10 Best Draft Horse Breeds for Riding

Draft horses are more often known as draught horses or heavy horses. They are incredibly large and powerful working horses capable of doing hard labor, plowing, and riding. Considering their versatility, strength, size, and character, draft horses are surely good all-around horses that you can consider if you are planning to own one. But for now, let’s just stick our attention to draft horses popular for riding. Today we look into the 10 best horse breeds for riding purposes.

Out of the total 217 horse breeds in the world, almost 30 falls under the category of draft horses. In this article, we make a list of only the top draft horse contenders best suitable for riding.

Top 10 Draft Horses Suited for Riding

Ranking from the best to 10th best, the following is a list based purely on merit;

1. Clydesdale

Arguably the best large-sized draft horse hailing from Scotland is Clydesdale. Originally, in the 18th century, they were bred for draught power and cavalry haulage, however, they have now gained popularity as riding and carriage horses.

Temperament: Although they are huge in size, Clydesdales are unusually docile and gentle that can also be handled by children with much ease.

Build: Clydesdales is one of the heaviest horses weighing 700-1000 kg and reaching a height of almost 190 cm. Despite their huge sizes, they are incredibly fast relative to their body mass index. Clydesdales take part in the annual horse barrel racing world championships where their speeds are regularly displayed.

2. Shire Horses

Originating from Britain, Shire horses are exceedingly calm, poised, and intelligent. They come in exquisite black, grey, or bay colors and have held records for being the tallest and largest horses of all the horse breeds. The shire horses were commonly used for brewery transport. However, on retiring from brewery deliveries, they are used for leisure riding and forest work.

Temperament: Being excessively calm and timid, they are excellent for riding.

Build: The average height of the Shire horses is between 163 cm and 178 cm while the weight ranges from 850 to 1,100 kg. A Shire horse named Mammoth holds the record for being the largest and most massive horse. The Shire blood has immense strength and proportionally variable speeds.

3. South German Cold Blood Horse

The South German Cold Blood horse comes from Germany and is a descendant of the Austrian Noriker which migrated to Bavaria in the 1800s. Sharing many common traits with the other draft horses, the South German enjoys high regard for its nobility, obedience, and its strength. Among a handful of draft horses that make it to show horsing and dressage, is the South German Cold blood horse. As its name suggests, it is a cold-blooded horse and is as gentle and docile as they come. As far as riding is concerned, the South German performs excellently on both, flat and hilly terrains, making it an all-terrain riding horse.

Temperament: Incredibly kind and tender-hearted, willing to work, and amenable horse, they require less training yet possess the utmost zeal to get involved.

Build: Weighing 500 kg and reaching a height of 160 to 164 cm, the German Cold Blood Horse comes in all colors.

4. Norwegian Fjord

Descending from one of the most ancient horse breeds dating back to the ice age and since long being domesticated, the Norwegian Fjord is considered to be one of the purest horse breeds in all of Europe. These sturdy horses excel at strength disciplines and possess the muscular form of doing the hard labor. Though nowadays, only some of them are used for agricultural work, most of the Norwegian Fjords are becoming progressively popular as riding horses.

Temperament: Regarded as one of the most accommodating and kind-hearted beings, Norwegian Fjords are equally witty and children-friendly.

Build: They weigh between 900 and 1200 kg and stand 13.2 to 14.2 hands tall. The majority are brown or grey while some of them are yellow dun.

5. Belgian Horse

One may think of Belgian horses as massive creatures in horse pulling competitions or doing sweaty agriculture work. But there’s more to that than meets the eye. Belgian horses are top-tier riding horses featured at trail riding facilities. However, their gait can be slightly waddling and you can expect a little bumpy ride. This can particularly be overcome by providing it with suitable and properly fitting tack.

Temperament: Though a bit slow learners, they are innocent beings and tend to express concern for their folks including humans.

Build: Belgian horses are 163 to 173 cm tall and weigh up to 1,000 kg. They are usually chestnut or roan in color.

6. Friesian Horse

Next on the list, we have an absolute beauty, the Friesian horse originally from Friesland of the Netherlands. The horse can be regarded as the most elegant-looking and expensive one on the list due to its pure bloodline and stunning jet-black skin. Not to forget mentioning, its powerfully muscular body, low-feather legs, and thick mane make it a wonderful all-around draught horse for leisure riding and dressage. The Friesian horses share rich history since the medieval era having the honor of being mounted by the knights.

Temperament: Friesian draught horses are friendly, calm, and playful, having even temperament. They have a slight tendency of being stubborn and hence you may want to treat them with patience.

Build: Friesians are on average 152 to 173 cm tall and weigh 550 to 650 kg. And yes! They mostly are jet-black in color while others may be chestnut or grey.

7. American Cream Draft Horse

The American Cream Draught horse is one of the latest horse breeds that is a mixed breed of Percheron and Belgian horse. Both Percheron and Belgian horses are hard-line drafts and hence, their progeny, the American Cream also shares the draft heritage. Talk about its characteristics, it is recognized by its cream color and wide chest, strong shoulders, and muscular hindquarters. A relatively strong build means a compact ride and that is a perfect match for riding and trail walking. However, due to constant inbreeding, the American Cream draft is prone to multiple genetic disorders of which epidermolysis bullosa stands out.

Temperament: Forbearing, calm, and compassionate personality coupled with intelligent and genius capacity (Beauty with brains).

Build: The stallions and geldings both stand at heights between 163 to 173 cm and weigh approximately 800 kg or more. As its name suggests, American Cream Draft comes in its characteristic cream color coat with slightly pink skin. This is due to the action of a champagne gene.

8. Dutch Draft

Another Dutch horse breed on the list is a Dutch heavy draft horse. It is cold-blooded, precocious, and has an enormous build. Dutch drafts are close relatives of Belgian draft horses and share a lot of their characteristics such as intelligence and kind nature. As far as the heavy work is concerned, Dutch drafts, among other draught horses are tailor-made for agricultural plowing, carriage towing, and forest work. However, they are becoming increasingly popular for riding, recreation, and competition.

Temperament: All cold-blooded are equally docile, gentle, and quiet beings. This includes the Dutch draft as well. Apart from sympathetic personalities, they are easy to ride and benign towards kids.

Build: Dutch drafts weigh 700 to 750 kg and stand 155 to 169 cm tall. Their legs are heavily feathered and colors vary from brown, black and gray, to beige. Dutch drafts also possess magnanimous stamina for the heavy workload to get going.

9. Percheron

Horse de la French, Percheron hails from the Huisne river valley in western France. The river valley is part of the French province Perche, thus the name Percheron. Mostly used as cavalry horses, while originally bred as warhorses, Percherons exhibit hefty physique, abled shrewdness, and on top of all, an inclination towards working. Percherons are an exquisite demand for horse riding for beginners due to their calm nature and benign temperament for tolerating the novice.

Temperament: Horse breed having the agile and athletic ability, clean-limbed and powerful. Horse pundits designate the temperament as proud and vigilant, and Percherons are regarded as intelligent, willing workers with good dispositions.

Build: Percherons weigh between 860 and 1200 kg and may attain heights of 155 to 185 cm. Only black or grey Percherons are considered worthy to be registered in France and UK while others having white markings are considered slightly undesirable.

10. Dole

Dole or Dølehest is another draft horse hailing from Norway. It is considered a cold blood trotter and harness-type horse and thought to be a partial descendant of the Friesian horse. The Dole is the only small draft horse breed to make it on the list of best riding draft horses, the reason for which is its stout body framework capable of trailing the long yard. The lighter Doles are specifically trained to become rider horses while the more primitive heavy ones are best suited for agriculture and timber hauling work. The Dole has also been crossbred with Swedish Warmbloods to fashion riding-type horses, while the thoroughbred hybridization may produce exquisite hunting horses.

Temperament: Doles are intelligent, lively, sympathetic, and compliant lads.

Build: Dole horses are 145 to 160 cm tall (shorter than others in fact) and weigh 550 to 650 kg. They are commonly grey to brown and black while the trotter types may exhibit white smears.

Interesting Facts About Draft Riding Horses

While we mention some of the best draught horses fit for riding, it is also worth highlighting some of their notable scores and figures.

  • The draft horses once were the most popular and sought-for workers in agriculture work and battles. However, with advancing age of technology, machines such as tractors and harvesters have replaced them. Nowadays, the massive and robust drafts are desirable for recreation, leisure riding and seldom found, pulling carts.
  • Budweiser, which is a famous brewery industry, uses Clydesdale on its brand logo. This is one reason Clydesdales have the highest recognition of all the draft mounts.
  • Draft horses are drafted into a lot of equine sporting events such as pulling contests, leisure driving and many driving courses. Percherons and Shire horses are can be seen mostly at sporting events while Friesian horses are popular in dressage.
  • Draft horses are quite vulnerable to heat strokes and they have a reduced capability to dissipate heat as compared to other horse breeds. Therefore, putting this fact into consideration, always have your draft horse in a windy environment where water supply is ample. Make sure you don’t feed them with excessive protein-rich diet.
  • Draft horses are usually identified by their characteristic leg feathers which may be dense for most of the breeds while sparsely dense in other breeds such as the Belgians.

People Also Asked

Are draft horses suitable for riding?

Draft horses, also known as draught horses or dray horses, are recognized as powerful and massive horses capable of strength labor such as carrying, pulling, farming and logging. However, as of the modernized technology era, draft horses are retired from service and now are commonly desirable for riding, trailing, recreation and competition. Though, still in use for farm labor, draft horses are equally well suited for beginners to ride and learn horse riding, courtesy to their benign and calm nature.

Which draft horse is best for riding?

Clydesdale is by far the most fame-enriched draft horse, thanks to the brewery industries such as Budweiser for using it in its brand logos. This popularity has also resulted in people opting draft horses exclusively for riding and trail purposes. In addition, Clydesdales make good companion horses. All this and much more entitles the Clydesdale its rightly deserved tag of being the best.

What is the most popular draft horse?

The Belgian draft, originating from Belgium, as its name suggests is the most popular draft horse in the United States. It is an excellent horse for who needs a powerful, versatile and multi-purpose work horse. The Belgian draft is extensively used in farming. Any farmer’s first priority and go-to horse for his farm is a Belgian horse. All this attributes to the capabilities of the horse such as muscular physique, broad shoulders and powerful hindquarters that allow it to pull carts, plow and pull harvest. Apart from that, Belgian drafts are not a bad option for riding.

What are the health issues of a draft horse?

Just like the other horse breeds, draft horses too have an equal share of being vulnerable to numerous health disorders. Some of the afflictions are mentioned below;
– Epidermolysis bullosa
– Ocular squamous cell carcinoma
– Equine polysaccharide storage myopathy (EPSM)
– Chronic lymphedema
– Cataracts (Belgian drafts are mostly subject to cataracts)
– Shivers
– Heat stroke

Are draft horses dangerous?

Draft horses go by common name of gentle giants which pretty much explains why and how much they are not dangerous. Kind, caring and docile nature is one incredibly underlined reason why draft horses are most suited for all kinds of labor work, carriage and leisure riding. In addition, learners or first timers almost always opt for draft horses for riding because of the horse’s patient and tolerating personality. As regards their exposure with kids, draft horses can be envisioned as their guardians and concerned best mates.

What is the average lifespan of a draft horse?

By far the only undesirable trait about a draft horse is its short lifespan. Draft horses have, as compared to their smaller cousins, shorter lifespans ranging between 18 and 20 years. Inability to cope with heat for long duration and musculoskeletal degeneration are the main reasons a draft horse reaches its geriatric age quickly.

What is the largest horse breed?

Although generally speaking, draft horses are categorized as large horse breeds, however, there still ought to be one stand-alone largest of them all. Shire horse is the largest of all horse breeds due its tall legs and high mount. By being large, it also means that the Shire horse is proportionately muscular and has thick body framework. Also, as larger they get, the more benign and gentle their temperament becomes. Shire horses, like the other draft horses are cold-blooded and least threatening of all horse breeds.

A Powerful Ride With A Gentle Heart…

So we learned today that there is a class of horse breeds lingering quite massively on this planet which are known as Draft horses. And then we discovered a whole ten-digit list on the top best draft horses tailored for riding. Well, the most striking thing about those muscular and strong work beasts is that they have an equally gentle and calm personality. If there is any horse breed counterpart of a powerful automobile, draft horses certainly can be regarded as Ford Raptor Trucks of the equines, but with a gentle heart.