Horses For Dummies
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Not all breeds have substantial numbers of horses in their ranks. Plenty of smaller, lesser-known breeds exist and are popular among certain factions of the horse world. These types of horses have characteristics that set them apart and make them attractive to people who want something specific from their horses.


Although purebreds are the name of the game for many people, some prefer crossbred horses. Crossbred horses possess characteristics from both of the breeds in their parentage, which is why some people prefer them to purebreds. They believe they’re getting the best of two breeds instead of one.

Some crossbreds have their own registries, such as the Morab (Morgan/Arabian), Azteca (Andalusian/Quarter Horse), and National Show Horse (Standardbred/Arabian). Others are recognized by the registry of one of the parent breeds, such as the Appaloosa (may have one Quarter Horse, Arabian or Thoroughbred parent), Quarter Horse (may have one Thoroughbred parent) and Paint (may have one or two Quarter Horse parents).

Other crossbreds can be the result of experiments conducted by individual breeders and can feature any two breeds that someone decided to put together. Crossbreeding has been a staple of the equine industry for centuries and has resulted in the development of a number of pure breeds. It also results in grade horses, which are the well-loved mutts of the equine world (see the nearby “Making the grade horse” sidebar).

Draft breeds

Draft horses are living relics of humanity’s agricultural past. Originally bred for hundreds of years to pull heavy loads, draft breeds were used only until recently to work farms around the globe. When motorized tractors replaced draft horses in agricultural society, these magnificent creatures nearly died out. The work and dedication of people who love these horses saved draft horses from sure extinction.

Today, draft horses are used mostly for showing and exhibition, although some still are used to work small farms and perform other hauling jobs not suited to trucks and tractors. Draft horses are also ridden, and because of their docile temperaments, make wonderful — if not rather large — companions.

Although draft horses still are considered rare, you can find several breeds of them in North America. Each of the breeds in the following sections has an American registry and a good number of devotees in various countries.


American Belgians differ somewhat from their European counterparts. Belgians in the United States are larger, heavier horses than those seen in the breed’s native country. American Belgians stand around 18 hands and are mostly seen in one coloration: sorrel with a flaxen (blond) mane and tail.

Belgian horse Photo by: CliX Photography

These days, Belgians are used primarily in the show ring and for pulling contests. Some Midwestern American farmers still use Belgian teams to work their fields, as do many of the Amish in the United States. You can see a Belgian in the color section.


The Clydesdale probably is the most well-known of all the draft breeds, thanks to Anheuser-Busch. Clydesdale horses have been pulling the Budweiser beer wagon for decades, and are regularly seen in the company’s TV commercials and in exhibitions around the country.

Clydesdales usually come in a bay coloration, although they can also be seen in chestnut, black, brown, and roan. These horses can be anywhere from 16.1 to 18 hands in height. They have wonderful dispositions and are often used for riding as well as pulling.

Gypsy Horse

The Gypsy Horse is also known as the Gypsy Vanner and the Gypsy Cob, depending on which registry you look at. This stunning, small draft horse traces its roots to the Traveler people of the United Kingdom, who used this horse to pull their colorful wagons from town to town in the 1800s. The breed became known in the U.S. in the 1990s and has become well known for it’s striking markings, long mane and tail, and feathered — that is, hairy — legs.

Gypsy Horses make good riding horses because of their smaller size, and they are often used for trail riding, parades, and horse shows. They are most often seen in black and white, but they actually come in a variety of horse colors.


Percherons are seen only in gray or black, and average around 16 hands in height — a little on the short side for a draft horse. What they lack in height, they make up for in bulk. They are strong and stocky horses.

You can ride Percherons or use them to pull carts and wagons; this breed is shown extensively in the United States. They’re known for having calm personalities and being trainable.


Shires are attractive horses with heavy feathering around their fetlocks (ankles) and long fuzzy beards on their jaws. They are medium height for a draft breed, measuring anywhere from 16 to 17.2 hands.

Shires are shown in harness and at halter in the United States and in other countries. The breed is often seen pulling beer wagons at events in Great Britain, and some people still use Shires to haul goods in other parts of the world.

Suffolk Punch

The Suffolk Punch, or simply Suffolk, is a smaller draft horse, measuring in at around 16 hands. An unusual aspect to the breed is its single color; Suffolks only come in chestnut (which devotees of the breed spell chesnut in the archaic way).

Suffolks are still used to do field work and pull wagons for exhibitions, but they’re also shown and ridden.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

Connie Isbell is a former editor and writer atAudobon magazine, as well as the editor of numerous pet books. Audrey Pavia is the author of many books on pets and animals, including the bestselling Horses For Dummies and The Rabbit: An Owner's Guide to a Happy Healthy Pet. She has been a frequent contributor to numerous pet publications, editor-in -chief of Horse Illustrated, and senior editor of The AKC Gazette.

Audrey Pavia is the former editor of Horse Illustrated magazine and an award-winning writer of numerous articles on equine subjects. The author of seven books about horses, she has also contributed to Thoroughbred Times, Horse & Rider, and many other animal magazines.

Janice Posnikoff, DVM, is a highly respected equine veterinarian with over 20 years experience. She is a graduate of the Western College of Veterinarian Medicine, University of Saskatchewan, Canada.

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