Sport Horse Breeds—Traditional Draft Crosses

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.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Sport Horse Breeds—Traditional Draft Crosses

  1. “Half a ton” should read “a full ton”

  2. I wouldn’t trade Percheron Andalusian mare Felicity for anything. she has just enough flare of movement to be a good dressage horse without all of the hot temper. She is very sweet and willing something I don’t see as much in the other horses at the barn I ride at which has Morgans and Warmbloods.

  3. Gina

    I have had them in one variety or another for 20 years, and though you get a variety, especially as it seems everyone wants to breed them, for the most part they are WONDERFUL horses. Personalities range from stoic to a bit timid and yes, even a little ‘hot’. The difference is the ‘hot’ doesn’t last long in these guys.

    I have had full TB’s too, and love them – their heart and athleticism, but I certainly understand the attraction of a big, quiet horse for most adult ammies….Thanks, Denny

  4. Jenn

    I believe Carrick was part Percheron, not part Clydesdale.

  5. Ldbgcoleman

    Thanks loving these articles and your book. I have a perch/tb mare and shes quite flashy and the perfect horse for me. Id like to add draft crosses are easy keepers who tend to keep weight on, eat less and have great feet:)

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