Heavy horses are thought to have originated in North Central Europe. Around 500 to 1000 AD, a heavy horse referred to as ‘The Black Horse of Flanders' settled in the European low country. This horse is known to be the father of modern draught horses. Early on, they were a preferred mount for armour-clad knights in battle.
Heavy horses spread throughout Europe. As the processes of selective breeding and acclimatisation to local environments took effect, different breeds of these horses emerged. Their temperaments and physical conformation were ideal for heavy haulage and heavy duty labour such as ploughing and other farming activities. Hence, they have become known as ‘draught' horses.
During early industrialisation, draught horses were indispensable. In order to develop transportation, agriculture and construction, the labour of these powerful horses was required. Breeding them became a profitable business and draught horses were exported throughout the world.
Although draught horses contributed to the military effort in World War One, the advent of mechanical power and technological development saw modern machinery replace so called ‘horse-power'. Consequently, draught horses suffered a severe decline in breeding, some breeds verging on extinction.
The existence and growing popularity of draught horses today was made possible by loyal, committed and dedicated breeders throughout the world.
Today, draught horses are extremely versatile. They are seen in an array of activities including farming, showing, pulling competitions, exhibitions and recreational riding. Under saddle, they are competent performers, although this may be better suited to lighter draught breeds. Sometimes they are cross-bred with Thoroughbreds with the intention of developing sport horses. Perhaps the most promising prospect for draught horses is the recent shift towards environmentalism. Where individual farmers seek ‘green power', draught horses are a viable alternative.
In Australia, the Australian Draught Horse, Shire, Belgian, Clydesdale, Pecheron and the Suffolk Punch are the exhibited draft breeds. Agricultural shows hold conformation, trade and turnout classes and at field days, draught breed disciplines include long reining, pulling, ploughing and novelty events.
Draught breeds are typically 16 to 19 hands high and weigh between 1400 to 2000 lb. They are generally tall and muscular with an upright shoulder and strong hindquarters. Heavy bones are also characteristic.
THE AUSTRALIAN DRAFT HORSE
When English and Flemmish cart breeds were exported to Australia in the early 1800's, it marked the beginning of draught horses in Australia. Although Van Dieman's Land (Tasmania) was at the forefront of breeding, the demands of the gold rush and agricultural development saw a steady rise in breeding throughout the country. Victoria favoured Clydesdales, Northern NSW preferred Suffolk Punch and Shire horses were popular throughout the other states.
The Australian Draught horse developed through the cross-breeding of the Clydesdale, Pecheron, Suffolk and the Shire. Belgian genes have also been included. Accordingly, it possesses features and characteristics of all four pure breeds. Early on, the Australian Draught horse was used for civilian transport, ploughing, and pulling wagons.
Australian Draught horses may appear in all solid colours. Typically, they stand between 16-17 hands high, and weigh between 600 and 900 kg. Common features include a medium length neck, a wide chest, hindquarter and hip and a well muscled shoulder.
Today, the Australian Draught competes in ploughing competitions, harness and lead classes and occasionally in forestry when machinery is not viable. The Australian Draught Horse Stud Book Society was established in 1979.