French Heavy Horses
The Boulonnais is a heavy horse breed – in fact, a very heavy horse breed! They can weigh between 1,400 and 1,700 pounds and stand between 15.3 and 16.3hh. The Boulonnais is from northwest France and is one of a number of French heavy horse breeds.
It is an elegant French breed and is mostly seen in shades of grey. These noble white animals have great endurance and energy. They are strong and muscled giving them a sculptured quality which is responsible for the breed being given the nickname of 'white marble horse'.
The Boulonnais can trace its ancestors back to before the Crusades when local mares were crossed with stallions brought to the area by the Numidian army in 55-54 BC. During the Crusades, breeders produced speedy, agile warhorses strong enough to carry knights and their associated armour. The name Boulonnais came about in the 17th century and referred to the main breeding area of the same name.
During the 17th century, infusions of Andalusian, Arabian and Spanish Barb blood were introduced. Many Boulonnais went to the United States during the early 1900s. During World Wars I and II, the Boulonnais area on the north coast of France became a major battle field and was hit by heavy fighting. The Boulonnais horse population suffered heavy losses and stud animals became scattered. Later, mechanisation led to the near extinction of the breed.
Of the two strains of Boulonnais, the smaller one has died out.
This type, called Mareyeuse or Mareyeur (horse of the tide) was once used to pull carts of fresh fish from Boulogne to Paris. The distance of almost 200 miles was accomplished in under 18 hours by relays of mares pulling small carts laden with fish and ice. The Route du Poisson race is remembered with a re-enactment each year. In the late 19th century, teams of six to eight horses were used to pull blocks of building stone weighing several tons.
The Boulonnais' elegance comes from the influence of the Arabian as does the fine skin, the small refined head, large expressive eyes and friendly disposition. These features plus the tracery of veins beneath the skin endorse the 'polished marble' connotation.
The head has a straight profile with good width between the eyes. The neck is short and muscular. The chest is broad and the ribs well-sprung. The shoulder slopes well. Although the legs are on the short side, they are robust with substantial bone. Like the Suffolk and Percheron, it does not have heavy feathering.
Unfortunately almost the only way the few dedicated breeders can ensure the survival of the Boulonnais is by breeding it for the meat market.
Breeding is mainly in studs run by the French government and animals are branded with a small anchor on the neck. The Boulonnais is considered to be endangered, as are several other French draught breeds. Some believe the preservation of these breeds should be a priority to maintain genetic diversity in the native horse population of France.