The Comtois (pronounced con-twah) horse is a type of small draft horse that originated in the French-Comte region of France. They are shorter in height, but very heavy in muscling and bone. They have a beautiful color, being a dark chestnut with a flaxen mane and tail. The are used for all types of work and riding, and also for meat production in France.
The Comtois is a very ancient breed of horse. It is believed that they originated in the fourth century from German that was imported. It is also thought that their appearance is very similar to the foundations of the breed, and that they have not changed much throughout the centuries.
In the 16 century they were used as improvement stock for the Burgundy horse. Then they were improved upon themselves by Boulonnias, Percheron and Norman blood. They have also been improved with Ardennes blood which have given them an increase in strength and soundness.
They were quited a favorite of the French military, and were used as Calvary mounts and as artillery drafts by the army of Louis XIV as well as by Napoleon for his attacks on Russia.
Today they are bred in the mountainous areas of Massif Central, The Alps, and the Pyrenees. This is the climatedto which they are most suited, and are durable and able to handle the rough seasons and the difficult terrain. They are used here mainly for work in the forests and vineyards, and are also raised for the consumption of their meat. In fact, this is one of their main purposes today, and it has highly influenced the body type and characteristics of the breed. They are bred more specifically for muscle and bulk, and oftentimes soundness and ability are overlooked.
The Comtois is shorter in stature, generally standing under 15 hands tall. They are very bulky, and exhibit many draft characteristics, such as a thick, bulky neck, a large angular head, and abundant feathering on their fetlocks.
The head should be large and straight in profile, with wide set eyes, ears that are small, neat and alert, and should have a jaw that is well defined. The neck should be large and muscular, and should tie nicely into a sloping shoulder. The shoulder itself should also posses a good amount of muscle, and the chest should be wide and deep. The forearm should exhibit muscling, and the legs should be straight, with good bone and the hooves should be strong, large and round. Knees should be broad and flat, and should not buck over or bow back. They should also have good clean tendons suited for maintaining soundness over a variety of terrains. The back should be short, broad and strong, the ribcage should be deep, and the underline should compliment the top line nicely. The croup should have a nice slope, and the hind should be well muscled and appear to be balanced with the shoulder. The gaskin should be well muscled and tie into a clean and well angled hock.
This breed is prone to being sickled hocked, which decreases its soundness and versatility. The legs are, in general, short and stocky which is important in maintaining soundness over the difficult and rocky terrain of which they are accustomed to. The over all appearance of the horse should be pleasing and attractive to the eye. They are always a beautiful chestnut color, with a flaxen mane and tail, and the feathering around their fetlocks is generally a flaxen color as well.
Their movement is surprisingly fluid and graceful, and they are pleasurable to ride under saddle. They vary in temperament, with most being of a calm and amiable nature, with a few who are more fiery. In general though, they are calmer due to their cool draft blood. They posses a dogged stamina, and are not fast or quick, but are steady in movement and ability. They are also highly trainable, and are used for everything from driving and heavy draft work by those who have no need or desire for a tractor, to dressage and show jumping. Many people own them as pets or for pleasure and trail riding. They are also popular to use as a team for novelty driving and carriage companies. They have an affectionate and loving nature, and get along quite well with their human counterparts. There are close to 14,000 purebred Comtois horses in the world today.
At the time of writing this article, there were no known Comtois horses in Australia.