The Breton horse is a small draft breed that comes from the Brittany region of France. It is shorter and more compact than its larger draft cousins and has been used for every type of activity from farming to war. With an intelligent eye and a calm personality, this horse has been the pride of Brittany for centuries. Owners and breeders are very dedicated to preserving this breed and work tirelessly to promote the Breton.
The early history of the Breton is not fully known. There is speculation that the horse either arrived when the first people migrated from Asia or that they were brought to the mountainous region of France by Celtic warriors.
Regardless of how they arrived, these horses have been roaming the mountains for thousands of years. They were domesticated by the early inhabitants of the region. By the time of the Crusades, they were the favoured war horses. These travelling warriors introduced the first crossbreeding with Oriental breeds. This cross resulted in what is called the Bidet Breton which is now extinct.
The soldiers of the Middle Ages loved this cross due to the sturdiness of the animal as well as its ambling gait, making for an extremely comfortable ride. By the end of the Crusades, many different breeds of horses returned to Brittany from other parts of Europe. The infusion of this blood into the Bidet Breton caused the horse to evolve into two more types, the Summer and the Rousing.
The Sommier was a heavier type of draft used for activities such as ploughing, packing, and heavy pulling. The Roussin was a much lighter horse that proved favourable as a mount. It retained the easy-going amble of its predecessors and was also a high-quality warhorse.
Toward the end of the 19th century, this breed evolved once again into the three sub-categories present in the world today. These three categories are the Draft Breton, the Postier Breton and the Corlay Breton.
- Draft Breton– This sub-category was the result of crossing the Breton with Boulonnais, Ardennes and Percherons. This horse is a heavy and powerful animal used for draft work.
- Postier Breton– This sub-category was the result of crossing the Breton with the Norfolk Roadster, which made an extremely versatile horse. This animal is much lighter and refined, yet retains the great strength of its predecessor. They are the most favoured type in Brittany, possessing a lively and energetic spirit.
- Corlay Breton- This sub-category reflects more of the native mountain blood and is extremely rare. It is the most primitive of the three sub-categories.
The Draft and Postier Breton have a joint studbook which opened in 1926 and then closed in 1951 to all outside blood. Currently, a horse must be born either in Brittany or in the Loire-Atlantique region in order to be registered. The Postier Breton must have documented Postier blood and also pass a performance test requiring them to go in harness. Once registered, horses are branded with a special brand on the left side of their neck. Despite the strict regulations for registered Bretons, frequent breeding goes on outside of the region and France as well.
Today, the Breton is used mainly for riding, heavy draft and farm work. There are many shows and driving competitions for owners to show off the beauty and prowess of these animals. The Breton is also raised for meat, as horse is fairly common cuisine in other parts of the world.
One of their most popular uses though is to improve other breeds. They were instrumental in the creation of the Swiss Frieberger and had a great influence on the Canadian horse. They were even used to produce draft mules in India. They crossbreed well with other horse and infuse strength and an intelligent temperament into the resulting offspring.
The Breton is found in two main colours: chestnut and chestnut roan. It is common to see a flaxen main and tail. Some of the horses exhibit a dark cross on the withers which comes from its more primitive ancestry. The Postier Breton is very compact and has a head which is attractive with a nice, crested neck. The legs are heavy and clean, with great action. They are quite wide through the chest and possess a nice hip and well-sprung rib.
Overall, they are pleasing to the eye with a compact and excellent conformation. They usually stand between 15 hands and 16 hands. The Draft Breton exhibits the same conformation as the Postier except the Drafts are heavier and a bit shorter, usually not exceeding 15.2 hands.