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The World’s Largest Breeds: 5 Massive Draft Horses

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Mardi Gras parades have horses of all shapes and sizes. The largest is the colorful Clydesdales that pull the Budweiser wagon. Seeing these horses made me wonder if they’re the largest horse breed in the world; if not, then what are the world’s largest horse breeds?

The world’s largest horse breeds are:

  • The Shire Horse
  • Belgians
  • Clydesdales
  • Percherons
  • Suffolk Punch

These five breeds are the largest of approximately 200 horse breeds across the globe. They have a lot in common but also some characteristics that set them apart from each other.

PIcture of a large draft horse pulling.

This article is part of my series focused on horse breeds-I started by writing an introductory piece: Horse Breeds: The Ultimate Guide. It’s a comprehensive overview of the different horse types and breeds.

Horse BreedAverage Height/Weight
The Shire Horse2,000 pounds and stands 17 hands tall
Belgian Horse breed2,000 pounds and stands 16.5 hands
Clydesdale Horse breed1,900 pounds and stands 17 hands
Percheron Horse breed1,900 pounds and stands 16.5 hands
Suffolk Punch breed1,900 pounds and stands 16.5 hands

World’s Largest Horse Breeds:

When it comes to horse breeds, size definitely matters. The largest horse breeds are often the most impressive, and they can be used for a variety of purposes, from draft work to racing. Here are five of the largest horse breeds in the world.

1. The Shire Horse breed

The Shire horse breed currently holds the record for the world’s largest horse. Shires are descended from England’s “great horse,” which was ridden into battle and graced the tournament fields carrying knights in shining armor.

Picture of a Shire horse.

The steed of the English knight was bred to mares from Holland in the late 1800s and produced the Shire breed. This new English horse breed was big and strong. It was used as a draft and farm animal.

The Shire horse is a British breed that is well-known for its large size. These horses can weigh up to 2,000 pounds and stand over 17 hands tall at the withers. They have thick coats, which are typically bay, brown, black, gray, or chestnut. Like Clydesdales, they have feathers on their lower legs.

Shire horses are gentle giants, and they were once commonly used for pulling heavy loads. Today, they are mostly used for show and pleasure riding.

Picture of two Belgian horses.

2. The Belgian Horse breed

The Belgian horse is one of the largest horse breeds in the world. They are known for their strength and power, and their ability to work long hours without tiring.

Belgian horses are also known for their calm dispositions and gentle natures. They are often used in roles such as packhorses or draft animals, as they are able to pull heavy loads without complaint.

However, Belgian horses are not just working beasts – they are also intelligent and sensitive creatures that bond closely with their owners. Due to their large size and strength, Belgian horses require experienced handlers who can provide them with firm but kind leadership.

With proper care and training, a Belgian horse can make a loyal and companionship. The Belgian horse breed descended from the Flemish “great horse,” which was the medieval battle horse native to the Flanders area.

It is an ancient breed and has influenced the development of other draft breeds, such as the Clydesdale and the Shire. Belgian horses’ average height is 16 to 17 hands tall, and they weigh between 1,800 to 2,200 pounds.

Belgians are typically bay, chestnut, sorrel, or roan in color. The most desired color of an American Belgian is chestnut with a flaxen mane and tail. Belgians regularly compete in pulling contests, where they dominate the competition. 

Big Jake, a Belgian, was named the tallest horse in the world by Guinness World Records in 2010. Belgian have a genetic predisposition to develop equine polysaccharide storage myopathy (PSSM) which results can result in lameness, muscle weakness, and lack of propulsion.

Note: Some of the largest horse breeds in the world are actually quite gentle. The Belgian horse breed, for example, is known for being calm and easy to work with despite its large size.

3. The Clydesdale Horse breed

Clydesdale horses are one of the largest horse breeds in the world. They are gentle giants, known for their calm dispositions and immense strength. Clydesdales are also very handsome horses, with luxurious coats and feathers on their legs.

Picture of Clydesdales pulling a wagon during a parade.

This breed is most commonly associated with the Budweiser beer company, where they have been used in commercials and advertising for many years. Clydesdales are very intelligent horses and are easily trained.

They are also extremely versatile, and able to be used for a variety of purposes including draft work, riding, and even driving. Clydesdales are a popular breed for many people due to their unique appearance and calm personalities.

The Clydesdale originated in the county of Clydesdale, Scotland, and was used as a farm horse to work fields and pull carts. The modern, Clydesdales’ are still used on small farms, pulling competitions, and during parades.

Because of their gentle nature and natural athletic ability Clydesdales make excellent riding horses. However, they are challenging to mount on the trail. A mature Clydesdale typically weighs between 1,800 to 2,200 pounds, and they stand up to 18 hands tall at their withers.

Clydesdales have thick coats that are commonly bay, black, grey, and chestnut with or without roaning. The most common color scheme of a Clydesdale horse is bay with white markings on its face, feet, and legs. Some horses also have white on their bodies, usually under the belly.

The feathering on Clydesdale’s lower legs that are typically white. These long hairs require daily grooming. If the area is neglected, skin irritation is common.

Picture of a girl during her horse riding lessons, she is riding a Percheron.

4. The Percheron Horse breed

The Percheron horse is one of the largest breeds of horses in the world. They are known for their strength and power and were originally bred for working in farms and fields.

Today, they are still used for draft work but are also popular for use in horse shows, parades, and driving. They also make good riding horses for a variety of equine activities and are often crossbred with lighter horse breeds, especially Thoroughbreds.

They have strong, muscular bodies and long legs. Their heads are large and expressive, with kind eyes and gentle noses. Percherons are intelligent and versatile horses that are easy to train. They are also known for their friendships with other horses, and their loyalty to their owners.

The Percheron is a French horse and is the most popular of the large draft breed. A Percheron once held the title of the world’s tallest horse. Their sizes range considerably, from as small as 15.1 hands to as tall as 19 hands.

The Percheron breed was significantly influenced by lighter oriental horse breeds such as Arabian. This crossbreeding with lighter horses didn’t diminish the Percheron’s size or strength but did contribute to the horse’s elegant appearance.

Percherons are typically gray or black. Their size varies significantly with the country of their breeding. For example, in France, a typical Percheron weighs between 1,100-2,600 lbs compared to 1,900-2,600 lbs in the US, and 1,800-2,200 lbs in Great Britain.

The same disparity can be found in their height; in France, the typical Percheron is between 15.1-18.1 hands; in the United States, they range from 16.2to 17.3 hands, and in Great Britain, they average 16.1 hands tall.

Percherons are best known for their willingness to work, hardiness, and ability to adapt to harsh climates. They are good-natured horses that are easy keepers. Percheron’s are a versatile breed and make an excellent riding horse.

5. The Suffolk Punch breed

The Suffolk Punch is a British horse breed that is known for being one of the largest horse breeds in the world. It originated in Suffolk and Norfolk in eastern England, where draft horses have been present since the 1500s.

Picture of a man leading a Suffolk Punch.
Suffolk Punches

The Suffolk Punch is considered the oldest native horse breed of Great Britain. They are known for their strength and stamina and are often used for farming work.

All registered Suffolk Punch horses can trace their pedigree to the foundation stallion Crisp’s Horse of Ufford, foaled in 1768. The Suffolk horse has changed little over the past three hundred years.

The Suffolk Punch is a gentle giant, and it is known for being good-natured and easy to handle. The Suffolk Punch is also known for its hardy constitution, and it can thrive in all kinds of climates.

The Suffolk is unique among draft breeds in that it was selectively bred solely for agricultural work. The number of Suffolk Punch horses greatly diminished in the late 1940s and came close to extinction in the 1950s.

Today there are so few Suffolk horses that they are listed as “Critical” on the American Livestock Breeds Conservatory. Suffolk horses have distinct coat color characteristics; all are shades of chestnut with no white markings. They typically stand between 16.1 and 17.2 hands tall and weigh from 1,900 to 2,200 pounds.

Interesting fact: The horse breed got its name, “Suffolk Punch” because of its rounded appearance.

The largest horse breeds are draft horses.

The largest horses in the world are draft horses. These horses are bred for their size and strength and are used mainly for pulling heavy loads, they are built for work, such as plowing, logging, or pulling heavy loads on sleds or carriages.

While most draft horses are used for pulling equipment or wagons, some make good riding horses. People first domesticated horses more than 5,000 years ago in western Kazakhstan. From then until now, horses have been an integral part of our lives.

Horses have been used in warfare and helped shape the world, they’ve worked vast acres of farmland so we could have a stable source of food, and they transported people across continents to expand nations.

Draft horses were essential to humans until the advent of the industrial revolution and the development of the internal combustible engine. This new machine was more efficient and eventually replaced draft horses in most industries. However, some smaller farms in the United States and Europe still use draft horses such as Amish and Mennonite farmers.

Modern draft horses are used at shows, pulling competitions, and or as exhibition animals pulling wagons. I was recently at a training facility for jumpers and noticed a student riding a Percheron.

Seeing this horse piqued my interest so I talked to the instructor and learned the horse was a retired crowd control horse that was so calm and athletic they taught it to jump.

Many draft horses were crossbred with lighter horse breeds to develop many popular warmblood breeds. Draft breeds aren’t just desired for their enormous strength, but also for their excellent temperament.

There is no doubt that draft horses are the largest of all horse breeds. These powerful animals often weigh between 1,800 and 2,200 pounds, and they can stand taller than six feet at the withers.

While these animals are certainly impressive in size, they are also known for their gentle nature. Many draft horses enjoy being ridden and trained, and they make wonderful companions. Whether you are looking for a working partner or a beloved family pet, a draft horse is sure to meet your needs.

Picture of Percheron horses.

Largest Horse Breeds and the Traits They Have In Common?

There are many different types of horse breeds in the world, but some stand out more than others. The largest horse breeds are known for their strength and size, but they also have other common traits that make them unique.

Horses are individuals, but members of a specific breed have common characteristics. Horse breeds that comprise our list of most massive horses have traits that are found in all of them.

The largest horses are typically very strong and muscular, with thick bodies and large feet. They usually have calm dispositions, making them ideal for work purposes. These horses are often referred to as “gentle giants,” and this is an apt description.

Most draft breeds are from cold weather regions in Europe and have furry feet, called feathers. Feathers keep the lower legs of draft horses warm but also lead to skin irritation if not properly maintained.

Even though draft breeds have a lot of similar characteristics they also have some differences, such as conformation, coat colors, and temperament.

Some of the most popular draft horse breeds include the Clydesdale, Shire, and Belgian Draft. These horses can weigh over 2,000 pounds and stand taller than 17 hands. While they may not be the fastest or most agile horses, they are certainly among the strongest.

Gentle Giants: The Characteristics of Large Horses

There is something special about large horses. They often have a gentle demeanor and are known for their kindness and patience. Which is a characteristic that makes them great companions.

It is accepted that behavior and personality are affected by genes. Research has shown evidence of genetic influence on behavior that supports the hypothesis that breeds differ in character. This is common knowledge for horse people, but scientists now understand why this phenomenon occurs.

Members of a breed have standard behavior, and horse breeds vary in their temperaments or personality. For example, draft horses are less sensitive to touch and move around less in their stalls than lighter horse breeds, Arabian horses are particularly reactive to sudden movements.

Although “draft” is not a breed, the kinds that make up the classification of draft horses have common personalities and temperaments. Draft horses have a gentle and forgiving nature; they are also proud, alert, and have common sense.

Keep in mind all horses are individuals, but generally, I’ve found most draft breeds to be happy, easy-going, eager when asked to work, and typically have a desire to please.

Though these large horses are all generally calm and cheerful, there are small differences in their temperaments. For example, Percherons have more energy, and Clydesdales are considered hotter than Belgians, but still calm in comparison to other smaller breeds.

To read a well-research study on the differences in horse breeds check out the study published in Sciencedirect entitled: Horse personality: Variation between breeds

Check out the YouTube video below, it provides additional information about the biggest horses in the world.

FAQ

What is the most dangerous horse breed in the world?

Generally, the most dangerous horses are ones with an aggressive or “hot-blooded” temperament, such as Arabians, Thoroughbreds, and Akhal-Tekes. However, horses are individuals and some of the calmest and most level-headed individuals may be members of these breeds.

What is the rarest draft horse breed in the world?

The American Cream Draft is the rarest draft horse breed in the world, there are only 400 registered. These large cream-colored horses originated in the United States in the 1900s and descend from a common mare. Because of their limited breeding, they’ve always been a rare breed.

  • Large draft horses display a higher than average rate of progressive swelling, hyperkeratosis, and fibrosis in their limbs. The condition begins at an early age and worsens as the horse ages.
  • Chronic progressive lymphedema is the constant buildup of lymph fluid in a horse’s lower limbs. This condition affects large horse breeds and can be fatal. Click here to read more about this disease.