As you will see, this page is about draft horse breeds. Not just the usual individual synopsis of the different breeds, but a comparison between several of the breeds. Some horses are obviously of a particular breed, but some individual horses are a little harder to identify. How can you tell one from another? For instance I can look at a picture of a draft horse and name the breed, but I don't know exactly what it was that tipped me off. That is what we shall explore.
The 'Big Five'
From my own research, the most well know draft breeds, in the US at least, seem to be the: Belgian, Clydesdale, Percheron, Shire, and Suffolk Punch. There are other breeds, but in books that only give a few examples, these tend to be the ones mentioned. The following tables help to point out the differences between 'the big 5' that we notice as we look at them. The data only represents an average. Individuals can be taller, shorter, heavier, lighter, etc. For example, I've seen pictures of Suffolk Punch's who looked for all the world like Belgians.
Note: Weight Comparison Table
Lightest to Heaviest (in lbs.)
Note: Listed from shortest to tallest.
5th heaviest; chunkiest appearence and a rotund form
heaviest; widest, deepest, most compact, massive, and lowset form
4th heaviest; less wide and compact than the other four
2nd heaviest; tallest; less compact and more rangy than the Belgian
Color/White Markings/Style and Action, etc.
always chesnut in color, any white markings are always small and understated
flaxen mane and tail and white blazes are common; color tends to be bay, chesnut or roan, fewer numbers are brown, grey, or black; powerful action is less high and springy than Clydesdale or Percheron, width may cause many Belgians to paddle somewhat
90% are black or grey, others are bay, brown, chesnut, or roan; good style and action
often bay or brown with generous white markings on face, legs, and body, can be black, grey, chesnut, or roan; have fine feathers; best style and action of the five
bay, brown and blacks are most common, can also be grey, chesnut, or roan; white markings are fairly common and tend to be large, but not as large as the white on a Clydesdale; have feather much like the Clydesdale, but it is more shaggy than fine with the appearance of bellbottom pants.
The Obligatory Description of their Origins: Country and Use
Suffolk Punch: Originated in Suffolk, England. Developed exclusively for farm work.
Belgian: Originated in Belgium.
Percheron: Originated in La Perche, Normandy (France). Only heavy draft horse breed believed to have some infusion of Arabian blood. General conformation is similar to the Belgian
Clydesdale: Originated in the County of Lanark, Scotland, near the River Clyde.
Shire: Orignated in the shires of England, particularly Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire. Developed for warfare and later agriculture and commerce
For pictures of these breeds you can do an internet search on www.google.com. Just type in the breed name, the word horse and the word pictures and you will find plenty to look at (example: Clydesdale horse pictures).
Other draft horse breeds include: Brabant, Breton, Ardennais, American Cream Draft, Boulonnais, Russian heavy draft, Irish draft. Many European countries have their own draft horse breed named unimaginatively after the country itself.
With the exception of the American Cream draft (who always possess coats, manes, and tails with some variation of a cream color, from sooty to pale) I've had a hard time finding specific features about the other breeds which really set them apart from 'the big five.' In many cases I'm sure that the only conclusive way to tell the difference would be to look at their pedigrees.