The Percheron is a heavy draft horse breed developed in Perche province in the Huisne river valley in western France. That much we know. Ancestors of this breed could possibly include Arabs, although this is unproven. The horses garnered renown in the 17th century; they were originally bred as war horses capable of carrying a fully-armoured knight. After the wars, they were used to pull coaches, work in agriculture, and haul heavy goods.
The Percheron horse has existed as a distinct type since the Dark Ages. The earliest Percherons are thought to have been a cross between the Barbs, brought by the Moors, and the large Flemish (Belgium) draft breeds with the Arabian blood being added to refine the breed. More selective breeding occurred in the late 18th and early 19th centuries; the Percheron stud book was created in France in 1883 by the Société Hippique Percheronne de France.
Thousands of Percherons were imported into the United States, but during WWI many were sent back to France to help the war effort. Once accounting for nearly three-quarters of all the draft horses in the US, being used extensively for farming, forestry, transporting goods and even pulling travelling circus wagons.
By the nineteen thirties, Percherons accounted for over seventy percent of all purebred draft horses in the United States, and all of the major land-grant universities such as Yale, Princeton and Harvard all maintained stables of Percherons.
A 1930’s era census of horses found over thirty three thousand Percherons existed in the United States, but their numbers dwindled after the Second World War as the application of horsepower in general became less acute.
In our modern age, the breed has really bounced back. In 2007, there were over 290,000 Percherons registered with the Percheron Horse Association of America. One Percheron historian attributes the breed’s popularity to their “strength, energy, activity, robustness and endurance.”
Are Percherons bigger than Clydesdales?
Yes. Percherons are bigger than Clydesdales. Generally speaking, measuring their size, weight and sturdiness, the Clydesdale is the lighter built breed. They generally weigh somewhere in the arena of 1,800 to 2,000 pounds, while Percherons can weigh a whopping 2,600 pounds!
How tall is a Percheron horse?
Percherons average 16 to 17 hands, or 64 to 68 inches (or 163 to 173 cm) in height and they weigh 860 to 950 kg (or 1,900 to 2,100 pounds). The head is fairly small and clean cut, the neck is elongated. Percherons have well muscled bodies. Common colours are silver, black and gray.
How to identify a Percheron horse?
Percheron has heavily muscled shoulders, forearms and haunches, and gives an overall impression of compact strength. Their necks are sturdy and elegantly arched. Usually grey black or silver black in colour, the Percheron are well-muscled horses that take long, smooth strides. The head has a straight profile with a broad forehead and large, kind eyes. Their chests are wide, their croup long and level, their legs clean and heavily-muscled and their feet are well-formed. Percherons are proud, alert and willing horses that are intelligent and relatively easy to keep happy and healthy.
Traditionally, only grey or black horses could be registered as percherons and that may still be the case in France and Great Britain. In North America however we have roan, bay and chestnut coloured percherons. But all registries worldwide consider excessive white colouring on the head or legs to be undesirable.
How much does a Percheron eat?
Percherons have big healthy appetites and do famously eat more than your average horse. Percherons are able to eat up to thirteen kilograms or just under thirty pounds of fresh grass of hay every day. Their daily diet could also include two and quarter kilograms or five pounds of chopped grain. Percherons that cannot forage in open pasture may need vitamin and mineral supplements to get everything their diet requires. They like treats and will appreciate apples and carrots and everything sweet.
What are Percheron horses used for?
Percherons are alert willing learners that make exceptional riding horses. They’re great for pulling wagons and carriages and they’re popular sights at parades and for pulling sleighs at harvest festivals. Percherons are the breed most commonly found pulling tourist carriages in urban centers. Out in the countryside, the hearty breed is still used for draft work on farms and in the forestry business. There is no better way to move timber over rough land than a team of horses. The versatility of strong horses harnessed as a team makes it possible to skid logs in Canadian forests.
In Eventing, when crossed with lighter horse breeds, Percherons can produce strong horses suitable for competition in English disciplines such as dressage and show jumping. Some Thoroughbred Percheron crosses are employed as police horses.
In Europe, Percherons are often used to recreate the famous battles of knights in armour during the Age of Chivalry.