Percheron, A French Draft Horse Breed: Facts, Colors, & Uses


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We recently passed a wagon pulled by a pair of Percherons. Horse-drawn carts are common in our area, but they’re typically hooked to Haflingers, or Belgians, not Percherons.

Percherons horses are a versatile draft breed that originated in France; they make exceptional riding horses and are great for pulling wagons and carriages. Percherons are alert and willing learners with a calm temperament.

People often choose a horse based on its looks. And although Percherons are a beautiful horse breed, they have a lot more to offer than aesthetics.

Picture of a Percheron horse used in western events.
Jean [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]

Percheron horse facts

Percherons are big horses whose function has varied throughout history. At one time, they were ridden into battle; in later centuries, Percherons were used primarily as a draft horse to pull carriages.

Where did the Percheron Horse Originate?

The Percheron horse breed originated in the French province of Perche. Perche was an area of mostly forest land located south of Normandy. After the French revolution, it was absorbed into other regions and no longer exist.

Invaders used the Perche province as a launching point to attack different regions in the surrounding area. The Romans, Gauls, and Celtics fought in Perche during the 7th and 8th centuries. In the 9th century, the Vikings used Perche as a base to attack Normandy.

Percherons are influenced by Arabian bloodlines

When the Vikings came, they brought horses from foreign lands, including Arabian stallions, and these foreign horses bred with native mares. The offspring developed into the Percheron horse breed.

The modern Percherons can trace their roots to a specific location where the breed originated, the Huisne river valley of Perche.

The precise blood used to develop the breed isn’t known; however, historians speculate that the region was more of an influence on the breed’s development than the bloodline.

Percherons were originally useful farm and riding horses. However, in the early 17th century, the Percherons became fierce battle mounts for French knights.

During this period, the Percherons didn’t have the height they have today; they were strong and muscular but slightly shorter. The Percherons that the French knights rode into battle commonly stood between 15 and 16 hands tall.

Because of their temperament, intelligence, and athletic ability, Percherons were highly sought after warhorses.

Percherons were near extinction in the 19th century

In the 19th century, a stud was introduced to build the breed back to its former glory after its near extinction. This stud was named Jean Le Blanc.

Jean Le Blanc fulfilled his duties and today every Percheron pedigree trace back to Jean Le Blanc. With the breed rebuilt, the French government began using the horses to develop them into cavalry mounts.

Picture of a Percheron ridden by a young girl training.

Percherons are used in many equine activities.

Percherons’ are strong and athletic, but also intelligent enough for various events. Recently I was watching young riders practicing their showjumping skills when a Percheron caught my eye in the arena!

This Percheron is the epitome of versatility; it had previously worked as a crowd control horse before its conversion to the show arena.

This Percheron is the epitome of versatility; While watching it in action I spoke to its owner and learned that it worked as a crowd control horse for the New Orleans Police Department before converting to its current role.

There are two Percherons body types

Since the 8th century, the French horse breed’s appearance has changed and grew into a large draft breed. However, the modern French draft horses have two distinct body types, both draft, but one is a heavy draft and the other a light draft.

Both body types are popular and are a favorite draft breed around the world; they are elegant, energetic horses with a pleasant disposition.

Percherons have a calm temperament

This French draft breed has a docile and good-natured horse breed, yet they aren’t sluggish or dull. In heavy traffic or riding on the trails, they don’t upset easily.

They are smart, prideful, and hard workers. However, unlike some other draft breeds, they are a spirited horse, its fiery personality could be the result of its warhorse ancestors.

Percherons have lots of energy

This French draft breed has the highest energy level of all the draft breeds. But high energy doesn’t mean “high strung” because these are level headed horses. They are fearless, rarely spook, and are easy to control.

If they do get spooked for some reason, they are quick to regain composure. These horses are calm enough that they are frequently used for therapeutic riders. They don’t have a tendency to run off at the first unexpected noise but are willing to go when asked.

Percherons develop quickly with an experienced trainer and are used in a variety of equestrian events. The breed is cooperative, friendly, and willing learners.

Are Percherons good riding horses?

We don’t see many people riding Percherons, but they look like they could be nice mounts with energy and a calm disposition. So I decided to do some research to find out if they could be a good riding horse.

Percherons are excellent riding horses; they have the conformation, energy, and endurance for long trail rides and the athletic ability required for eventing. Percherons are versatile enough to use in a wide range of riding activities

In the 19th century, they traveled up to 37 miles a day at a trot. These draft horses, unlike many draft breeds, are easy horses to keep, and they adapt well to many conditions and climates. They have good feet and healthy bones.

Gaston - Percheron - Hunter/Dressage

The French draft horses are easy to train and have a natural desire to please, two necessary traits in a good riding horse. These draft horses are used in English riding, trail riding, jumping, and dressage.

In 2018 a full Percheron competed at the U.S. Dressage Finals at 21 years old. These horses can do it all. His rider describes the horse as “kinda fancy when it comes to his gait and light on his feet,” words not typically used to describe a draft horse.

Are Percherons gaited?

Percherons are ridden in various equine events, but I started thinking about how comfortable they would be to ride, and if they are gaited. Since I’ve never ridden one I decided to find out.

Percherons aren’t a gaited horse breed, but they have great clean action when walking. They move proudly and are relatively smooth-riding horses. When trotting, it can get rough in the saddle, not unlike many other non-gaited breeds.

Gaited horses have distinct footfall patterns; at all times, one foot of a gaited horse is on the ground. Horse having one foot on the ground at all times prevents a drop of the horse between steps resulting in a smooth ride. To learn more about gaited horses, read our post “What Are The Gaits of the Paso Fino Horse“.

All about Percheron colors

Percherons can be many colors, but there are two dominant colors in the breed, grey and black.

Are Percherons born black?

percheron,

Every Percheron I’ve seen had a gray coat. I was told that all Percherons are born black and turn gray. But I’m not sure if this is correct, so I decided to find out.

Many Percherons are born black and turn grey, and others are born gray and typically lighten with age. The British Percheron Horse Society only accepts horses with coat colors of black and grey for registration.

They pulled carriages on public roadways before the advent of motorized vehicles. The color most desired was grey because they were easier to see in the late evening and night.

French Percherons’ coat color is gray or black.

Black and grey coat colors are also the only coat colors acceptable for registration in France. The Percheron Horse Association of America allows the registration of horses with coat colors black, gray, roan, and chestnut.

The British Percheron Horse Society was formed in 1918. The initial horses to develop the breed came from France, the United States, and Canada.

U.S. Percherons include roan and chestnut colors

percheron,

The first Association in the United States formed in 1876 and was named the Norman-Percheron Association. This association was the first purebred horse association formed in the United States.

The original association folded, and a new society formed in 1905 called the Percheron Society of America. In 1934 the Percheron Horse Association of America was formed and continues today.

Percherons are big horses.

Percherons are big and athletic horses, but how do they compare to one of the biggest draft breeds, the Clydesdales?

Are Percherons bigger than Clydesdales?

When I walk near a Percheron, I’m always shocked at the massive size of these horses. My surprise is likely because we own Quarter horses and Thoroughbreds, but I wonder if Percherons are larger than Clydesdales.

The Percheron horse breed is similar in size to the Clydesdale breed; the French draft horse’s average weight is more, and the Clydesdale is typically taller. Both are large draft horse breeds.

percheron,
HeightWeight
Percheron16.2-17.31,900-2,600 lbs
Clydesdale16-181,800-2,000 lbs

The ideal size of a Percheron varies by country; in France, heights range from 15.1 to 18.1. In the United Kingdom, the shortest acceptable height is 16.1 for stallions, and in the United States, they stand between 16.2 and 17.3 hands tall.

Percherons have strongly built conformation

An ideal Percheron has a long level croup with a significant round hip. He should be close-coupled, have a full, deep chest and laid back shoulders,

Their heads are broad with a straight face, strong jaw, and refined medium-sized ears. The neck should be thick and arched and crested in stallions, similar to most other draft breeds.

These horses have strong legs, big knees, and broad hocks. Their cannon bones are short, and they have medium length pasterns. They have average-sized feet with hard hoofs. These are hardy horses with good muscle and bones.

How much do Percherons eat?

Since Percherons are so large, they must eat a lot. So before you bring one home, it would be prudent to have an idea of how much your Percheron needs to eat.

Percherons typically eat 30 pounds of hay and 5 pounds of grain per day. They are big horses and need a lot of food to sustain their bodies. Calorie intake should be adjusted for the climate and work activity of your horse.

If you intend to keep one in a stall, make sure it is a big stall. These horses don’t do well in a small or confined area; however, they can be kept in a paddock or pasture without any problem.

How long do Percheron horses live?

I know most draft horses live to about 18 years old, but Percherons aren’t like most draft horses. So I started wondering about their lifespan, if they live longer than other draft horses.

Percherons, on average, live between 25-30 years, this is substantially longer than most large draft breeds. Percherons are hardy horses and not prone to any specific health conditions. A lifespan of 25-30 years for a horse is typical for light horse breeds but high for heavy horses.

You can click this link to read about an equine study of the nutritional needs of horses, which includes Percherons.

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Miles Henry

I love animals! Especially horses, I've been around them most of my life but I am always learning more and enjoy sharing with others. I have bought, sold, and broke racehorse yearlings. I have raised some winning horses and had some that didn't make it as racehorses, so we trained them in other disciplines. Miles Henry

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