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Can You Ride a Belgian Draft Horse and Are They Gaited?

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Our neighbor owns a pair of massive Belgians they use to pull their trail wagons. Recently, my grandson was watching the horses and asked if a person could ride a Belgian. I thought it was a good question to research since we’ve never seen anyone ride our neighbor’s horses.

Belgians can be ridden, and some are first-rate trail riding horses; they have a calm temperament and are willing workers, two essential traits for a suitable mount. In fact, Belgians and other draft breeds are frequently used at commercial trail riding facilities. But they’re not a gaited breed, so don’t expect a smooth ride.

When most people think of Belgians, they picture big powerful horses competing in horse-pulling competitions, but there is more to this fascinating breed than meets the eye.

Picture of a pair of Belgian horses,

Riding a Belgian horse.

Most horses can be trained to perform many equine disciplines, some may not be as good as others, but they can learn the cues and movements. Some equestrians may even go so far as to proclaim all horses can be trained to ride; they just need the correct instructor.

Belgians already taught to pull wagons are familiar with tack and cues, so they often transition easily to riding. Your biggest challenge is being patient and transitioning your Belgian from the harness to the saddle.

Take your time and find properly fitting tack, and even though they are used to being handled, this is the first time they will have a cinch tightened and a person on their back.

The first time you mount your Belgian, I recommend having someone with you and preferably asking them to lead you around inside a pen. Start slowly and only ride for short intervals, less than thirty minutes, for the first couple of weeks.

Picture of Belgian horse in a pasture,

You’ll need to adjust your tack to ride a Belgian.

Most local tack shops don’t carry riding tack for draft horses like Belgians. But if you live near a saddle shop, they can likely customize equipment to fit your needs.

Riding saddles are used to protect a horse’s back and should fit correctly to avoid hurting the animal. Most saddles are built for standard-sized riding horses and are to narrow for a wide backed Belgian.

A saddle that fits too tight across a horse’s back causes painful pinching when the horse moves. The pain can affect their performance and even cause them to buck.

The standard-sized headstall and bit used on most horses won’t fit a Belgian; you have to find a larger size. A correctly fitting bit should correspond with the width of the horse’s mouth.

When a bit is too small for a horse, the bit rings press hard against the horse’s face and is painful. The bit you use for driving might work, but it’s best to have a separate rig for riding.

Picture of a belgian horse in a pasture, riding a belgian,

Trail riding on a Belgian horse.

Belgians are great trail-riding horses. They give you a high perch to enjoy the sites, a comfortable seat, and a long stride that can cover a lot of ground. They are also calm horses that don’t easily spook, which is essential when trail riding.

The positive of sitting high is the view; the negative is ducking limbs other riders saunter under. Because Belgians are so large, they provide a comfortable seat for tall riders, but for those with short legs, you may feel you’re doing the splits.

Belgians are challenging for some people to mount without assistance because they are tall. So if you get off your horse on the trail, be sure you have a way to get back in the saddle.

Belgians are laid-back horses, but you can keep them moving with encouragement. And if you want to slow down or stop, they won’t fight you to keep moving.


Because Belgians are so strong, you can’t overpower one, even with a harsh bit. But fortunately, they’re used to working with verbal cues, so take some time and train your Belgian with verbal cues.

Riding on trails always includes a surprise visitor or two, whether it be wild dogs, deer, or hikers. Sitting on the back of a large draft breed will make you appreciate their calm demeanor; they won’t bolt or spook.

Belgians are versatile.

Traditionally Belgians performed the duties of draft horses, plowing fields, and transporting goods, but today they are involved in many different equine events and activities, including therapeutic and recreational riding.

The Belgian horse breed is descended from the medieval warhorse of the Flemish Great Horse. Belgians, an ancient breed, was crossbred to increase their size and strength after 1880. The first Belgian horses were introduced to North America in 1866, where the breed was widely known, though never as prominent as Percheron.

Belgian are so popular because they’re easy to train and have a kind demeanor. Some regions still use Belgians for plowing, logging, driving wagons, hitches, sleighs, and all other forms of draft work. With small, long back and solid loins, they are compact and powerful.

Their hindquarters are enormous, with a distinctive “double muscling” over the croup. The gaskins are well-toned and short, their hooves are smaller than most other draft breeds, and they have minimal “feathering” on their lower legs.

Are Belgian horses gaited?

Belgians, like most horse breeds, are not naturally gaited. There are over 300 horse breeds, and less than ten percent are gaited. However, most horses, regardless of breed, can be taught to travel in one of the gaited movements.

What is a gaited horse?

Gaited horses are bred to travel in an ambling gait. Ambling gaits are a footfall pattern that produces smooth, even movement; certain breeds naturally have this characteristic and are considered a gaited breed.

Ambling gaits are faster and can be sustained for long periods. Gaited horse breeds make excellent trail riding horses because of their smooth ride, endurance, and surefootedness.

Some gaited breeds include the Morgan horse, Rocky Mountain Horse, Paso Fino, and Tennessee Walker Horse.

Is a Gaited Horse Better to Ride?

It just varies on what you’re interested in doing. If you want to compete in many Western horse competitions and need a horse to handle livestock, most people would say a non-gaited horse is preferable.

While I’m sure some gaited horses work animals fine, non-gaited breeds typically are better. Gaited horses are smoother than non-gaited horses. Gaited horses always have one foot on the ground, which decreases the drop seen in non-gaited horses; this creates a smooth ride and conserves energy.

Gaited horses are more energy efficient. Because there is no power lost battling gravity plus free fall, a gaited horse is more powerful than a non-gaited horse. The efficient use of energy is why gaited horses tend to have more natural endurance than their rough trotting counterparts.

Why Gaited Horses?

Gaited horses are typically preferable to ride, particularly for inexperienced riders. The smooth ride and reduced bounce during a beginner’s initial attempt help decrease the amount of anxiety for first-time riders.

Though riding a smooth horse to start your riding career might sound like a massive gain, horse riders who expect to improve their riding skills may potentially be disadvantaged.

As with draft horses and most other equines, they can be trained to travel in a gaited pattern and a wide variety of disciplines. When you are trying to ride a draught horse, there are many different questions to bear in mind, but they actually create good riding horses.

This ultimately comes down to just your final objective or what your ambitions are for riding horses. Draft horses will require preparation and appropriate tack for riding, like all horses, and they can be excellent partners.

Long-Distance Riding

Gaited horses are capable of walking lengthy journeys without being weary. This consistency makes them popular options for tours or trail rides in combination with the comfortable ride they offer.

A naturally gaited horse is definitely your best option for anyone looking for an equine partner for extended journeys.

Calm and Gentle

Many gaited horse breeds have a desirable temperament; they are typically calm and willing workers seeking to please their riders. They are usually very social and bond with their owners.

Because each horse is unique, you should learn as much as you can about the individual horse and don’t choose it only because of its gait.

How can you control a gaited horse?

To establish an optimal gait, even normally gaited horses need the right preparation. This starts with a solid base, concentrating on being the best rider so that you can help your horse grow into its gait naturally.

For instance, the horse can expend a substantial chunk of its energy readjusting if you are unstable in the saddle. It is significant to mention that, much like every other part of horsemanship, the desired gait is built and promoted over time.

With patient training methods, a team, horse, and rider develop a robust and long-lasting relationship.

Bottom Line

Belgians have a great blend of strength, heart, and intelligence. They are outstanding workers and make suitable riding horses for a level of riders. Their diversity should put them high on your list if you want a horse to pull your wagon or trail ride.


What are Belgian horses known for?

Belgian horses are known for their pulling power, size, and gentle temperament. They hold most of the world’s records in pulling competitions.

What color is a Belgian horse?

Belgian horses are a breed that’s characterized by their light blonde manes and tails with either chestnut, sorrels, or blonde coats. Some Belgians may display roaning throughout their coat.

Are Belgian horses good for beginners?

Belgian are excellent horses for beginner riders. They’re calm, good-natured, and willing to work with riders of all skill levels. Horse riding facilities often use Belgians as their beginner’s mount because they are large enough for even the biggest novice riders!