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11 Largest Horse Breeds (with Pictures)
There are hundreds of horse breeds around the world. Horses have been domesticated for hundreds if not thousands of years, leading to plenty of variation between different breeds. Some of these breeds are very small, but others are substantial.
Most large horses are draft horses. In other words, they’re bred to pull heavy equipment and supplies. Most of them are not riding horses — they’re too large. Many of these breeds are still used for pulling things even today.
1. Shire Horse
The Shire horse is easily the largest horse in the world. These things make other horses look like dwarfs. They range from 17 to 19 hands tall and can weigh up to 2,400 pounds. They were selectively bred to be large for farm and industrial work. This led to the enormous size they are today.
In the past, this breed towed barges, pulled carts, and handled heavy plows. They’re used for both farm and industrial work.
However, because most farms are mechanized these days, these horses are nearing extinction. Their numbers continue to lower, as many don’t want to keep large horses unless they have a practical need for them.
Multiple groups are looking to revive this breed, though. Their numbers have slowly recovered, though they are still considered endangered today.
This horse is a bit better known than the Shire Horse. However, they are a bit smaller. They are somewhere between 16 to 18 hands high and weigh between 1,800 to 2,000 pounds. They can be larger, though.
The famous Budweiser Clydesdale horses are usually at least 18 hands high and weigh up to 2,300 pounds. King LeGear is perhaps the biggest Clydesdale around, standing at a high 20.5 hands high. He weighed 2,950 pounds, which is bigger than a Shire Horse.
These horses are known for their energetic nature. They can be quite gentle, but they are also rather excitable. They are used for agriculture, industrial, and forestry purposes that require strength.
They are also considered magnificent horses. They have white, feathered hooves that make them very popular. They are commonly in parades and as show horses due to their beauty. While they are prevalent, they are still at risk of extinction in some countries. This is mostly due to their large size, which makes them somewhat challenging to keep.
This is an ancient breed. There is no record of when the Clydesdale horse began. We know they existed in the mid-18th century, as there are records of them being imported to Scotland. Their definite ancestors include a Lampits mare and a Thomson’s stallion. However, there are likely other ancestors as well.
The Percheron is another colossal horse. It originates from France, particularly the Huisne river valley. This region was once known in Perche, which is where the breed gets its name from.
This horse varies in size quite a bit. They can be anywhere from 15 to 19 hands high, which is a huge variety of sizes.
While they were known in France, their actual history and development are unknown. They may be as old as 496 A.D.
This breed is unlike other draft horses because Arabian and oriental horses heavily influence them. This goes back to the 8th century. The influence remained heavily until the 19th century. Because of this influence, this horse has a lighter neck than some other breeds. However, it is still perfectly capable of pulling heavy loads.
Back in the 19th century, this was a famous coach horse. Today, since coaches are hardly used, they are mostly utilized in horse shows, parades, and driving. They are still able to perform forestry and farm work as necessary.
Unlike most draft horses, these also make good riding horses.
4. Belgian Draft
The Belgian Draft didn’t develop as its own breed until after World War II. The Belgian Draft is taller than most horses, but it is also lighter. This means it can’t carry as heavy of a load as other draft horses on this list, though it is still considered a heavy horse.
They usually weigh around 2,000 pounds and stand around 16.5 hands high. With their heavyweight, these horses are also capable of pulling heavy loads. Two Belgian Drafts were recorded to pull 17,000 pounds.
Today, these horses are most common in heavy farm work and forestry. However, they are still useful as riding horses. This is one of the few draft breeds that are not on the edge of extinction.
They are generally shorter than most other draft breeds, but this breed still has some pretty giant horses. The most well-known Belgian Draft was named Brooklyn Supreme. This horse stood 19.2 hands tall and weighed over 3,000 pounds.
5. Suffolk Punch
This horse breed is quite old and relatively tall. They are the tallest horse in Britain, standing between 16.1 and 17.2 hands high. They weigh around 2,000 pounds in most cases, though bigger horses are possible. These are still popular today for forestry and farm work. They also do a lot in the advertising industry, thanks mostly to their striking figure.
We don’t exactly know when this breed first came about. However, we have mentions that date back to 1586, so we know the breed has changed little since that time. This horse likely has close genetic ties with some pony breeds, despite being massive.
This is one of the rarer horse breeds on this list. They are ancient and have reached a genetic bottleneck due to the massive losses during the World Wars. There are very few left in Britain today.
In America, the breed is a bit better off. However, crossbreeding with Belgian Drafts is allowed in the United States, while the British still do not allow this. For this reason, the British also do not allow crossbreeding with American Suffolk Punches.
6. Dutch Draft
The Dutch Draft is a newer breed of horse. They didn’t appear until after World War I, in which Ardennes and Belgian Draft horses were commonly bred together. This led to a whole new breed of horse – the Dutch Draft.
This breed is quite heavyset. It became popular in Zeeland and Groningen, mostly for farm work and similar heavy pulling jobs. However, it didn’t have much time to become popular until World War II, where it suffered heavy losses and became a rarer breed.
This is likely one of the strongest horse breeds. They often compete in horse-drawn plowing events, where they often win. Despite this, they are much smaller than some of the other draft horses. Mares are usually around 15 hands high and stallions are around 17 hands high.
Still, they are much larger than most other breeds out there. They are not small horses by any means.
7. Australian Draught Horse
This horse breed is a giant conglomeration of other horse breeds on this list. They are basically a hybrid, with the genetics of Clydesdales, Percherons, Shires, and Suffolk Punches all wrapped up in this one breed. They didn’t become their own breed until 1976 when they started their studbook.
As the name suggests, this horse was bred for Australia. To make the horse suitable for this country, many large horses were used. It is likely that many of these horses were brought over with settlers, and then crossbreeding began to happen. Eventually, this led to a new breed.
This horse is famous throughout Australia, where it is the dominant draft breed. Many are not registered, so the exact number of horses around today is challenging to figure out.
This horse is relatively large, though it is smaller than many of its ancestors. It can stand between 16.2 and 17.2 hands high and weighs between 1,300 to 1,900 pounds. Bigger horses are acceptable.
Despite their relatively smaller size, they are just as strong as some of the other horses on this list. They are also very gentle and docile, which makes them easy to work with. Many people say they are a joy to own.
8. American Cream
The American Cream Draft is the only draft horse developed in the United States that is still in existence. All the others are now extinct. Even this horse is still a rare breed today.
They are best known for their gold champagne color, which is where they get part of their name from. This coloration is produced by putting a champagne gene on top of a chestnut color gene. For this reason, this breed comes in both champagne gold and chestnut, depending on whether or not the horse gets the champagne gene. This breed usually only has amber eyes.
This breed first popped up in Iowa during the early 20th century. They began with a mare named Old Granny, who was a cream color. The breed struggled to get traction during the Great Depression. However, several breeders worked to improve the breed, and the breed registry was created in 1944.
Since farming has become mechanized, this breed has fallen out of popularity. The registry became inactive for several decades. However, it was reactivated in 1982. The breed has been growing steadily since then, though they are still considered to be critical.
- See also: Kiger Mustang
9. Russian Heavy Draft/Ardennes
The Russian Heavy Draft is a Russian horse breed. It was bred originally in Imperial Russia during the second half of the 19th century. After the Russian revolution, it was renamed the Russian Ardennes. It is often shortened to the “Ardennes.”
This breed is one of several draft breeds that were being developed at the time. However, it is an older breed in general and is smaller than most other draft breeds around today.
This little horse is quite powerful for its size. It also has a high milk production and is sometimes used in the production of kumis. In some countries, the horse is also raised for meat.
10. Lithuanian Heavy Draught
This draught horse was created during the 19th and 20th centuries. As the name suggests, they were developed in Lithuania, where you will still mostly find them today. They are used most for heavy draft work, as you could probably guess. However, they are sometimes used for meat production as well.
Currently, the breed is near extinction. There were only 1,000 horses left less than 20 years ago.
This horse usually stands around 15 to 16 hands high. They are not as large as some other breeds on this list, though they are still decently powerful. They come in various colors as well, including bay, chestnut, black, grey, and roan. They have strong, solid legs and are quite muscular.
11. Soviet Heavy Draft
As the name suggests, this horse was developed during the Soviet era in Russia. This horse was initially derived from the Belgian Brabant and was developed for heavy labor and agricultural work in the Soviet Union. It was recognized as a breed in 1952.
This is one of several breeds that were all developed simultaneously, including the Russian Heavy Draft, which is often confused with this horse.
The Soviet Heavy Draft is known to be massive with a free-moving gait. They can have a straight or convex profile. Their neck is relatively short, while their torso is broad and muscular.
They were mostly used for draft work in agriculture, though they are sometimes seen in industrial work. They are also reliable producers of milk and meat, which they are used for in some countries. The females have a lower fertility rate of only 65%, though the foals are easy to care for and grow quickly. They have a decent lactation rate.
Featured Image: Studio10-27, Pixabay
Kristin is passionate about helping pet parents create a fulfilling life with their pets by informing them on the latest scientific research and helping them choose the best products for their pets. She currently resides in Tennessee with four dogs, three cats, two fish, and a lizard, though she has dreams of owning chickens one-day!