Heavy Horses of France

The Breton

The Breton draught horse is endemic to Brittany in the northwest of France. There are three types of Breton draught horse, each of which comes from a different area. The smallest is the Corlay Breton which has a slightly concave profile. Its general purpose is as a light draught animal and saddle horse. The Postier-Breton is used for light farm work and has more active paces. The Grand Breton is early maturing, powerfully muscled and used for the heaviest draught tasks. All are accommodated in the one Stud Book which opened in 1909. It was closed again in 1951.

The history of the foundation stock goes back some 4,000 years when Asian horses were brought to Europe by the Aryans. In the Middle Ages, horses from the region were much sought after by armies due to their comfortable and ground-covering paces. The horses were easy to handle and had great stamina.

Credit: Wikimedia

The largest of the thrree types of Breton is powerful, willing and strong.

When the Crusaders returned to France from the Orient, they brought with them horses which were then crossed with the local animals. There developed two types – the Sommier, a slow, strong packhorse and the Roussin (meaning cob), a long-distance riding- and war-horse. For centuries these two types were used for general agricultural work as well. One of their tasks was to draw the carts collecting seaweed from the Breton shores.

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In the mid 18th centuries steps were taken to create a heavier, stronger type. The Percheron, Ardennais and Boulonnais all had an influence on the heavy breed resulting in the Grand Breton. In the 19th century, Norfolk Roadster and Hackney blood was introduced to the Roussin producing a smart, versatile animal suitable for light draught, coaching and military purposes – the Postier-Breton.

Postier-Breton HorsesCredit: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Logonna-Daoulas,_postiers_bretons.JPG

All types are used for draught work. Lighter types are used for light draught work in vineyards. They are used for meat and for breeding mules. All types have amenable dispositions and good endurance. Height varies from 15hh to 16hh. Bretons have also been used to breed mules.

The general impression is of a short and square animal that is strong and deep. A box on legs albeit an attractive one! There is great strength in the hindquarters and the tail is often docked.

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The head is squarish and large. The jaws are heavy. The short ears are mobile and set low on the head. The eyes are small and bright. It has a kind, friendly expression. The nostrils are large and open. The neck is rather short, arched and set well into the withers. Although the shoulders are quite short, the action is fast and active. Thighs and forearms have exceptional muscle. The cannon bones are short and sound. They have a friendly, sensible temperament. Chestnut and red roan are the most common colours. Bay and other roans are also found.

The clean-legged Postier-Breton was used in the development of the Italian Heavy Draught, a newish breed only developed in 1860. Arab, English Thoroughbred and Hackney blood was first used but by the beginning of the 20th century, a stronger breed was required. Crossings with the Belgian Draught (Brabant), French Boulonnais, Ardennais and Percheron did not produce a satisfactory animal and the Postier-Breton was used. The result was the Italian Heavy Draught which was not particularly tall but was energetic and willing with active paces. The Italian Heavy Draught is used for agricultural work and for meat.