A draft horse is also known as a draught horse (UK), a dray horse (from the Old English dragan meaning to draw or haul; compare Dutch dragen meaning to carry), or less often a work horse or heavy horse. The draft horse is a large horse that is bred for hard and heavy tasks - mainly farm labor and ploughing.
There are plenty of different draft horse breeds and they all have varying characteristics. However, all of the main draft horse breeds share common traits including plenty of strength, patience and a very docile temperament which has made them vital to generations of pre-industrial farmers.
Draft horses, including draft crossbreds, are very versatile horses that are used in modern day for a large multitude of purposes. They are most commonly used today for farming, logging, recreation and also for show, however, they do have other uses. Many draft horses will also be used for crossbreeding, especially to light riding breeds including the Thoroughbred. Breeding these two horse breeds creates sport horses as the draft horse adds height and weight to the ensuing offspring and it can also increase the power and the scope of the animal’s movement. . While most draft horses are used for driving, they can be ridden and some of the lighter draft breeds are capable performers under saddle.
Draft horses are extremely tall animals with a very muscular build and they do tend to have a more upright shoulder. This also tends to mean that they have more upright movement and conformation that is well-suited for pulling. They also usually have broad, short backs with powerful hindquarters, which is also useful for pulling.
Draft horse breeds also tend to have heavy bone and plenty of feathering on their lower legs. Many of them also have a straight profile or a ‘Roman nose’ which is basically a convex profile. In terms of height, draft horses can range from around 16 to 19 hands high and they can weigh from 1,400 to a whopping 2,000 lp.
Humans selectively bred the draft horse as they required large powerful horses that were also quick on their feet. They were bred to perform heavy duties and initially they were required to carry out horse-powered work including the hauling of heavy loads, plowing fields, and other tasks that required pulling ability. A heavy, calm, patient, well-muscled animal was desired for this work.
In the late 19th century and early 20th century, thousands of draft horses were imported from Western Europe into the United States. Belgians were brought in from Belgium, Percherons from France, Shires from England and Clydesdales from Scotland. Then, many American draft registries were founded in the late 19th century. The Percheron, with 40,000 broodmares registered as of 1915, was America’s most numerous draft breed at the turn of the 20th century. A breed developed exclusively in the U.S. was the American Cream Draft, which had a stud book established by the 1930s.