Heavy Horse Breeds
The Ardennais (or Ardennes) heavy draught horse is endemic to the Ardennes region on the borders of France, Belgium and Luxembourg. It is part of the Ardennes-Flemish group of draught horses and has a rather primitive air about it. It is one of the oldest of the heavy draught breeds and is directly descended from the prehistoric Diluvial Horse of Solutre. The Ardennais was once shorter and less massive. The introduction of Brabant blood gave it increased height and strength but at the expense of endurance, energy and action.
The Ardennais has often been used as a cavalry horse. Horses from the Ardennes region were used during the Crusades in the 11th century. Large numbers were used by Napoleon in his Russian campaign in 1812. They were the only breed tough enough to withstand the winter retreat from Moscow. They made the journey while hauling much of the army's wagon train. The Russian Don horses used by the Cossacks had no trouble coping with the weather either and the Russians pursued Napoleon all the way back to Paris. During World War I, the Ardennais was used extensively by the French and German armies as artillery wheelers. Their calm, generous character together with their active nature made them ideal for the purpose.
Early in the 20th century, Thoroughbred and Arab blood was introduced, then French Boulonnais and Percheron. There seems neither rhyme nor reason for this but the outcome was three different types of Ardennais. The old original type (still called Ardennais) is around 15hh. The Trait du Nord is a rare breed of north-east France. It has Boulonnais, Ardennais and Brabant blood and is bigger and heavier than the Ardennais while the Auxois is a very heavy type.
The Ardennais ranges from 15hh to 16hh and is one of the heaviest of the draught breeds. The overall impression is of great strength coupled with docility. The action is quick and energetic despite the heavy bones and thick legs. The head is heavy, broad between the eyes and with a straight or slightly convex profile. The expression is friendly and alert. The ears are set wide apart. The fetlocks are feathered.
The Ardennais is often strawberry roan in colour with black points. Bay is the next most common colour. Chestnut, grey and palomino are seen and all colours are acceptable bar black. Any white markings should be small. They are an early maturing breed, economical to keep despite their size. It is a free-moving, long-striding breed.
The Ardennais has influenced the Vladimir Heavy Draught, the Dutch Draft and the Italian Heavy Draught although the latter did not produce a satisfactory outcome. Eventually the Postier-Breton produced the smallish animal with the lively action and bright temperament that the Italians were seeking. The Vladimir Heavy Draught is a very mixed breed having influences from Cleveland Bay, Clydesdale, Percheron, Shire, Suffolk Punch and Ardennais. The Dutch Draft came about with local mares being crossed with Brabant and Ardennais stallions.
Because of its massive musculature, it is today valued as a meat breed although it is also used for agriculture and forestry. Their traits of stamina, good temper and agility has made them increasingly popular for competitive driving. They make good mounts for therapeutic horseback activities.