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Clydesdales and Belgians are two popular draft breeds with fantastic strength and gentle natures. Clydesdales are massive horses, but, are Belgian horses even bigger than Clydesdales?
Belgian horses are bigger than Clydesdales, a Belgian is typically between 16.2 and 17 hands tall and weigh from 1,800 to 2,200 pounds. Clydesdales are slightly taller but weigh less.
Belgians are slightly larger overall than Clydesdales; however, size isn’t the only characteristic that distinguishes the two breeds. Belgians are world record holders in numerous categories.
Belgians can weigh more than 3,000 pounds.
Belgian Draft horses range between 16.2 and 17 hands tall and have an average weight of over 2,000 pounds, but the most massive Belgian horse weighed over 3,000 pounds.
Clydesdales draft horses have a slighter build than most other heavy draft breeds. They typically reach 18 hands tall an average weight between 1,800 and 2,200 pounds.
A Belgian held the record for the largest horse.
The breed is known for its dense short body, broad back, powerfully made hindquarters, and short legs. These animals also have short necks with square heads. Their body exudes strength.
Brooklyn Supreme is a Belgian draft horse from the 1940s that held the title of world’s largest horse, and world heaviest horse, he weighed 3,200 pounds and stood 19.2 hands tall.
The world record for the tallest horse
The world record for the tallest horse is typically a competition between two breeds, the Shire horse and Belgian horses. The world record holder is the Shire name, Sampson.
According to the Guinness World Records, a Belgian Draft horse named Big Jake held the world record for being the tallest living horse, he stood 20.2 3⁄4 hands tall and weighed 2,600 pounds. Big Jake passed away in 2021.
Belgians hold the world record for pulling
Belgian horses hold the world record for pulling the most weight. Draft horse pulling competition occurs around the country and includes entries from around the globe. The pulls are divided into weight categories, and winners are determined by the distances they can move a weighted sled.
This strong breed dominates the heavyweight division, frequently they are the only breed in the competitions. They hold every heavyweight pulling record. (In an article about Clydesdales I cover pulling competitions in more detail.)
Belgian horse lifespan is about 18 yrs.
Most heavy draft breeds have a lifespan of about 18 years, and this is consistent with Belgians. Some Belgian horses live to their mid-20s, but this is rare.
Big breeds in many species typically have shorter lifespans than their smaller counterparts. Many Belgians start developing problems associated with elder horses at 14.
These problems associated with aging include cardiac disease, digestion disorders (colic), and musculoskeletal issues. They will also show a decrease in performance earlier than many lighter breeds.
An interesting fact: The horse that holds the Guinness World Record for living the longest, is a draft horse. The horse’s name was “Old Billy,” and he was thought to be a Shire/Cob horse. Old Billy lived to be 62 years old.
Belgian and Brabant horses are different
Belgian and Brabant horses are very similar, but the breeds do have some differences. Before World War II, they were all the same; however, after the war, Europeans noticed that the U.S. bred Belgian horse was changing.
They grew taller and lighter-boned and no longer had long hair on their lower legs. To preserve classic Belgian traits, people in the Netherlands and Belgium bred horses with thick bones, lower leg feathers, and shorter statures.
The Europeans delineated their breed, labeling them Brabant horses, named after the province of Brabant in Belgium. Brabant horses have a presence in the United States. In 1999 the American Brabant Association was established.
Belgian horses originated in Western Europe.
It’s obvious what country this breed originates, Belgium. The state of Belgium is in Western Europe situated between France, Germany, The Netherlands, and the North Sea. Horses from this area are known for their size and strength.
An early example of large horses that originate from the region is the “great horses” or “Flemish horses.” These large Flemish horses were the mounts ridden into battle by medieval knights.
It’s believed the “great horses” contributed to the foundation of all large draft breeds. But most assuredly, they are the ancestors of the Belgian breed. Through the years, the Flemish “great horse” was selectively bred to produce a horse suited for the needs of the people in the region.
The offspring of these Flemish “great horses” were the foundation of the Belgian breed, and were used in warfare, much like their forefathers. Belgians transitioned from battle horses to farm horses and were primarily used to pull farming implements.
Bay Roan is the most common color of Belgian horses
Bay roan is the most popular color of Belgian horses worldwide, however, in the United States, most Belgians are sorrel with flaxen manes and tails, with white markings on their faces and legs.
A bay roan is created by the bay color scheme and influenced by a roan gene. The shade varies depending on the tone of the bay base, but just like all roans, the mane, tail, and lower legs are the color of the base, and the coat is evenly interspersed with white hair.
Bay horses have a black base, but genetics vary the shade of a horse. Bay horses typically have a reddish sheen, and when affected by the roan gene, it looks like a red roan with black points. Check the picture above for a visual of the bay roan color pattern.
Other common Belgian colors are red bay, bay, black, blonde, and gray.
Belgian horses are a Belgium national treasure
The Belgium government is proud of its horse breed and assisted in the animals’ development over the years. With the support of the government, the horses improved and were regarded as a national treasure.
Countries across Europe desired this healthy draft stock. The first mention of the breed entering the United States was in 1866. And the first American breed association was established in 1887.
But Belgian horses steadily gained ground and during the 1920s became the second most populous draft breed in the United States.
A Friesian is called “Belgian black” in the United Kingdom
British people use slang words and phrases unfamiliar to many Americans. And “Belgian black” is one of these informal phrases, it’s a reference to Friesian horses.
Belgians are the most populous draft breed in the U.S.
The popularity of Belgian horses has ebbed and flowed since they first stepped on the American shores. Percherons Clydesdales and Shires were established in the U.S. when the Belgian horses arrived.
But their strength, temperament, and hardiness, quickly won over many farmers. As the industrial revolution pushed horses off farms, all draft breed populations decreased for decades.
However, while Belgian numbers decreased, their popularity over other draft breeds increased. Today, Belgians’ versatility makes them the most populous draft horse breed in the United States.
Below is a YouTube video showing a Belgian draft horse at work.