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

Last updated: January 18, 2024

By: Miles HenryFact Checked

Did you know the Belgian Draft outnumbers all other draft breeds in the United States or that they carried Medieval knights into battle? Known for their impressive stature and exceptional power, these horses have evolved from battlefields to become gentle giants of the equestrian world.

In my years of experience with various horse breeds, the Belgian Draft has always stood out for its unique blend of strength and docility, making it an intriguing choice for riding. This article focuses on the joys and nuances of riding a Belgian Draft.

We’ll explore the breed’s history, from its agricultural roots to its current role as a versatile and beloved riding companion. Join me as we delve into the world of the Belgian Draft, uncovering the characteristics that make these horses ideal for both work and leisure riding.

Belgian Draft1

Barrel racing on a Belgian horse. Source: Jean, CC BY 2.0

Riding a Belgian Horse

Riding a Belgian Horse offers a unique and rewarding experience, blending the majestic strength of these gentle giants with the art of equestrian skill. Discover the essentials of transitioning these powerful draft horses from harness to saddle, ensuring a safe and enjoyable ride.

Training for Different Disciplines:

  • Adaptability: Most horses, including Belgians, can be trained in various equine disciplines. They can learn the necessary cues and movements with the right instruction.
  • Link to Learning: For more on how horses understand cues, visit Understanding Equine Verbal Cues.

Transitioning from Harness to Saddle:

  • Familiarity with Tack: Belgians used for pulling wagons are already accustomed to tack and cues, easing their transition to saddle riding.
  • Patience is Key: Transitioning your Belgian from harness to saddle requires patience. Start with short riding sessions and gradually increase the duration.

First-Time Riding Tips:

  • Safety First: When mounting a Belgian for the first time, have an experienced person assist you, preferably leading you around in a pen.
  • Gradual Introduction: Begin with short riding intervals, less than thirty minutes, to acclimate your horse to the new experience.
Belgian Warmblood Vaulting Horse

Vaulting exhibition on a Belgian horse. Source: Jean, CC BY 2.0

Adjusting Your Tack for a Belgian

Finding the Right Equipment:

  • Specialized Tack Required: Standard tack may not fit Belgians due to their size. Customized equipment from specialized saddle shops may be necessary.
  • Protecting the Horse: Ensure the saddle fits correctly to avoid discomfort or injury to the horse.

Saddle and Bit Considerations:

YouTube video of equestrians riding Belgian horses.

YouTube video
Video of Belgian horses being ridden.

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.

Enjoying the Scenic Views:

  • Elevated Perspective: Riding a Belgian horse offers a high vantage point, allowing riders to enjoy panoramic views of the surroundings.
  • Comfort and Stride: Belgians provide a comfortable seat and have a long stride, ideal for covering more ground on trails.

Navigating the Trail Challenges:

  • Mind the Foliage: Due to their height, riders may need to duck under low-hanging branches that other riders easily pass beneath.
  • Suitability for Different Riders: While their size offers comfort for tall riders, those with shorter stature might find the experience akin to doing the splits.

Mounting and Movement:

  • Assistance May Be Needed: Their tall stature can make mounting challenging for some riders, so plan for assistance if you dismount on the trail.
  • Responsive and Laid-Back: Belgians are known for their laid-back nature but respond well to encouragement for movement.

Training for Trail Riding:

  • Verbal Cues: These strong horses are accustomed to verbal cues, making them manageable without the need for harsh bits.
  • Calmness in Unexpected Situations: Belgians’ calm demeanor is an asset on trails, ensuring they don’t easily spook at surprise encounters like wild animals or hikers.
Picture of two Belgian horses.
Belgian horses relaxing in a pasture.

The Remarkable History and Versatility of Belgian Horses

Discover the unique blend of strength, gentleness, and adaptability that makes this ancient breed a timeless treasure in the equestrian realm.

Historical and Modern Roles:

  • From Work to Sport: Originally used for heavy labor like plowing and transporting goods, Belgians now excel in various equine activities, including therapeutic and recreational riding.
  • A Rich Heritage: Descending from the medieval Flemish Great Horse, Belgians were selectively bred post-1880 for enhanced size and strength.

Introduction to North America:

  • Arrival and Recognition: The first Belgian horses arrived in North America in 1866, gaining recognition for their capabilities, though not as prominent as the Percheron breed.

Characteristics and Popularity:

  • Trainability and Temperament: Known for their ease of training and gentle nature, Belgians remain popular in various tasks, including farming and draft work.
  • Physical Attributes: They possess compact, powerful bodies with small, long backs and solid loins. Their hindquarters showcase distinctive double muscling, with well-toned gaskins and smaller hooves compared to other draft breeds.

Continued Utility in Various Fields:

  • Adaptability: Belgians are still employed in traditional roles like plowing and logging, as well as in driving wagons, hitches, and sleighs, demonstrating their versatility and enduring utility.
Picture of Belgian horse in a pasture,
Belgian horses in a pasture.
Belgian draft horse2

Belgian Draft Horse. Source: Richard, CC BY 2.0

Are Belgian Horses Gaited?

Understanding Gaited Horses:

Belgian Draft Horses:

  • Belgians, like most horse breeds, are not naturally gaited.
  • While less than ten percent of over 300 horse breeds are gaited, Belgians can be trained for gaited movements.

Benefits of Gaited Horses:

  • Smooth Ride: Ideal for trail riding due to their comfortable, even gait.
  • Energy Efficiency: They conserve energy better, making them suitable for long rides.
  • Temperament: Often calm and gentle, making them great for beginner riders.

Choosing the Right Horse:

  • Your choice depends on your riding goals. Non-gaited horses might be better for certain Western competitions and livestock handling.
  • Gaited horses offer a smoother experience, beneficial for new riders or those seeking a comfortable trail ride.

Belgian Draft Horses are versatile and strong, suitable for various riding levels. While not naturally gaited, they can be trained for gaited movements. Choosing between a gaited and non-gaited horse depends on your specific needs and riding objectives.

Picture of a belgian horse in a pasture.  You can corral him and ride a belgian horse for the first time.
Belgian horse in a field.

Conclusion: Can You Ride a Belgian Draft Horse

The Belgian horse, although one of the world’s largest horse breeds, stands as a testament to the versatility and resilience of equine breeds. From their historical roots as powerful warhorses to their modern roles in therapeutic riding, recreation, and traditional draft work, Belgians continue to captivate and serve humans in myriad ways.

Their adaptability, strength, and kind demeanor not only make them a favorite among equestrians but also highlight the enduring bond between horses and humans. The Belgian horse, a gentle giant in the equine world, remains an enduring symbol of grace, power, and versatility. So go out and ride a Belgian horse.

Picture of a pair of Belgian horses,
A pair of Belgian Draft horses pulling a carriage through the snow.


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!

References and Further Reading

For those interested in delving deeper into the world of Belgian Horses, the following references and resources offer authoritative information and insightful perspectives:

  1. “Belgian Draft Horse Corporation of America” – The official website provides detailed information on breed standards, registration, and events. Visit Website
  2. “Draft Horses: An Owner’s Manual” by Beth A. Valentine and Michael J. Wildenstein is a valuable resource for caretakers of draft horses, including Belgians.
  3. “Is Horse-Drawn Farming for You?”- Article by Purdue Extension – Provides a resource for people considering horsedrawn farming. Access Article

For enthusiasts and experts seeking a deeper understanding or wishing to connect with the Belgian Horse community, these resources serve as an excellent starting point.