History of the Draft Horse
The Ice Age Leads to the Heavy Type Horse

Europe and south to the Middle East and Northern Africa. With the coming of the Pleistocene, (the last ice age), many of the horses were isolated for long periods of
time by massive glaciers. These groups eventually developed distinct characteristics in order to survive their particular environments. One type was a large heavy
Over millions of years, the early horse migrated across the Bering land bridge from North America into what is now Siberia. From there, they spread across Asia into
Europe and south to the Middle East and Northern Africa. With the coming of the Pleistocene, (the last ice age), many of the horses were isolated for long periods of
time by massive glaciers. These groups eventually developed distinct characteristics in order to survive their particular environments. One type was a large heavy
food source. After the glaciers receded, the heavy horse spread throughout Europe. By the early Medieval period (500 to 1,000 A.D.), a particular type of heavy horse
known as the "Black Horse of Flanders" had settled in the European low country, in what is presently Belgium and Northern France. This would be the father of all
modern draft horses.
Draft Animals in Early America
Oxen Provide Power for 18th Century American Farms
Throughout the 18th and early 19th centuries, horses in America were used primarily for riding and pulling light vehicles.
Although two draft type horses, the Conestoga Horse and the Vermont Drafter, were developed in the new nation, both were
absorbed into the general horse population by 1800. Oxen were the preferred draft animal on most American Farms. They cost
half as much as horses, required half the feed and could be eaten when they died or were no longer useful. Oxen, however,
worked only half as fast as horses, their hooves left them virtually useless on frozen winter fields and roads, and physiologically
they were unsuitable for pulling the new farm equipment developed in the 19th century. The revolution in agricultural technology,
westward expansion, and the growth of American cities during the nineteenth century, led to the emergence of the draft horse as
America's principal work animal.
Larger Farms Need Greater Horsepower
The Acreage One Family Could Cultivate Increased As Technology And Equipment Improved
The average American farm in 1790 was 100 acres. This figure more than doubled over the next 60 years. By 1910, 500
acre wheat farms were not uncommon. While oxen and light horses had been adequate for tilling the long-worked fields of
Europe and the eastern United States, a stronger power source was needed to work the sticky, virgin soil of the American
due to westward migration and casualties from the Civil War. This created a greater demand for the new farm equipment
and draft horses to power them. By 1900, there were over 27,000 purebred Belgians, Clydesdales, Percherons, Shires, and
Suffolk Punches in the United States. Although the purebred draft stock was seldom used in the field, the infusion of their
blood resulted in a increase of the average horse size to between 1,200 and 1,500 pounds by 1900.
American Becomes World Breadbasket
The Revolution of Agriculture Technology

the new equipment. In 1862, Congress passed the Morril Land Grant Act which led to the establishment of state agricultural
there was a corresponding improvement in the care, feeding and breeding of horses.

The new and improved farm equipment greatly increased the productivity of the American farmer. With the McCormick reaper,
which both cut and tied grains into stocks, one man could do the work of thirty. New steel plows, double-width harrows and
horsepower. Toward the end of the century, the typical Midwestern wheat farm had ten horses, which each worked an average
of 600 hours per year. During harvest, it was not unusual to see giant combines pulled by teams of over forty draft horses.

With the use of new equipment and fertilizers, wheat yields increased seven times between 1850 and 1900. Better rail and
steamship transportation opened new markets in America's growing cities and in Europe. America was coming of age as a
world agricultural power.
The Draft Horse In Urban America
Horse Powered Mass Transportation Opens The Suburbs

The Draft Horse played a significant role in the growth of urban America. From the end of the Civil War to the beginning
of World War I, the United States was in transition from an agrarian to an urban society. As cities, grew, so did the
need for mass transportation. The luxury of a private carriage or the regular use of cabs was beyond the means of the
average city dweller. Therefore, prior to reasonably priced and effective horse powered mass transit systems, most
people were forced to live within walking distance of their work. This severely restricted the ability of the cities to grow.

The development of draft horse powered mass transit systems allowed the cities to expand into the new suburbs. In
1880, horse-car lines were operating in every city in America with a population of 50,000. By 1886, over 100,000
horses and mules were in use on more than 500 street railways in more than 300 American cities
Horsepower Was Essential For Remote Mining Camps
After the discovery at Sutter's Mill, California in 1849, gold fever swept through the eastern United States. As other
valuable minerals were found throughout the West, mining was established as a major new industry. Surface or placer
deposits of gold were seldom located on navigable streams, and rich lodes of silver ore were usually found on steep
ridges where they had been uncovered by erosion.

As a result, horses were needed to carry supplies to the camps and haul the ore to the railheads. At first, the many
mining camps relied on local Indian ponies. In time, these were often replaced by larger and stronger draft crosses.

As ore was extracted from the "hard rock" mines, smelters were needed to separate the rich minerals from the
impurities. The vast quantities of charcoal required for the smelting process were procured from local forests. This
required strong horses to haul logs from the forest to where they were processed into the needed fuel. Before a mine
was played out, the mountains would be stripped bare of trees for miles in all directions.
Millions of Americans moved westward during the 19th century lured first by the promise of inexpensive or free land, and later by gold, silver and mineral strikes. By
1830 there were 4,500,000 people living west of the Allegheny mountains and the National Road stretched from Baltimore to Vandalia, Illinois.

The offspring of the heavy horse imported for the farms of the Midwest soon found additional uses as the nation moved toward the pacific. The railroads employed
thousands of draft crosses, working side by side with mules and oxen, to carry ties, rails and supplies to the rail heads, and to haul dirt and rock from the excavation
of mountain tunnels. Many of the western stagecoach lines used up to six draft crosses to haul mail and passengers over dangerous, rough roads. By century's end,
large grain farms, comparable to those in the Midwest, had been established on the western prairies. These farms, like their predecessors, relied on draft horses to
power their plows, threshers and combines.
As Cities Grew, So Did The Demand For Powerful Horses
Heavy horses conveyed the mountains of cargo unloaded at city terminals by railroads, steamships, and canal boats; and distributed the goods produced in urban
factories. The vans used for cartage were fifteen to twenty feet long and often carried loads of over ten tons. For the most part, strength and endurance were the prime
considerations in selecting the horses used to haul the goods. Some businesses, on the other hand, used brightly painted delivery wagons pulled by handsomely
matched teams, to advertise their products. Breweries, meat packers, and dairies were particularly fond of this practice, assembling elaborate wagons, powered by
four or six regally harnessed draft horses which, by 1890, averaged 2,000 pounds apiece.

These show hitches soon began to compete in the show ring, especially at the annual International Livestock Show held at the Chicago Stock Yards. Their legacy
Since the total destruction of Jamestown in 1608, one of the greatest dangers faced by urban Americans has been
fire. As cities grew, the magnitude of destruction from urban fires became even greater. With the introduction of
heavier and more efficient steam pumpers and ladder trucks in the 1850's, horses became an integral part of
urban fire departments. Then as now, speed was essential in fire fighting. Intricate systems were developed to
hasten the harnessing of the fire horse teams. When an alarm sounded, stall doors were automatically opened
and the horses were moved below their suspended harness. The harness, complete with hinged collars, was then
dropped onto their backs and quickly secured by the driver. With a good crew, the entire operation could be
completed in around two or three minutes. Fire horses were most always draft crosses selected for speed and
strength. In New York City, the first fire horse was purchased in 1832. By 1906, their number had grown to nearly
The Urban Horse Faced New Competition With The Coming of the 20th Century
the turn of the century, at least half of the 13,500,000 horses in the United States carried between 10% and 50% draft horse
increased European immigration, American cities were experiencing unprecedented growth. New interest in public health, rising
real estate values, and improvements in electric and gasoline powered alternatives to horse power combined to mark the rapid
decline of the horse's significance in the city.

Within a decade, the horse was replaced in public transportation by motorized taxies, electric streetcars, and subways. Large new
gasoline powered trucks had a similar impact on transportation of goods. The new trucks were three times faster (ten miles an
hour) than the horse powered drays, took less room to store, and eliminated the problem of manure disposal. One of the last urban
uses of the horse to succumb to mechanization was the horse-drawn hearse, which continued to be utilized into the 1930's.
World War I
The Horse in Trench Warfare
World War I provided a tragic chapter in the history of the draft horse. In 1913, the year prior to the war, less than one thousand horses
were exported to France and England from America. Over the next five years, total exportation rose to more than one million. As the conflict
was essentially one of trench warfare, light cavalry horses, which numbered over one million, were virtually useless. The primary demand
was for heavier horses, which could pack supplies and ammunition, and haul artillery to the front.

When the American Expeditionary Force entered the war in 1917, they took with them an additional 182,000 horses, Of these, over 60,000
were killed, and many thousands were wounded. Only 200 returned to America after the war. From 1914 to 1918, British veterinary
hospitals in France treated 2,564,549 horses and mules for war inflicted injuries.
Heavy Horses Compete In Show Ring
The modern draft horse is making a strong comeback as a pleasure animal. Registration figures have risen
steadily for all draft breeds over the past two decades. Today, they are found in show rings throughout the country in
halter, conformation, and hitch classes. 1988 marked the inauguration of the North American Six-Horse Hitch

Hundreds of horse pulls are held across the country each year. The best horses from local competitions meet
each year in Michigan at the Hilldale County Fair, home of the world championship horse pull, competing in light
and heavyweight categories.
New Machines Replace The Work Horse
Farmers Look For Smaller, More Economical Horses

The market for heavy horses went into a steady decline after World War I. The reduction in the number of domestic draft horses,
an increased demand for American grain exports, and the improvements in the gasoline powered tractors combined to hasten
the replacement of the draft horse by machines. This was especially true of pure-bred draft stock. In 1920, there were 95,000
registered draft horses in America. By 1945, this figure dropped to under 2,000.

Particularly hard hit were the Clydesdale and the Shire. Both breeds had been used primarily in the city, and were affected earlier
than other draft breeds. The heavy feathering on the feet of the Shire and Clydesdale was considered a maintenance problem on
the farm, therefore diminishing their popularity. What remained of the draft horse market was centered primarily on the farms of
the Midwest. The American farmer looked for a smaller, more economical animal. Belgian breeders responded by breeding a
By the early 1950s, registrations for all draft breeds dropped dramatically, with many breeders going out of business. The
numbers of Shires and Suffolks dropped so low that in 1985 they were listed as "rare" by the American Minor Breeds
The First Important American Work Horse
The Percheron is thought to have descended from the "Black Horse of Flanders", with additional influence coming from the Andalusian and the Arabian after the
Moorish invasion of France in 732 A.D.. The Percheron derives from his name from the small French district of La Perche, southeast of Normandy. They were the first
of the draft breeds to come to America, and remained the most numerous until surpassed by the Belgian in 1937. Edward Harris imported the first four Percherons
to America in 1839. In 1876, the breed's leading importers and breeders established the "National Association of Importers and Breeders of Norman Horses." Two
years later the term "Percheron" replaced "Norman" in the Association's name.

By 1910, the 5,338 American Percheron breeders had registered 31,900 horses over the previous decade. Although the internal combustion engine was rapidly
replacing the horse on city streets, horses still remained the primary agricultural power source through the 1930s.

After the second World War, the tractor virtually destroyed the American market for draft horses. As a result, only 58 Percherons were registered in 1954. With the
renewed interest in draft horses in the 1960's, registrations rose to 1,253 by 1982.
The Elegant Urban Work Horse
was imported to America in 1853, substantial importation did not begin until after the 1880's.

As the new century began, the Shire seemed poised to challenge the Percheron as the nation's most popular draft
horse. From 1990 through 1911 around 6,700 Shires were registered, with approximately 80% being native bred.

of World War I however, the draft horse had virtually been replaced by the truck, subway, and electric streetcar in the
city. At the same time, farmers were looking for a smaller, more economical horse to work the fields.

As the Belgian and Percheron came to dominate the midwest draft horse market, the center of Shire breeding moved
to the West. Still, their numbers continued to drop throughout the 1940s and 50s, with only twenty-five horses
registered from 1950 through 1959.

Today the Shire, like most draft breeds, is making a comeback. By 1985 there were 121 Shires registered in America.
Still A Willing Worker
The draft horse has again found a limited place in American agriculture, especially since the oil shortages of the 1970's. While not
competitive with a tractor in large scale farming, the draft horse can be a practical alternative in small scale and specialty operations.

Grade draft horses can be purchased more reasonably than mechanized equipment, have the distinct advantages of reproducing
themselves, and of providing a ready source of fertilizer.

Draft horses continue to play a role in logging. In selective tree harvesting, horses are much more practical than tractors or other
heavy equipment for removing the downed trees. Ecologically, they do considerably less damage to forest floors, work quietly, and
don't pollute the air.

Above and beyond practical considerations, working with draft horses, either for pleasure or profit, offers men and women the
intangible experience of working with a thinking, breathing animal who has served them faithfully for hundreds of years.
The Most Numerous Draft Breed
Flanders", which existed prior to the time of Julius Caesar around 200 B.C.. In 1866, the first Belgians were imported
to the United States by Dr. A.G. Van Hoorebeke. Twenty-one years later, a group of prominent breeders and importers
formed what would later become "The Belgian Draft Horse Corporation of America." After World War I, Belgian
breeders were among the first to respond to the American farmer's desire for a more compact and therefore more The
Belgian originated in the west European lowlands of Belgium. They are direct descendants of the "Black Horse of
feathering or long hair on their lower legs) and the preference for their predominant chestnut coloring, resulted in the
Belgian surpassing the Percheron as the most numerous of American draft horses in 1937.

As with light horses, modern draft horses are used more and more as pleasure animals. In addition to their limited
and hitch classes, and have also had great success in pulling competitions.
Best Known Draft Breed In America
The Clydesdale originated in the Clyde River Valley of the Scottish county of Lanark when, around 1750, Flemish stallions
were crossed with native mares. The most influential of these sires was Blaze, who was foaled in 1779. He is generally
considered the founding sire of the breed.

The Clydesdale was first brought to North America by Scottish immigrants to Canada around 1850. Although a few of the
breed undoubtedly crossed the northern border into the United States, no major importation of Clydesdales to America
would occur until after the Civil War.  Alex Galbraith and Sons of Janestown, Wisconsin were among the first major
traditional strongholds for Clydesdale breeding.

In 1879, the Clydesdale Breeder's Association of the United States was established in Illinois. The first volume of their
studbook was published three years later. By the end of the 19th century, the Clydesdale was the third most numerous draft
breed in America, and was well established in both rural and urban America.Following the European tradition, many
companies, especially breweries, put together colorful four and six horse hitches to help advertise their products. Since the
repeal of prohibition, the Budweiser Clydesdales have carried on this tradition, helping to make the Clydesdale one of the
most recognizable breeds in America.
the only draft horse bred exclusively for farming. Suffolks stand about 16 hands and are known for their tremendous
pulling power, hence the name Suffolk Punch.

Suffolks were first imported to America around 1880. The American Suffolk Horse Association was formed in 1911.
The Suffolk never gained wide popularity in this country during the 19th century, partially due to the limited number
available from England. During the 1930's, English breeders exported some of their better horses and the Suffolk's
popularity increased rapidly in the United States and Canada.

By 1953, the drop in demand for draft horses forced the Suffolk Association to legally dissolve with the consent of all
members. During the 1950's the number of American Suffolk breeders dropped to three. In 1961, the Association was
revived to represent the eighteen Suffolk breeders in America.

The American Minor Breeds Conservancy designated the Suffolk as a rare breed in 1985. Between then and 1990, the
number of Suffolks in the United States increased from 150 to slightly over 500. Today's Suffolk closely resembles its
English ancestors, and is still primarily bred to be an efficient and economical farm animal.

Reprinted with permission from the International Museum of the Horse Kentucky Horse Park