Many years ago, in Europe, as farmers began to selectively breed big, strong horses to clear their woodlands, pull out stumps, plow, harrow, and mow their emerging fields, haul produce to market, and basically become the tractors, bulldozers and trucks of an earlier time the various breeds which we collectively call “draft” horses began to take their varying forms. In due course, these horses found their way to North America.
If there is one character trait that a draft horse can not have, it`s “hot”. I`ve watched Eddie Nelson working in his woodlot in Vershire, Vermont, with his Belgian, “Admiral”. Eddie would let Admiral stand, fully harnessed, but untied, while he dropped a pine or hemlock. As the tree crashed to the ground, Admiral might twitch an ear. Or not.
Eddie would limb the tree with a snarling chainsaw, cut it into log lengths, go fetch Admiral, and back him to the butt end of the log, where, again not tied in any way, Amiral would stand calmly while Eddie wrapped a pull chain around the tree, attached the other end to Admiral`s tugs, picked up the reins, and clucked to his horse. As Admiral walked to the landing, Eddie would hop up on the dragging log to get a free ride.
Fast forward to a North American event. There will be a certain number of riders who may need a horse with a bit more size, perhaps a quiet temperament and a steady demeanor, but who might not be able to afford an Irish Draught cross, or a European warmblood. Lo and behold, there`s a Percheron halfbred gelding. Or a 3/4 thoroughbred, 1/4 Belgian mare, or a 7/8ths thoroughbred, 1/8 Clydesdale. The top American horse on the gold medal winning World Equestrian Games USET squad, John Williams “Carrick”, was part Clydesdale, 1/16th, I think. He was individually fourth in the world.
These solid citizen draft horses, like the Quarter Horses, and Quarter Horse crossbreds, come with a sanity button, installed by decades of selective breeding, to allow their farmer owners to work the land without having to deal with temperament issues. Many eventers are called “adult amateurs”, meaning that they have jobs, families, or other obligations that prevent them from the “all day, every day” riding that allows the professionals to develop the expertise to deal with horses that come equipped with high octane, eight cylinder engines.
Draft breeds that aren`t mixed with something else, usually thoroughbred, tend to be too heavy and massive, often up to half a ton, to make good riding horses, but the crosses, as they get “nearer the blood”, as Jack Le Goff used to say about thoroughbreds, will bring many of the same benefits as the wildly popular Irish Draught crosses, although without, perhaps, the same amount of “curb appeal” that also tends to raise the price of the horse.