Muys

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