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I love attending Mardi Gras parades for their grand, colorful atmosphere, and the horses that participate are always a highlight for me. One breed that stands out is the mighty Clydesdale, which pulls the iconic Budweiser wagon. It got me thinking – are Clydesdales the largest horses out there, or are there other massive breeds to discover?
Out of the approximately 200 horse breeds around the world, seven stand out as the largest. These include the Shire Horse, Belgians, Clydesdales, Percherons, Suffolk Punch, Irish Draught, and Dutch Draft. While they share many similarities, each breed also possesses unique characteristics that set them apart.
If you’re a horse enthusiast or simply curious about the world’s biggest horses, this blog post is for you. We explore seven breeds in detail, providing you with fascinating information on their history, characteristics, and more. So, read on and discover the wonders of the world’s largest horse breeds.
Largest Horse Breeds in the World
The world’s most impressive and versatile horses tend to be among the largest and are frequently employed for a wide range of purposes, including draft work and showing. In this list, we’ll examine the seven largest horse breeds, each known for their imposing size and remarkable power.
1. The Shire Horse
- Average Weight: 1870 to 2430 pounds
- Average Height: 16 – 17.2 hands
- Colors: black, bay, brown, or grey
- Country of Origin: England
Shires are the current record holder as the largest horse breed in the world. Shires are descended from England’s “great horse,” which was ridden into battle and graced the tournament fields carrying knights in shining armor.
The steed of the English knight was bred to mares from Holland in the late 1800s and produced Shire horses. This new English horse breed was big and strong. It was used as a draft and farm animal.
The Shire 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.
Once a popular choice for pulling heavy loads, Shire horses are a breed of gentle giants and are considered by many to be the largest horse breed in history. Nowadays, they are primarily kept for show and pleasure-riding purposes.
2. Belgian Horse
- Average Weight: 2,000 pounds
- Average Height: 16.2 and 17 hands
- Colors: bay, chestnut, sorrel, or roan
- Country of Origin: Belgium
Belgians are one of the tallest breeds of horses in the world. They are known for their strength, power, and 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, Belgians 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, Belgians require experienced handlers who can provide them with firm but kind leadership.
With proper care and training, a Belgian can be loyal and companionship. The Belgian horse descended from the Flemish “great horse,” which was the medieval battle horse native to the Flanders area.
Check out the YouTube video below; it provides additional information about the biggest horses in the world.
It is an ancient horse that influenced the development of other 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. 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 equines 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. Clydesdale Horse
- Average Weight: 1,800 to 2,000 pounds
- Average Height: 16 to 18 hands
- Colors: bay, black, chestnut, grey, or Sabino
- Country of Origin: Scotland
Clydesdale horses are one of the biggest breeds in the world. They are known for their calm dispositions and immense strength. Clydesdales are also very handsome horses with luxurious coats and feathers on their legs.
They are most commonly associated with the Budweiser beer company, where they have been used in commercials and advertising for many years. Clydesdales are very intelligent 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 popular with many people because of their striking appearance and calm personalities.
The Clydesdale originated in the county of Clydesdale, Scotland, and was used 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, making them among the tallest horse breeds in the world.
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.
- Average Weight: 1,800 to 2,200 pounds
- Average Height: 16.2 to 17.3 hands
- Colors: gray, black, roan, chestnut,
- Country of Origin: France
The Percheron is a true giant in the world of equines. Towering above most other horses, they are known for their immense strength and raw power. Originally bred for the demanding work of farms and fields, Percherons have earned a well-deserved reputation for their tireless work ethic and unwavering determination.
Whether working in the fields or competing in shows, the Percheron’s size and strength make them a force to be reckoned with. In the world of horses, few can match the sheer power and majesty of the magnificent Percheron.
Today, they are still used as draft horses but are also popular for use in shows, parades, and driving. They also make good riding mounts for a variety of equine activities and are often crossbred with lighter 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 and are known for their friendships with other horses and their loyalty to their owners.
The Percheron is a French horse and is immensely popular worldwide. 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 16.2 to 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. Percherons are a versatile breed and make an excellent riding horse.
5. The Suffolk Punch
- Average Weight: 2000 to 2200 pounds
- Average Height: 16.1 to 17.2 hands
- Colors: dark liver, dull dark, red, and bright,
- Country of Origin: England
The Suffolk Punch is a British equine known for its massive size and strength. Originally from Suffolk and Norfolk in eastern England, the breed has been present in the region for centuries, with a history dating back to the 1500s.
The Suffolk Punch was bred for draft work, such as farming and other heavy-duty tasks; they have become an enduring symbol of power and endurance in the world of horses. All registered Suffolk Punch’s 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 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.
Among my list of large horses, the Suffolk stands out for its singular purpose. Unlike other horses bred for a variety of tasks, the Suffolk was created specifically for agricultural work, making it a true specialist in the field.
However, this specialization has also made the breed vulnerable to changing times. The number of Suffolk Punch horses began to dwindle in the late 1940s, and by the 1950s, the breed had come perilously close to extinction.
Despite this, the Suffolk remains a unique and beloved breed, celebrated for its power, strength, and unwavering dedication to hard work. 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 weigh from 1,900 to 2,200 pounds, making them one of the biggest horse breeds in the world.
Interesting fact: The horse breed got its name, “Suffolk Punch,” because of its rounded appearance.
6. Irish Draught Horse
- Average Weight: 1,300 to 1,500 pounds
- Average Height: 15.2 – 16.3 hands;
- Colors: bay, brown, grey, chestnut, black, dun.
- Country of Origin: Ireland
The Irish Draughts are known for their hardiness and versatility, and they have been used for centuries as workhorses on Irish farms. We recently visited Ireland and saw many Irish Draught horses pulling carriages. I took the above picture when touring an island off the Irish coast near Galway.
Today, Irish Draughts are still prized for their strength and stamina, and they are also frequently crossed with Thoroughbreds and warmbloods to produce the popular Irish Sport Horses, which excel in disciplines such as show jumping and eventing.
The Irish Draught is powerful with a robust build, and it is distinguished by its large, expressive eyes. These horses are intelligent and loyal partners, and they have a reputation for being kind and gentle-natured. Irish Draughts are truly versatile animals, and they continue to play an important role in Irish life.
7. Dutch Draft Horse
- Average Weight: 1,500 to 1,700 pounds
- Average Height: 15 to 17 hands
- Colors: bay, grey, or chestnut
- Country of Origin: Netherlands
The Dutch Draft breed is a massive, calm animal with good stamina. They are often used for work and draft purposes because of their size and strength. Dutch Draft horses are intelligent and have a friendly disposition, making them good companions.
They are also known for being sure-footed and level-headed, which makes them ideal for beginner riders. Dutch Drafts come in a variety of colors, but the most common are bay and chestnut. These animals are native to the Netherlands, where they have been bred for centuries.
Dutch Drafts are becoming increasingly popular in other countries as well due to their versatile skillset and gentle nature. If you’re looking for a loyal companion with a calm personality, the Dutch Draft horse is the perfect breed for you.
|Horse Breed||Average Height/Weight|
|The Shire Horse||2,000 pounds and stands 17 hands tall|
|Belgian Horse breed||2,000 pounds and stands 16.5 hands|
|Clydesdale Horse breed||1,900 pounds and stands 17 hands|
|Percheron Horse breed||1,900 pounds and stands 16.5 hands|
|Suffolk Punch breed||1,900 pounds and stands 16.5 hands|
What Type of Horses are the Biggest?
The most massive 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 steeds. 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.
A draft horse was 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 often still use a draft horses, such as Amish and Mennonite farmers. The modern draft horse is used at shows, pulling competitions, and or as exhibition animals pulling wagons.
During a recent visit to a training facility for jumpers, I was struck by a unique sight: a student riding a Percheron. Intrigued, I approached the instructor and discovered that this remarkable animal was a retired crowd-control mount that had proved so calm and athletic that they had trained it for jumping.
Many draft horses were crossbred with lighter horse breeds to create many popular warmbloods. Draft breeds aren’t just desired for their enormous strength,, but also for their excellent temperament.
Draft horses are, without a doubt, the most sizeable of all horse breeds. These impressive animals can weigh between 1,800 and 2,200 pounds and stand at least six feet tall 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.
Common Traits Among the World’s Largest Horses
Each horse is a unique individual with its own set of characteristics and personality traits. However, horses that share a common ancestry often share common physical and behavioral traits. Big horses are no exception, and many of the traits that make them so massive are found across multiple individuals.
Whether it is their incredible strength, impressive size, or tireless work ethic, the commonalities between these horses are what makes them so remarkable. Despite their individual differences, each shares a connection to their breed and a deep bond to the history and traditions of their lineage.
The largest horse breeds 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.
Here are some common traits shared by the world’s biggest horse breeds:
- Impressive strength: Many of these horses were originally bred for farm work, and as a result, they tend to be highly muscular and able to pull heavy loads with ease.
- Docile temperament: Despite their size and strength, many of these horses have a gentle and docile temperament, which makes them well-suited for work alongside humans.
- Well-defined muscular structure: The biggest horses often have well-defined muscles that contribute to their impressive strength and stamina.
- Calm and patient disposition: In addition to being docile, these horses are often known for their calm and patient dispositions, which make them easy to train and handle.
- Origin: Many of the world’s biggest equines originated in Europe, where they were used for farm work, transportation, and military purposes.
- High energy: Despite their calm and patient dispositions, many of these horses have a high energy level and require regular exercise and training to stay healthy and happy.
- Strong work ethic: Many large equines were bred for work, and as a result, they tend to have a strong work ethic and a deep desire to please their handlers.
- Versatility: While many big horses were originally bred for specific purposes, such as farm work or transportation, they have also proven to be versatile and adaptable to a wide range of activities, including riding, driving, and even jumping.
- Long life span: On average, big horses tend to have a longer lifespan than smaller breeds, with many living into their late twenties.
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.
The Biggest Horse: Characteristics of Working Horse Breeds
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 people in the equine community, but scientists now understand why this phenomenon occurs.
While every animal is unique, members of a particular breed do tend to exhibit certain characteristic behaviors and temperaments. For example, draft horses are generally known for being less sensitive to touch and moving around less in their stalls than lighter horses.
On the other hand, Arabian horses are often particularly reactive to sudden movements and can be more high-strung than some other breeds. These behavioral differences are a result of the distinct genetic makeup and breeding history and are part of what makes horses such fascinating and complex animals.
By understanding the unique qualities of each breed, we can deepen our appreciation for the remarkable range of equine behavior and personality. Although “draft” is not a breed, the kinds that make up the classification of draft horses have common personalities and temperaments.
Draft breeds are gentle-natured.
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 equine breeds, check out the study published in Sciencedirect entitled: Horse personality: Variation between breeds.
What is the Largest Horse in History?
Though horses come in a variety of shapes and sizes, there is one horse that stands out above the rest as the largest horse ever. His name was Sampson, and he was a Shire horse born in 1846. Sampson was a giant of a horse, measuring an astounding 21.5 hands high at the withers, easily making him the tallest of all.
He weighed in at over 3,000 pounds, making him nearly twice the size of a normal horse. Despite his massive size, Sampson was gentle and even-tempered, making him a popular attraction at fairs and carnivals.
At a towering 21 hands tall, or 7 feet (2.13 meters) at the shoulder, Zeus the Belgian is an immense creature and comes in second place. Weighing approximately 3,000 pounds (1,361 kilograms), some speculate his custom-made horseshoes each weigh around 30 pounds.
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 limb fibrosis. 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.
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.