Types of Draft Horse Breeds (With Pictures)

What Are the Different Types of Draft Horses?

Draft horses are large, muscular horses originally developed as workhorses rather than for riding, though they are usually a delight to ride as well. Draft horses have traditionally worked in the logging, mining, and agricultural industries. While they are still heavily used in agricultural and forestry work, they are most often seen pulling carriages today.

What are the types of draft horses? There are over thirty breeds that the Draft Cross Breeders and Owners Association recognizes as “draft horses.” Some of the more common draft breeds include the Clydesdale, Belgian, Shire, Percheron, Suffolk, Friesian, Haflinger, Irish Draught, Dutch Draft, and Noriker. 

Specific countries and regions will determine the popularity of various draft horse breeds. In this article, I’ll share a bit about each of the popular breeds so you can decide which one is best for you!

Common Draft Horse Breed #1: Clydesdale

If you’ve ever watched the Super Bowl commercials, you’re probably familiar with Clydesdales. These horses are almost always bay in color, with beautiful and abundant white feathering at the feet. They were originally a Scottish breed, developed in the late 1800s, but have gained popularity throughout the world since then.

The original Clydesdale was shorter in stature than today’s typical draft horse, but after the blood of other, larger drafts was introduced in the 1940s, the breed standard became taller. Today, most Clydesdales stand between 16 and 18 hh and weigh between 1800 and 2000 pounds. 

Common Draft Horse Breed #2: Belgian

The Belgian is a large draft horse that was developed in Belgium. Imported into the United States in the 1800s, the breed was intentionally and selectively bred to the point that the American Belgian is now a distinct breed from the original. They are most often a lighter chestnut color and typically have a flaxen mane and tail.

Belgians stand between 16 and 19 hh and weigh between 1800 and 2000 pounds. I once had the pleasure of boarding a Belgian temporarily who was a rescue. She was sweet and gentle and had hooves the size of dinner plates. There was a night when she decided to make a break for the hay stacks; a simple kick to the gate snapped the bolts and allowed her out. These horses are big and strong…and they have beautiful souls.

Common Draft Horse Breed #3: Percheron

Originating in France, the Percheron was imported into the United States sometime before World War I. The horse is best known for its dapple gray coat, though black is a common color as well. Percherons, on average, stand between 15 and 18 hh and weigh between 1100 and 2600 pounds.

These are wide ranges, but the breed standards differ significantly between countries. Percherons in the United States are typically on the higher end of those ranges – standing between 16.2 and 17.3 hh and weighing between 1900 and 2600 pounds.

Common Draft Horse Breed #4: Shire

Shires hail from Great Britain and are large draft horses most often found in black but also in bay and gray. Shires stand between 16-18 hh and weigh between 1800 and 2500 pounds. The largest horse in recorded history was a Shire named Sampson, who stood 21.25 hh and weighed over 3300 pounds. He was foaled in England in 1846, and after he reached his mature size, his name was changed to Mammoth.

Common Draft Horse Breed #5: Suffolk Horse

Also known as the Suffolk Punch, this horse originated in England in the early 1500s and holds the oldest English breed registry. The Suffolk Horse is found in a range of chestnut coloring and stands between 16 and 17.2 hh. These horses weigh between 2000 and 2200 pounds on average, making them slightly shorter but “heavier” than many other draft breeds.

Common Draft Horse Breed #6: Friesian

The Friesian is considered to be a light draft horse and also considered to be in its own class of warmbloods. It is smaller and lighter than most other draft breeds but is a strong horse originally used as both a war horse and in agriculture. Today the Friesian is most often used for riding, especially in the sport of dressage.

Friesians stand between 15 and 16 hh on average and weigh between 1200 and 1400 pounds. Friesians are found almost exclusively in black, and they are known for their luxuriously long manes.

To learn more about Friesians, check out my article Friesian Horse Breed Guide: Facts, History, and Colors.

Common Draft Horse Breed #7: Haflinger

Another breed considered a light draft horse is the Haflinger. These horses are even smaller than Friesians but stocky and strong. These flaxen chestnut beauties stand at an average of 13.2-15 hh and weigh between 800 and 1300 pounds. Because of their smaller size and great strength, Haflingers are quite versatile; they are able to pull carriages and carts and also excel in various riding disciplines.

Common Draft Horse Breed #8: Irish Draught

The national horse breed of Ireland, the Irish Draught was developed as a horse suitable for both draft work and riding. They stand on average 15.2 and 16.3 hh and weigh up to 1500 pounds. These are athletic draft horses and are often crossed with Thoroughbreds when breeding warmbloods.

Common Draft Horse Breed #9: Dutch Draft

Originating from the Netherlands, the Dutch Draft is another heavy workhorse used extensively in agriculture. Though it has declined significantly since heavy machinery entered the scene, the breed is still a beloved horse, especially in its homeland. The Dutch Draft stands about 16 hh and weighs between 1700 and 2200 pounds, making it incredibly muscular and stocky.

Common Draft Horse Breed #10: Noriker

This Austrian breed is perhaps best known for its spotted coat, similar to that of the Appaloosa. The Noriker is a “moderately heavy” draft, standing between 15.2 and 16 hh and weighing 1500-1700 pounds on average. It is used for both pulling and riding. In addition to the spotted coat, Norikers also come in bay, black, and chestnut.

The Noriker is just one horse breed that carries the leopard complex gene responsible for their spotted coats. To learn about other breeds with these eye-catching coat patterns, visit my article Top 11 Spotted Horse Breeds to Fall in Love With.

Additional Draft Breeds

In addition to these ten draft breeds, the Draft Cross Breeders and Owners Association recognizes the following 20 horses as draft breeds:

  • American Cream Draft (from the US, 15-16.3 hh, 1800-2000 pounds)
  • Ardennes (the oldest draft breed, from Belgium, 15.3-16 hh, 1500-2200 pounds)
  • Boulonnais (from France, 14.33-16.3 hh, 1300-1500 pounds)
  • Breton (from France, 15.1-16 hh, 1300-1700 pounds)
  • Comtois (from France, 14.3-16.1 hh, 1400-1800 pounds)
  • Dole (from Norway, 14.1-15.3 hh, 1200-1400 pounds)
  • Finnhorse (from Finland, 15-15.2 hh, 1000-1300 pounds)
  • Norwegian Fjord (from Norway, 13.1-14.3 hh, 900-1100 pounds)
  • Freiberger (from Switzerland, 14.3-15.2 hh, 1200-1500 pounds)
  • Italian Heavy Draft (from Italy, 14.2-15.3 hh, 1300-1600 pounds)
  • Jutland (from Denmark, 15-16.1 hh, 1400-1800 pounds)
  • Latvian (from Latvia, 15-15.2 hh, 1100-1400 pounds)
  • Murakoz (from Croatia, 15.1-16.1 hh, 1700-2000 pounds)
  • North Swedish Horse (from Sweden, 15-15.2 hh, 1200-1700 pounds)
  • Rhenish-German Coldblood (from Germany, 16-16.3 hh, 1800-2200 pounds)
  • Russian Heavy Draft (from Russia, 14-15 hh, 1300-1500 pounds)
  • Schleswig Coldblood (from Germany, 15.1-16 hh, 1700-1900 pounds)
  • South German Coldblood (from Germany, 16-16.2 hh, 1100-1300 pounds)
  • Soviet Heavy Draft (from Russia, 16-16.2 hh, 1500-2200 pounds)
  • Vladimir Heavy Draft (from Russia, 15-16 hh, 1600-1800 pounds)


What Is A Draft Horse?

A draft horse is a term used in the United States to refer to large workhorses; in Europe, they are called draught horses. Both of these terms mean the same thing. While there is a large range in size between all of the draft breeds, most draft horses stand between 16 and 19 hh and weigh between 1500 and 2200 pounds.

Draft horses are characterized by their very muscular builds, especially at the hindquarters and the shoulders, which help them to pull incredible loads of up to 8,000 pounds per horse. 

Draft horses were originally developed to work in all sorts of industries, including mining, forestry, and agriculture. While the advent of heavy machinery saw a decline in draft horses, there are still many areas in both forestry and agriculture where heavy machinery is not feasible, and horses are still very much used in these fields. Draft horses are also used to pull carriages, both as a means of primary transportation and in the hospitality and tourist industries.

Draft Horses Are The Ultimate Work Horses

When it comes to strength and power, there is no more impressive horse than the heavy draft. Even more impressive is the typical disposition of these horses. Not only does the strength of a draft horse outshine any other domestic animal, but they are also notoriously docile and gentle, giving true meaning to the term “gentle giant.” The rescue Belgian we cared for was a perfect example of this. The lowest in the herd, she was easy-going and sweet with other horses and her new human handlers. It is a joy to work with these special heavy breeds, and despite their original purposes, they can also be a joy to ride, provided you can find tack to fit!

Most draft horses are known for their calm demeanor and friendly nature, and that’s why they make it onto my list as some of the calmest and friendliest horses! To see my complete list, visit my article Top 10 Calm & Friendly Horse Breeds.

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