Draft Horses of the World
The Percheron draught horse is named for the Le Perche area of France. The Percheron is indigenous to the area of north west France and breeders over the years supplied lighter or heavier draught animals according to the demands of the time.
Its origins before this time are not really known but during the eighth century there was an infusion of Arab blood. Again, in the Middle Ages, Arabs were again used to upgrade the breed. This would account for the refined head, relatively fine skin and non-hairy legs.
The Percheron was once as a war-horse, it is thought and it is certainly a weight-carrier par excellence. When chargers were no longer needed, the Percheron had a career change and was used to pull diligences or passenger coaches. These horses were known as diligence horses. Diligence horses needed to be able to trot at a good speed and they had to have the stamina to complete their stage day after day. Lighter colours were preferred as white or grey horses were more easily seen at night. The Percheron fitted the bill in every respect. Then rail transport began to oust coaches and a slightly sturdier beast was needed to pull omnibuses. More strength still was needed to move goods to and from the docks and railheads.
It is still one of the most popular of the heavy horse breeds. Like the Suffolk Punch, it is clean-legged. Again like the Suffolk Punch, the Percheron is restricted in its colour range. The Suffolk is always chestnut and the Percheron always grey or black. The Suffolk Punch is very similar in appearance to the Dutch Draft and the Jutland, although the Suffolk Punch is clean-legged. The Suffolk Punch stallion (some sources say Suffolk/Shire), Oppenheimer LXII was imported into Denmark in 1860 and had a strong influence on the the Schleswig and the Jutland.
All blood-lines trace directly to the foundation stock from Le Perche.
In 1839 and 1851, there were imports into the United States from Normandy. During the 1870s and 1880s, thousands more were imported from France and Great Britain. Nearly 5,000 stallions and over 2,500 mares were imported just in the 1880s and most were from Le Perche. By 1930, the combination of all other draft breeds was outnumbered three to one by the Percheron. Of course, after this, mechanization began to take over and heavy horse numbers slowly slid to an all-time low of 85 recorded animals in 1954. Many Amish farmers and a few other dedicated breeders continued to breed and raise Percherons. By 1998 numbers of registered animals had grown to 2,257.
Like the Shire and Belgian and, to a lesser extent the Clydesdale and Suffolk, their value as walking or trotting advertisements is being increasingly appreciated. Four-, six- or eight-hitch teams thrill and delight the general public as they thunder around an arena or step proudly down a street. The Percheron is manoeuvrable and versatile, ideal on small acreages, tourist resorts or woodlots.
Percherons from Canada are believed to be the first draught horses to arrive in Australia. However there is no documentation to show records of any progeny. In 1913, Kadlunga Stud from South Australia laid the foundations for its stud with the importation of a colt and two fillies from France. Today there are around 1000 pure- or part-bred Percherons used by the South Australian Mounted Police and the Victorian police as drum horses. An interesting point is that Percherons are used by the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories for the production of antivenin for snake-bites.
The Percheron is docile and not difficult to train. The modern Percheron is short-legged and massively built. The body is deep and muscular. For such a heavy horse, it is surprisingly active. The feet are tough with hard blue horn. Stallions range up to 16.3hh or more and mares are slightly shorter. There is good width between the eyes. The profile is straight. It has a strong neck, wide chest and short strong back. The hind quarters are muscular and broad. The cannons are short and the second thighs well muscled. The hocks and knees are broad. Overall the impression is of quality and strength.
Like most heavy breeds, the Percheron exudes power and majesty, combined with a gentleness which seems out of keeping with their size.