Rural Heritage Horse Paddock

What Is a Draft Horse?
by Gail Damerow

The word "draft" represents not a specific kind of animal, but (according to Webster's Unabridged Dictionary) any animal used for pulling heavy loads. For some reason, Americans have come to use the word "draft" in reference to heavy horses, but a horse of any size may be trained to pull a load.

The heavy breeds are best for heavy farm work and/or large acreage. They weigh 1,600 pounds or better and stand at least 16 hands high from ground to withers (one hand equals 4 inches). About 95 percent of all heavy horses in America are either Belgian (originating in Belgium) or Percheron (originally from France).

Heavy horses found in North America are:

Heavy breeds that are common in Europe, but not found in North America, include:

For smaller acreage or lighter work, such as skidding (dragging) logs for firewood or fenceposts, a sturdy saddle-type horse will do just fine. Like any work horse, it must be heavy-boned, well-muscled, and properly conditioned. Light horses suitable for draft work include:

If you have limited acreage or your terrain tends to be hilly, you might consider a stout and agile draft pony such as:


Gail Damerow is the former editor of Rural Heritage magazine.

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09 April 2010
12 September 2013 last revision