Large horse breeds have been developed over the centuries to perform jobs that require massive size and strength. Most large horses are calm and easy-going. However, the demand for sporting horses has resulted in several tall and feisty warm-blooded breeds.
Here we look at 12 of the largest horse breeds found across the world. Some of these horses are well known for their size, looks, and capabilities. Good records and careful breeding have been the key to creating some of the largest horse breeds around today.
Where Does The Shire Horse Come From?
The shire horse is considered the largest horse breed. The shire breed can be traced back to the mid 18th century in Leicestershire. Shires carry the bloodline of the English Great Horse, a popular warhorse during the reign of Henry VIII.
Characteristics Of Shire Horses
Stallions often weigh over 1 ton and average above 17 hands. A Shire horse named Mammoth is the world’s largest recorded horse and weighed 1,524 kilograms (3 360 pounds). He stood at 21.2 hands, also making him the tallest horse.
Shire horses have been bred for an easygoing temperament and are usually black, grey, or bay in color. The shire horse breed has an impressive capacity to pull heavy loads. A pair are said to have pulled over 45 tons.
What Are Shire Horses Used For?
Historically they have been used to pull road carts and barges along the canal. Some breweries still use shire horses to deliver beer. They are also used in forestry to haul logs out of areas where vehicles can’t reach.
Where Does The Percheron Come From?
Percheron horses are one of the largest horse breeds and come from France in the Huisne Valley of the Perche province.
Characteristics Of Percheron Horses
They stand at 15-19 hands and weigh between 810- 1180kg/ 1800- 2600 pounds.
Percherons have muscular legs but, unlike most draft horses, no feathers on the feet. They have thick and often wavey manes and tails. Acceptable colors for this horse breed are black, bay, brown, roan, sorrel, and chestnut.
These large horses are intelligent and always willing to work. They hold themselves with an elegant and proud posture. Percherons are steady and reliable which makes them a good horse for a nervous rider.
What Are Percherons Used For?
Originally these large horses were bred for war and later used for pulling stagecoaches. Today Percherons are mostly used in harnesses for carriages, carts, and sleighs. Percherons are often crossbred with thoroughbreds to get a lighter sport horse for English disciplines.
Where Does The Clydesdale Come From?
The Clydesdale is a Scottish draft horse. They get their name from the River Clyde in Lanarkshire where they were originally bred for farm work and hauling coal.
Characteristics Of Clydesdale Horses
These giants average between 17-18 hands in height and 900kg/ 2000 pounds in weight.
Clydesdale horses are known for their gigantic feathered feet which are often said to be the size of dinner plates. These draft horses are mostly brown or bay in color with white feet and a white face. They walk and trot with a dramatic high stepping action
What Are Clydesdales Used For?
This is one of the most recognizable draft breeds due to their appearance in Budweiser marketing campaigns. Today the breed is rising in popularity and is still used as a draft horse for logging. They are ridden for leisure and popular as carriage horses at parades.
Belgian Draft Horse (Brabant)
Where Does The Belgian Draft Come From?
Belgian Draft Horses are also known as Brabants. These horses were selectively bred to be bulkier and heavier in Europe while the American Belgians/ Brabants were bred to be taller and lighter.
Characteristics Of Belgian Draft Horses
The 2010 record holder as the world’s tallest horse was a Belgian Draft called ‘Big Jake’, he stood at just over 20hands (6-foot-10). Sadly he passed away in July 2021.
Belgian Drafts are generally between 16-17 hands tall and weigh an average of just over 900kg/ 2 000 pounds. Their coats are usually bay, chestnut roan, or sorrel in color. They have a broad chest and powerful hindquarters. The legs of a Belgian Draft are short compared to their bulky, muscular bodies.
What Are Belgian Draft Horses Used For?
The Belgian draft is said to be one of the strongest horse breeds. Today the breed is known for being patient and docile. Belgian Drafts are now also popular as riding horses and at horse shows.
Dutch Draft Horse
Where Does The Dutch Draft Come From?
Dutch draft horses are native to the Zeeland province of the Netherlands and are also called the “Nederlands Trekperd”. Zeeland mares were crossed with Ardennes and Brabant stallions to create this large horse breed.
Characteristics Of Dutch Draft Horses
Like most other draft horses, the Dutch draft has good Stamina. This horse moves with an easy and unhurried walk. They are cold-blooded horses, showing a calm and quiet temperament.
The Dutch draft is usually bay, grey, chestnut, and, less often, black with long feathers around the feet. They average 16 hands and weigh between 700-750kg/ 1453-1653 pounds.
What Are Dutch Draft Horses Used For?
Dutch drafts were bred to be one of the largest horse breeds. They are massive and strong, perfect for heavy farmwork and hauling loads. These horses are sometimes ridden in dressage competitions as well as for driving and agricultural work.
Suffolk Punch Horse
Where Does The Suffolk Punch Come From?
The Suffolk punch is one of the rarest horse breeds in the world with only around 800 of them left in England and the US. This is the oldest breed of working horses in England and originates in Suffolk and Norfolk. It is the only draft horse that has been bred exclusively for farm work.
Characteristics Of Suffolk Punch Horses
Suffolk Punches are always a shade of chestnut. They have short muscular legs and show good stamina with an energetic gait. They are moderately sized in comparison to other draft breeds standing 16-17 hands and weighing an average of 820kg/ 1800 pounds.
What Are Suffolk Punch Horses Used For?
The Suffolk Punch is strong and was used to pull artillery during the wars as well as commercial wagons and buses. Today they are still used for plowing, forestry, and farm work. The Suffolk Punch trust was founded in 2002 to help protect this critically endangered breed.
Where Does The Australian Draught Come From?
The Australian Draught horse was created in Australia by crossing Clydesdales, Percherons Shire horses, and Suffolk Punch horses. Belgian blood was later introduced into the breed.
Until the 1850s, bullocks were used to pull carts in Australia. There was a demand for an efficient horse breed. Australian Draughts were bred to be able to move heavy loads of timber and work at the gold mines.
Characteristics Of Australian Draught Horses
Traits from the incorporated breeds are evident including an array of coat colors. Overly white faces were seen as detrimental under Australia’s harsh sun but white below the knees is acceptable. Australian droughts have wide chests and hindquarters. They are 16-17 hands tall.
What Are Australian Draught Horses Used For?
These are spirited but friendly and calm horses overall. Today Australian Draughts are still used for draught work and also kept as a novelty and ridden. They are shown at draught horse shows and compete in annual plowing competitions.
Where Does The Jutland Horse Come From?
Jutland is a Danish horse whose lineage can be traced back to the horses bred on the Jutland peninsula. Their lineage may go as far back as the Vikings. The breed was created using Suffolk Punch horses and these two draft breeds are similar in appearance and movement.
Characteristics Of Jutland Horses
Jutland Horses are round and compact in shape with straight shoulders and low withers. They have a short arched neck and a convex face.
They are energetic and enthusiastic horses with a strong willingness to work. Jutland’s are also known to be kind and gentle.
What Are Jutland Horses Used For?
They are used for general and endurance riding as well as draft work.
The Carlsberg brewery has a close association with Jutland Horses. At one point the brewery had over 200 Jutlands, 20 are still used to transport beer around Copenhagen.
Where Does The Boulonnais Come From?
The Boulonnais horse is a French breed developed by the Count of Bologne. They are often called the ‘White Marble Horse’ because of their striking white-grey or dappled coats.
Boulonnais horse origins can be traced back to the 12th century when French breeds were crossed with German and Arabian horses to create a strong horse for knights to ride.
Characteristics Of Boulonnais Horses
Although large, they are surprisingly elegant compared to other draft horse breeds.
The preference for white coats may be attributed to fish merchants in the 18th century. These tradesmen rode at night and favored the visibility of a white horse. Chestnut and black coats are also accepted.
What Are Boulonnais Horses Used For?
Over the centuries Boulonnais horses have been valued for their beauty and work ethic. Registered horses are usually branded with a small anchor mark on the neck. The Boulonnais horse is often crossed with Percherons to create a jumping and dressage horse.
Where Does The Thoroughbred Come From?
The Thoroughbred is a horse breed that was created in England for speed and jumping ability. Al modern thoroughbreds can be traced back to three founding stallions; the Darley Arabian, the Godolphin Arabian, and the Byerly Turk.
Characteristics Of Thoroughbred Horses
Characteristics of thoroughbreds include a small head, deep chest and straight back. Shorter leg bones are advantageous for a longer stride. These horses are slim compared to other horse breeds and have an average of 450kg/ 1000 pounds in weight and 16 hands in height.
Thoroughbreds are often highly strung and spirited horses. Horses, where only one parent is thoroughbred, are called a grade thoroughbred or a half-bred.
What Are Thoroughbred Horses Used For?
Thoroughbreds are one of the fastest breeds in the world reaching top speeds of 71km/ 43miles an hour. Today thoroughbreds can be found in most countries and are still used for racing as well as crossing to improve other horse breeds’ speed and stamina.
Where Does The Hanoverian Horse Come From?
The Hanoverian is a warmblood German breed that goes back to 1735 and King George II, Elector of Hannover. Breeding stock was rigorously selected to create the ideal high-class coach horse that was also suited to cavalry riding.
Over the years, thoroughbred blood was bred into the Hanoverian to create a more agile and graceful horse breed. The records of this breed are especially well kept and horses’ lineage can be traced through multiple generations.
Characteristics Of Hanoverian Horses
Hanoverians are intelligent and trainable with an elegant yet robust build. Although not the largest horse breed, they are generally tall horses between 15.3 and 17.3 hands.
What Are Hanoverian Horses Used For?
Today the Hanoverian warmblood is one of the most successful athletic breeds in the world. These competitive horses often qualify for the Olympic games and compete in multiple English riding disciplines.
Where Does The Fresian Come From?
The Friesian horse is a breed from the Netherlands in the northern province of Friesland. Their early ancestors were used for carrying knights into battle and needed exceptional strength. In historical artwork, Willam the Conqueror appears to be riding a Friesian horse.
Characteristics Of Fresian Horses
These are strikingly beautiful black horses that have long flowing manes and tails with feathered feet. They have characteristically short ears and long, arched necks. Friesians build is that of a light draft horse only more graceful. They are known for their energetic high-stepping trot.
What Are Fresian Horses Used For?
Fresian horses usually have a docile nature but are capable of high-energy action. They are ridden under saddle, ín shows, and are flashy in harness. Their graceful movements and stunning looks mean Friesians are growing in popularity as dressage horses.