The Percheron is a heavy draft horse breed developed in Perche province in the Huisne river valley in western France. Ancestors of the breed (possibly including Arabs, although this is unproven) were thriving in the valley around the 17th century, 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. Arabian blood was added to refine the breed 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 US, but during WWI many were sent back to France to help in 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, their numbers plummeted to the point of near-extinction after WWII before slowly recovering.
The Percheron is an extremely muscular animal with substantial pulling power capable of long, smooth strides. The head has a straight profile with a broad forehead and large, kind eyes. The chest is wide, the croup long and level, the legs clean and heavily-muscled and the feet well-formed. Percherons are proud, alert, intelligent, and willing horses that are relatively easy keepers.
While only grey or black horses may be registered in France and Great Britain, roan, bay and chestnut Percherons are seen in North America. All registries consider excessive white on the head or legs to be undesirable. Percherons range in height from 16-18 hands and weigh between 860-1,200 kg (1,900-2,600 lbs).
The breed is still used extensively for draft work on farms and in the forestry business, while in France they are also used for food. Percherons are popular for parades and for pulling sleighs, hay wagons, and carriages in city centres and parks. When crossed with lighter horse breeds they produce horses suitable for competition in English disciplines such as dressage and show jumping. Some Thoroughbred/Percheron crosses are employed as police horses.