Last Updated on January 21, 2022
Horse lovers around the world have long admired the wonderful heavy horse breeds! These gentle giants have been part of our lives for centuries, and in the past, played an essential role in farming life. Let’s find out all about heavy horses and see which are the best breeds!
What Is A Heavy Horse Breed?
A heavy horse breed is one that is very large and incredibly powerful. Now, we’re not just talking about tall horses here – heavy horses are muscular, strong, and have huge levels of stamina.
However, heavy horses are often called gentle giants, and with good reason! These types of horses are classed as cold-blooded breeds. This means that they have a calm and gentle nature, and rarely become overexcited.
This reliable temperament combined with their immense power means that heavy horses are ideally suited to laborious tasks. They will work for long hours without becoming bored or tired, even in difficult conditions. The immense strength of a heavy horse means it can do the work of many people with ease and needed just a steady supply of hay to keep it fuelled.
Why Were Heavyweight Horses Needed?
Heavy horses could carry out a huge range of tasks around the farm or ranch. Their immense strength was used to pull heavy loads, from fully loaded wagons to hauling fallen timber up steep hillsides. They could also pull farm machinery, such as plows, enabling farmers to greatly increase their crop production.
The heavy horse was slow to rise to popularity in the US, with many ranchers preferring to use oxen as they were cheaper to feed. However, during the 19th-century, new farming equipment was developed that was more suited to horses. This meant that the heavy horse rose in popularity, and soon one was to be found on most ranches and farms.
The joy of a heavy horse was that it was gentle enough to be cared for and worked by all members of the family. So, one day it might have been used to plow a field, and the following day it might be used to take the family wagon to church.
Are Heavy Horse Breeds Still Used Today?
The modern-day rancher and farmer have many mechanized tools at his disposal, and these days it is rare to find a heavy working horse. They are more commonly used as display animals and can be seen in parades and at city farm parks.
However, the heavy horse has not entirely left its working history behind! If you have ever been lucky enough to see the Budweiser Clydesdales, these magnificent heavy horses are a throwback to the days when they were used to pull brewery drays. You will also see heavy horses at plowing displays and pulling wagons at events.
Top 3 Huge Horse Breeds Revealed!
It is incredibly difficult to determine what the top 3 heavy horse breeds are! Whether we are looking for the largest, or the most popular, or the oldest breed, there are many top contenders. Here are three of the most impressive huge horse breeds in the world:
1: Shire Horse
The Shire horse is one of the true wonders of the equine world! This magnificent animal originates from the UK and has been a prominent workhorse there since the 18th century.
Shire horses are unmistakable in appearance, with a hugely muscular body and thick, feathered legs. They are normally black, brown, bay, or gray in color. Their name comes from the rural counties of England, commonly known as the ‘shires’.
Like most heavy horse breeds, its popularity plummeted when mechanized farm machinery was invented. However, a group of enthusiasts has strived to keep this breed alive, and there is now a healthy population of Shire horses around the world.
One of the most famous heavy horse breeds is the Clydesdale, which also hails from the UK. This heavy horse breed comes from further north and takes its name from the River Clyde in Scotland.
As well as making useful farm horses, the Clydesdale was also an exceptionally strong wagon horse. This, combined with its calm nature, made it ideal for hauling heavy loads through busy city streets.
Clydesdale horses are most commonly bay in color, with white markings on the legs and face. They are similar to the Shire in stature, although slightly finer and with less feathering on the legs.
The final heavy horse in our top 3 also comes from Europe, but this one is more continental! Originating from western France, the Percheron is a heavily muscled horse with a more elegant action than other large horse breeds.
Normally gray or black in color, the Percheron was once used in battle as a warhorse. Farmers soon realized that this horse was strong and placid enough to also carry out work in the fields, and the popularity of the Percheron quickly rose around the world.
In the modern-day, the Percheron is still used for pulling wagons and is becoming increasingly popular as a riding horse.
So, as we have learned, heavy horses were once an essential part of farming life. These magnificent beasts could fulfill many roles, including plowing fields, hauling heavy loads, and powering mills. Nowadays, they are no longer required to work, but are still popular as show horses and display animals.
We’d love to hear your thoughts about our top 3 heavy horse breeds! Do you have a favorite breed of heavy horse? Perhaps you’ve been lucky enough to see one of these heavyweight horses at work? Leave a comment below and we’ll get back to you!
Kate Chalmers is a qualified veterinary nurse who has specialized in horse care for the vast majority of her career. She has been around horses since she was a child, starting out riding ponies and helping out at the local stables before going on to college to study Horse Care & Management. She has backed and trained many horses during her lifetime and competed in various equestrian sports at different levels.
After Kate qualified as a veterinary nurse, she provided nursing care to the patients of a large equine veterinary hospital for many years. She then went on to teach horse care and veterinary nursing at one of the top colleges in the country. This has led to an in-depth knowledge of the care needs of horses and their various medical ailments, as well as a life-long passion for educating horse owners on how to provide the best possible care for their four-legged friends.
Kate Chalmers BSc (Hons) CVN, Dip AVN (Equine) Dip HE CVN EVN VN A1 PGCE