The Belgian horse is called by a variety of names, including the Belgian Heavy Draft, the Belgian Draft and the Brabant. However, to make things even more confusing, the Brabant is now considered a separate breed in North America as of 1998 when the American Brabant Association was formed. No matter what this lovable and intelligent horse is called, the Belgian horse is the most popular draft horse breed in the United States and is still a popular breed in its native Belgium and France.
History and Origins of the Brabant Horse
The Belgian horse originated in a part of what is now Belgian territory but was then French territory called the Brabant. Bonnie Hendrick’s comprehensive 1995 book International Encyclopedia of Horse Breeds points out that skeletons of ancient draft horses many thousands of years old have been found in the Brabant area. These are thought to be the ancestors of many draft horse breeds in Europe.
Draft horses were ridden by knights since they were the only horses strong enough to carry a knight with armor. When the gun made mounted knights obsolete, the Belgian horse found new work with farmers, loggers and anyone that needed heavy objects moved a long distance. Belgians first arrived in America in 1866. Despite the mechanization of farms, the breed has still survived.
Brabant Breed Particularities
Belgians are large, muscular yet versatile horses able to do a wide variety of tasks asked of them. They are often used in breeding programs for mules and sport horses since they provide added height and strength as well as a gentle disposition to the resulting foals. Belgians have also been used in breeding bucking horses for rodeos, since the strong buckers produced can be handled easily on the ground – as long as no one tries to ride them.
Physical Characteristics of Belgian Horses
Belgians are large in both height and weight. They average 17 hands high but have grown as high as 20 hands. Their average weight is one ton or 2,000 pounds. Even the foals are large, often tipping the scales at 125 pounds at birth. Stallions are larger and heavier than mares. They have rounded bodies with short backs and short, thick legs for added strength. They also have small ears for such large heads.
Manes and tails can get thick and shaggy unless trimmed. Legs grow ample “feathers” of hair but not as much as other draft breeds. The most common color is sorrel (also called chestnut) but the occasional red roan or bay is seen. The most prized color is a sorrel with a blonde mane and tail, a blaze and four white stockings. Color can change slightly as the foal matures and then ages.
Belgian Horse’s Temperament
Draft horses are traditionally called “cold-blooded” in that they are far more difficult to spook than leaner horses. Perhaps draft horses know that they are far too large for most predators and so are not as prone to run away or panic as other horses or ponies are. The temperament of the Belgian horse has been a blessing and curse to the breed. Because of its gentle nature, Belgians are often bred for meat or for the harvesting of pregnant mare urine for hormone replacement therapies in menopausal women.
Having a Belgian Horse
Keeping a Belgian horse is huge financial commitment. Belgian owners know that this is money well-spent as they enjoy the companionship and athleticism of their four-legged friends. Buying a Belgian horse is often less than $1000 since they are often found in animal shelters and rescues from slaughterhouses or pregnant mare urine farms.
Draft horses need to eat three times as much as a regular horse which leads to three times as many food bills. Breeding horses or horses that work heavily need to eat grain as well as hay or they will lose muscle and overall health. Hay costs anywhere from $4 to $25 depending on where the horse lives and drought conditions. Just feeding a Belgian horse costs around $3000 per year.
Other expenses to consider noted by The Horse magazine include:
- Manure removal: Belgians produce more stool than regular horses and it has to go somewhere. Paying someone to haul it away can cost an average of $200 per year.
- Boarding: Most horses live at boarding stables and not on their owner’s property. These cost an average of $500.
- Veterinary fees: Horses need vaccinations, deworming and annual tooth checks which can cost anywhere from $1000 to $15,000 per year.
- Shoes: It may be hard to find a local farrier to shoe draft horses. When one is found, expect to pay about $75 to $300 every six weeks.
- Blanket: Even draft horses need a blanket in bad weather to stay healthy. An average cost is $150.
- Tack: Draft horse tack needs to be specially made to accommodate a Belgian horse’s huge frame. This costs thousands of dollars for new equipment and about $1000 for good used tack.
- Miscellaneous: It’s amazing how much stuff a horse needs to be happy and healthy. These include fry sprays, fly masks, brushes, hoof picks, shampoos, conditioner, shovels, buckets, water troughs, fencing and on and on. Expect to pay at least $500 per year.
Common Uses of Belgian Horses
Belgian horses can be found in a wide variety of work from pulling carriages for tourists to being ridden in horse shows. They are the draft breed of choice for the Amish communities of North America, for small farmers and for logging in places where machines cannot get to. Belgians have been police horses, horses for handicapped riding programs and winners in pulling contests, where the winner is the horse or pair of horses that pull the heaviest load the furthest.
However, in most countries, Belgians are bred for horsemeat for people and pets. Belgians are also the breed of choice in the pregnant mare urine harvest industry since Belgian mares are gentle, produce more urine than a regular-sized mare and usually do have trouble conceiving. The foals and infertile mares are then sold for slaughter.
Image taken from depositphotos.com.