Last Updated on January 12, 2023
Have you ever wondered what the best large horse breeds for riding are? The largest breeds of horses, draft horses, are frequently referred to as the gentle giants of the horse world. Of these draft horse breeds, a few stand out as being the best large horse breeds for riding.
While there are certainly exceptions, most equine experts agree that the best large draft horse breeds for riding include the Shire, the Percheron, the Clydesdale, the Belgian Draft, and the Dutch Draft. These gentle giants can serve many purposes for equine enthusiasts, and it is important that we, as horse people, understand their value and place in our community.
Top 5 Large Horse Breeds For Riding
While there are many different draft horse breeds around the world, not all are suitable for riding. Most draft horses are intended for heavy work such as plowing fields and hauling heavy wagons. Some are even used for specialist tasks such as forestry work and powering mills.
However, some draft horses are surprisingly adaptable, and can easily be retrained to become excellent riding horses! Their large size makes them ideal for carrying taller, heavier riders and their gentle, placid temperaments mean they are suitable for novice or nervous riders. Draft horses will never win top prizes for athletic sports such as showjumping, but they still have a useful role to play in the equestrian world!
1. Shire – The Worlds Biggest Horse Breed!
Traditionally, the largest horse breed is the Shire. The Shire originated in Europe, tracing its roots back to older English and Dutch breeds. It is named for the English “shire” counties where the breed originated. These horses were used primarily for plowing and farming before the Industrial Revolution and have since decreased in popularity now that their immense strength is no longer needed in agriculture.
Shires typically stand at least 16 hands tall and are traditionally preferred to be solid colors, although some white markings are possible. Possibly the most famous Shire horse was Mammoth, a gelding that stood 21.2 hands, and is the tallest horse ever recorded. If you are looking for a breed of riding horse bigger than Clydesdales, then the Shire is a great choice
What Are Shire Horses Used For?
Today, the Shire horse is mainly used in commercial and competitive carriage driving. Shires can be seen pulling carts of tourists around cities or pulling with a team at a horse show. But why are Shire horses one of the best large horse breeds for riding?
Shire horses are calm, and dependable, and enjoy working alongside humans. Despite their huge size, they are easy to handle and manage and can be dependable and safe riding horses. They are also very intelligent, and will quickly learn to respond to cues from their rider.
This makes the Shire horse a good choice for anyone who wants a steady riding horse with good levels of stamina. The Shire will never win competitions for speed and agility, but this gentle giant will happily stroll along the trails all day long!
2. Percheron Draft Horses
Another famous gentle giant is the Percheron, which originated in France. The Percheron was named after “Le Perche,” the small French province where the breed was originally found. In the 1800s, when the Percheron was first discovered, the breed was used primarily for war.
The Percheron’s brave, steady, and loyal personality made it the ideal mount for soldiers of the time. The breed stands between 16 and 18 hands today, similar to many other draft breeds, and comes in nearly all solid colors.
In modern times, Percheron horses are mostly used for driving as well as riding. They have made appearances as trail horses, dressage horses, and pleasure horses for riders seeking a steady, smooth mount. They are one of the more elegant draft horse breeds and have a lighter body frame than powerful workhorses such as the Shire.
A notable aspect of Percheron breeding is the Percheron sport horses, which are the offspring of Percheron horses crossed with lighter breeds, such as Thoroughbreds and warmbloods. I can speak to the value of this breed, as my first event horse was a Percheron/Thoroughbred. “Foxy” was everything that you could want in an event horse; she was brave, strong, willing, and tolerant. She was big enough to give a new event rider security in the saddle, but light on her feet enough to clear the fences with ease.
3. Clydesdale Draft Horse Breed
Of course, when you and I think of Clydesdales, the first thing that comes to mind is the famous Budweiser Clydesdales (as well as the tear-jerking Superbowl commercials that accompany them). But there is more to Clydesdale than just being an icon for a famous beer company!
The Clydesdale horse is originally from Scotland, where it was named after the River Clyde, in the old district of Clydesdale in Lanarkshire. Similar to the Shire and the Percheron, the Clydesdale was used for both agriculture and war work in the 1800s. Since then, the breed’s popularity has declined, but it has found a niche that neither the Percheron nor the Shire has.
The Clydesdale horse is famous for its flashy feathers (long hair starting below the knee and extending to the hoof) and unique white markings. Because of these characteristics, Clydesdales are often used in parades and exhibits, and Clydesdale breed show is also gaining popularity.
Clydesdales traditionally maintain a bay coat color but will sometimes be marked with sabino pinto markings on their legs and barrels. This, in conjunction with their white, brown, and black feathers creates a beautiful and unique horse that has intrigued draft horse enthusiasts around the world.
One thing to bear in mind if you are considering a Clydesdale for your next riding horse is that although they are generally calm and placid, they can have a feisty and stubborn side to their personality! They may not be the best choice for a beginner or nervous rider, but for an experienced rider, their plucky and bold nature can be a huge bonus.
4. Belgian Draft Horse Breed
Another of the largest breeds of horses is the Belgian, also called the Brabant. As can be guessed, the Belgian draft horse originated in Belgium and was also used primarily for war and agricultural work in the past.
The Belgian draft horse is often confused with the Percheron, but the Belgian has a distinguishing factor that sets it apart. This is its famous “blonde” coloring, which, in more technical terms, is called sorrel. Belgian draft horses have a chestnut coat which comes in a range of different shades, and they often have a light blonde-like mane and tail.
Belgian draft horses also often frequently carry the “mealy” gene, which causes their noses to be significantly lighter than normal. To you and I, their nose would look similar to that of a mule or donkey, with a much lighter gray or tan coloring than the average horse.
So, why is the Belgian draft horse one of the best large horse breeds for riding? Well, it all comes down to the calm temperament and impressive stamina levels of this magnificent breed! Belgian draft horses will happily travel at a steady pace for many hours, making them a good choice for trail riding.
5. Dutch Draft Horse Breed
The last of the gentle giants to make the top five large horse breeds for riding is the Dutch Draft. Unfortunately, there are not many Dutch Draft horses left in existence today. Unlike breeds such as the Clydesdale, the Dutch Draft has struggled to find a niche in the modern world. They were first bred in Holland in the 1800s, and were, as expected, used for agriculture and war.
The Dutch draft horses that remain today are primarily still used for agricultural purposes, such as logging and plowing. Most other draft breeds have found a way to thrive in the era of the machine, so there is hope yet for the Dutch Draft to find a new career.
Luckily, a small niche of enthusiasts of this breed is keen to show the world what fabulous riding horses they can be! These powerful horses are incredibly comfortable to ride, and fans of this breed enjoy their calm yet fun-loving temperament. If you are on the lookout for one of the best large horse breeds for riding, the Dutch draft may be the perfect place to start.
See more about the Dutch Draft here.
So, as we have learned, when looking for the best large horse breeds for riding we have several to choose from! Each of these wonderful gentle giants brings something unique to the equine community. The Shire, Percheron, Clydesdale, Belgian, and Dutch Draft have all survived the test of time and have established themselves as some of the best large horse breeds for riding in existence today. I hope you all enjoyed this article, and I hope it helped you understand and appreciate the importance of draft breeds in the equine community today!
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Learn more about What Breed Of Horse Should I Get?
What breed of horse is best for a heavy rider?
Many heavier riders worry that they might not find a horse able to carry their weight. However, most horse breeds are deceptively strong, and can carry heavier riders with ease!
The strongest types of horses tend to be cold-blooded breeds such as draft horses - Clydesdales, Shires, and Belgian Draft horses. For heavier children, native pony breeds such as Dales ponies and Haflingers are a good choice.
When it comes to carrying a heavier rider, there are certain things the rider can do to keep the horse as comfortable as possible. Maintaining a good level of balance will help to reduce pressure on the horse's back. A lightweight yet unbalanced rider can be harder for a horse to carry than an experienced heavier rider with good balance.
How big can Shire horses get?
A Shire breed of horse can grow to be an average of 20 hands in size - which is an average of about 5 ½ feet tall. This breed can weigh up to 2,000 pounds when fully grown. Shires are called the "gentle giants" of the horse breed family because they are so large, yet gentle-natured. They usually have one foal each year, sometimes two.
Even though Shires can get very large, once they are fully mature (about 4 years old), they don't grow much taller. This breed of horse is most commonly used for pulling and farm work, but they are not particularly fast or agile. Shire horses have a short, steady stride when walking or trotting, so it's best to stay off of this breed if you want something fast. However, they are very placid and good-natured, and they are rarely known to misbehave or buck their rider off.
Are Percherons good riding horses?
Percherons are best suited for average to heavier riders. This is because this breed of horse has a higher head set - which means that your hands will be lower when you ride on one. If your hands and body don't line up properly with the placement of your mount's shoulders and withers, it can be uncomfortable and difficult to stay balanced in your seat. This breed of horse has a bigger body than other horses, so it's best suited to larger individuals who need more physical mass in order to keep their balance on the back of the animal.
Percheron horses are best known for pulling carriages or farm equipment - not for racing or show jumping - and they can be bested in races by some other breeds. They are more quick-witted than many other draft breeds and quick to learn, making them a fun riding horse for a larger rider.
How strong is a Belgian Draft Horse?
Belgian draft horses come in different heights and weights. They usually weigh about 1,600 pounds when fully grown and stand at a minimum of sixteen hands tall - which is 5 ½ feet tall.
The Belgian draft horse is notoriously strong, and these horses can be stronger than Clydesdales even though they are smaller in height. Belgians will normally beat Clydesdales in pulling and carrying capacity, but not top speed or grace.
Also, the Belgian draft horse has high levels of endurance, and will not tire as quickly as most other draft horse breeds. This is because they put their strength into moving forward, with their impressive muscular bodies powering them forward whilst pulling heavy loads behind them.
Michael Dehaan is a passionate horse owner, horse rider, and lover of all things equine. He has been around horses since he was a child, and has grown to become an expert in the field. He has owned and ridden a variety of horses of different breeds, and has trained many to compete in shows and competitions. He is an experienced horseman, having worked with and competed many horses, including his own. He is an active member of the equestrian community, participating in events and teaching riding lessons.