Draft horse shows are horse showing competitions designed specifically for draft horses. Most draft horse shows involve a driving portion in which the ability of the strong breed of horse is showcased. The draft horse show is a much like other animal shows, in which the horses are judged on their breeding, power, appearance, grooming, and ability to perform movements that showcase the horse. Draft show horses must be obedient and graceful as they show off their immense size and gentle nature.

History of Draft Horses

Draft horses were quickly on the rise at the start of the Industrial Revolution. As the countries that were industrialized began to expand, draft horses were needed to carry heavy loads across country. Draft horses were also needed on expanding farms. The draft horses were able to pull heavy plowing equipment. Draft horses were used to transport heavy loads, as well as pull carts and wagons for daily transportation.

The industrial revolution also marked the decline in the use of draft horses. As motorized farm equipment was developed, the use of horse-pulled ploughs declined as it was a slower method of reaping the fields. As the automobile became more readily available, less people needed to enlist draft horses for transportation. For a while, it seemed as though the gentle giants were becoming obsolete.

Fortunately, the draft horse did not die out entirely, though things looked grim after the industrialization of the modern world. In the United States, Amish and Mennonite groups refused the modern technologies of automobiles and tractors. The use of draft horses to plough fields is still in use in these cultures today. Additionally, draft horses are enlisted for parades and fairs. Multiple hitches pulling vast wagons is used in a traditional fashion.

Many cities across the world use draft horses for authentic carriage rides through the streets of the city. The beauty of the lively and regal draft horses against the backdrop of a modern and busy city holds a romantic appeal for many. The logging industry has re-enlisted the use of draft horses due to growing environmental factors. Draft horses play a utilitarian role, and still others use them solely for horse showing.

Draft Horse Breeds

Draft horse is a general term which includes a variety of breeds that hold the same draft horse characteristics. All draft horses are much larger than other horses. They are also slower, though they have incredible strength and endurance. The build of draft horses in compact and thick, with shorter legs and low set body. Draft horses stand between 15 3/4 and 17 1/2 hands high and weigh a whopping 1,600 to 2,200 pounds. Generally, the horses can be divided into heavy drafters, which are larger than their light counterparts.

The main breeds of draft horses are Belgian, Percheron, Clydesdale, Shire, Suffolk and Mule. The Belgian draft horse comes from Belgium and is one of the heaviest draft breeds. The Belgian is very compact with short, wide and thick bodies, short necks and muscular hind quarters. Belgian horses are very easy in temperament, as they are calm and docile.

Percheron horses come from France. Percheron horses have a slightly more refined appearance than other, thick draft breeds. The Percheron has a good trot, in addition to a walk and is thus a bit more swift than other draft breeds. The loins of the Percheron are very muscular, but also smooth.

The Clydesdale is one of the most recognisable of draft breeds. Clydesdale are a lighter weight for a draft horse. The Clydesdale is generally not as compact and thick in appearance and thus is slightly more agile in movement. The movement of this particular breed is characteristically snappy, with sharp, clean strides both walking and trotting. The Clydesdale is perhaps best known for the long feathery hair on the legs that cover the hoof. Generally, the hair a bright white colour.

The Shire breed of draft horse originated in England. The Shire is one of the largest of the draft breeds. Generally, they weigh over 2,000 pounds or more. These horses are also slightly taller than most draft breeds, which makes their body style a little less compact. Shire horses are known for being a bit apathetic and sluggish. Shire horses also have the long feather hair on their legs, like the Clydesdale.

The Suffolk breed also originated in England. The Suffolk horse is always chestnut in colour, and there is little variety in the shading. Suffolk horses are round in appearance and stand reasonably tall with straight legs, large knees and broad hocks.

A mule is still considered a draft horse, though it is in fact a hybrid cross between a mare and a jackass. Mules are different then horses in body type; the mule’s body is more narrow, longer and smaller body shape. The mule is more calm than a horse and is more able to withstand unfavorable conditions and rough circumstances.

Draft Horse Show Judging

Draft horse show judging is based greatly upon the appearance of the horse. Each attribute of the horse, from grooming to conformation. Horses are brought in the arena and made to walk and trot in patterns for the judge to be able to view the horse in motion. Judges are also watching for the temperament of the horse. The horse should be alert, but calm and relaxed. As draft horses often appear sluggish, this can be an additional challenge in horse showing.

Draft horses will also be shown in hitches. The driving portions of competitions are usually divided into classes. In the United States and Canada, divisions are ladies cart, men’s cart, team, tandem, unicorn, four, six or eight. Often, the horses drive the carriage in a half figure-eight formation to show them to their best advantage. Carriages are also driven in a full figure-eight position. In hitch showing, each horse is judged along with the overall team effort of the horses.

Teams of horses are harnessed together in these hitch competitions. The lead team is the team in front while the wheel team is the team closest to the carriage or wagon. The swing team characterises any team between the lead team and the wheel team. Team can be arranged as string teams, bunch teams or abreast teams. String teams lines up pairs of draft horses with plenty of space for each animal to avoid the horses running into each other. The bunch teams line up horses more than two across, and often four or more across. These teams can be made up of over 36 horses all hitched together. Abreast teams are made up of draft horses all lined up side by side in which the lead team and the wheel team are one and the same. These teams are often difficult to control when more than four horses are hitched together.

Draft horse showing is a sport that showcases the largest, and according to some, most magnificent breed of horses. Draft horses has the most gentle disposition despite their great strength. Feats of incredible strength are showcased in draft horse shows. The gentle giants are easy to train and enjoyable to watch. Thankfully, more uses for the horses were found after the industrial revolution so that the massive and amazing draft horse is no longer a thing of the past.

Veterinary Surgeon, London at Blue Cross UK | + posts

A London based Veterinary surgeon, Sanja is also an avid writer and pet advocate.