Photo copyright by Terri Aigner
About Drafts and Draft Horse Crosses
A Little History about the Draft Horse
By Terri Aigner
Draft horses are spectacular beasts and crowd pleasers wherever they go. Drafts and draft crosses can make the perfect trail horse, carriage horse, or show horse! Their willingness to work and quiet, pleasant disposition come out in every cross breeding. No one can deny the grace and gentleness of these noble steeds, the original war horse of knights.
Did you know that in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, thousands of draft horses were imported into the United States and used to jumpstart America’s economy? And that more than half a million were sent overseas during a two-year period in World War One to supply power for the troops? This alone speaks to the draft’s qualities of dependability and tractability.
Many draft breeds were “born out of war,” according to the Percheron Horse in America by Joseph Mischka. A sturdy steed, fleet of foot, brave and powerful, was needed to carry a man in a full suit of armor and his battle weapons. The draft horse fit the bill perfectly. Records indicate that medieval drafts were not as large as today; drafts now average 16.3hh to 19hh and around 1,600 to 2,000 lbs. Today’s drafts average 16.3hh to 19hh and around 1,600 to 2,000 lbs. Samson, a Shire, largest horse whoever lived, was 7’2 ½” and 3300 pounds.
In the late nineteenth century, horses weighing more than 1600 pounds that moved at a quick pace were much in demand. Tall stature, muscular backs, and powerful hindquarters made the draft horse the true source of “horsepower” for farming, hauling freight and moving passengers. Percherons exclusively moved the circus from one city to another before the advent of the train.
Many American draft registries were founded in the late 1800s. Percherons from France, Belgians from Belgium, Shires from England, Clydesdales from Scotland, and other imported draft breeds were the pride of many a stable. A breed developed exclusively in the U.S. was the American Cream (established in the 1930s). The Percheron, with 40,000 broodmares registered as of 1915, was by far America’s most popular breed at the turn of the century. By the late 1930s, however, the popularity of the internal combustion engine reduced the need for the draft horse; Until recently, drafts and draft horse crosses were relegated almost exclusively to shows or carriage tours, with the exception of Amish and Mennonite farmers and the rare individual who seeks an alternative source of power to plow their farms and fields.
Drafts bring their qualities to today’s Sporthorse
Today, however, the draft horse and its crosses are increasingly sought after for the many qualities they bring to today’s performance and sporthorses.
Several registries have sprung up which welcome the noble draft and his crossed get. The American Warm blood Society accept drafts and draft crosses with emphasis on producing quality sport horses, rather than the preservation of any particular bloodlines, which allows for much diversity. The Draft Cross Breeders and Owners Association is another club promoting these versatile animals.
So why would you want to own a draft cross? Feeding, caring for and shoeing a 2,000 lb purebred draft may be more than your budget or physique will allow; so why not a draft cross?
You may want a draft cross because you need a horse big enough to carry your husband or boyfriend without his legs dragging the ground. Or maybe you have just been wanting to: super-size your paint trail horse; add inches to your hunter-jumper’s reach; add scope and movement to a thoroughbred for dressage; or, just have an alternative source of farm power! It’s easy to see why today’s draft crosses are exceeding popular.
The author and her Friesian/Percheron draft cross, Dagan
Everything in the way of designer drafts to custom cobs to personalized ponies seems to be available. One quick breeze through the World Wide Web nets dozens of sites promoting new draft sport horse combos, each touting the virtues of its own crosses. No matter what type of horse is crossed with a draft, however, the quiet, lovable temperament of these gentle giants seems to come through, along with size and the undeniable quality of heart – the willingness to do whatever is asked of them!
Wade, a thoroughbred/spotted
Draft horse cross sired by the author’s stallion, Ragan
What do I need to know before breeding to a draft?
The question most frequently asked by mare owners is, how safe is it to breed a draft to a horse of lesser size? Live cover is quite safe if both horses are well mannered, and artificial insemination is used today with increasing frequency due to its convenience. According to Dr. Dave Stanford of Woodside Equine Clinic in Ashland, Virginia, “It is very safe in the horse to breed a mare to a stallion of much larger size. Because of the mare’s type of placenta and its attachment and blood supply, the foal will be limited in its growth within the uterus to the size of the mare's uterus. Test breeding have been done with draft stallions bred to small horses with no increase in the number of dissocial (difficult births).” In other words, the mare will carry the foal in an appropriate size for her, and then after it is born, it grows like crazy!
As far as raising drafts and draft crosses, one is often amazed to find that the draft horse’s metabolism is often similar to that of ponies! “Draft horses have lower needs per bodyweight than light horse breeds, but because of their size, most are fed a significant amount of feed and hay per day,” says Dr. Martin W. Adams, Equine Nutritionist/Horse Feed Manager for Southern States Cooperative. “But you can feed less when the fat level is high as the calories are much greater by adding oil to their diet. A grain feeding of only .3% of body weight is all drafts need.” Drafts thrive on just good quality grass!
The pleasure of raising and riding or driving a draft or draft cross, with its big, Cadillac-smooth gaits and endless power, makes it worth considering for your next very special horse. You may find it’s the last breed you’ll ever need!
Our Horses on BelleHaven Farm
(Above left) Friend Linny Johnson takes Ragan and Dagan (Friesian sport horse draft cross) for a test drive.
(Above right) Mike Wilkerson drove my pair of drafts with me from Charles City County to Richmond. On new year's day of 2008, I drove
Dagan to Sandston from Charles City right up Route 60. What a great time.
After owning light horses all my life, including an appaloosa, a paint/arab cross, purebred Arabian horses, and quarter
horses, the pleasant, laid-back personality of the draft horse was a breath of fresh air. Dagan, my Friesian sporthorse,
(Friesian/Percheron cross - he looks like Black Beauty on steroids!) is 17.1 hh and if he was a dog, he would be a
Labrador retriever. Just a pleasant, happy fella. Ragan, the registered Spotted Draft Stallion, is extremely intelligent,
gentle, and is all business when his halter is put on. I don't have to run around the pasture trying to catch anyone
apologize to the farrier for a horse being difficult, or worry about whether they are comfortable when its 20 degrees
outside. You can dress 'em up or take 'em out casual and they will make you proud either way.
One of the things you learn about a draft or draft cross when you own one is that they have tremendous "heart" -
they are willing workers and will do whatever is asked of them. They are extremely powerful, yet extremely gentle.
Hundreds of years of breeding have created this amazing combination of temperament, power and athleticism.
One New Year's day, we were driving Ragan and Dagan from Charles City County to Richmond, along with about forty
riders mostly mounted on gaited horses. We had to cross a section of roadway which had washed away when we were
driving Ragan and Dagan double hitched to a wagon. The water was rushing like a mountain river, about two feet deep.
They never hesitated, plunged ahead, and pushed through to the other side (see below) about 75 feet away. My friend
Mike Wilkerson was driving; I wish I'd had a video camera at the time though it wouldnt have mattered because I was
so petrified I wouldn't have been able to do anything other than hold on; I needn't have feared as, under Mike's
steady hand, they made their valiant way through. Our friend Linny Johnson, who was riding his speed racking horse
Rolling Thunder that day, watched and later told Mike he didn't know whether to slap him or kiss him. Mike asked him
what he meant by that. Linny said "I wanted to kiss you for making me proud, and slap you because I didn't get to drive
through it first!"We trail ride and drive them everywhere. They have no fear of traffic, water, or loud noises. We hitched them up on
Halloween night and carried hundreds of people on a hayride through all the dark, very scary things set up for the
occasion at historic Cedar Grove plantation in New Kent County, Va, and they never even batted an ear. They love
(Left) Dagan and Ragan cross a flooded road under the steady hand of Mike Wilkerson. (Right) The author and Dagan.
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DRAFT HORSE VIDEOS
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