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What are belgian horses known for?

Belgian horses are a popular draft horse breed known for their strength, size, and gentle temperament. Originating in Belgium, these hardy horses have been used for centuries as workhorses in farms, fields, and logging operations. Today, Belgian horses are still valued driving, show, and pleasure horses appreciated for their steady and willing nature.

History and Origins

The Belgian horse originated in the Brabant region of modern-day Belgium. Their ancestors were Flemish horses used as war horses in the Middle Ages. Through selective breeding starting in the 19th century, local breeders developed the Belgian horse we know today. They bred primarily for power, size, and docile temperament to create an ideal workhorse. The first Belgian Draft Horse Corporation stud book was published in 1891 to document pedigrees.

After World War II, the advent of tractors and machinery led to a sharp decline in the need for farming and draft horses. To preserve the Belgian breed, horses were exported around the world, with the United States becoming a top importer. Today, the United States registers more Belgian foals than any other country.

Breed Characteristics

Belgian horses are known for their towering height yet gentle and steady disposition. Here are some of their defining physical and temperamental traits:

  • Size – One of the tallest breeds, Belgian stallion heights range from 16 to 17 hands (64 to 68 inches). Mares are between 15.1 and 17 hands (61 to 68 inches).
  • Weight – Belgians commonly weigh between 1,800 and 2,000 pounds.
  • Coat Colors – Common colors include chestnut/sorrel, roan, bay, and black. Blonde manes and tails are characteristic.
  • Head – Large head with a straight or slightly convex facial profile.
  • Legs – Short, feathered lower legs.
  • Hooves – Large hooves and thick leg bone structure.
  • Movement – Powerful but not high-stepping gait.
  • Temperament – Obedient, gentle, patient, and eager to please. Excellent with children.


Throughout history, Belgian horses were valued as versatile farm and draft animals. Today they are still used for light draft work but are also popular riding and driving horses. Some key uses of Belgian horses include:

  • Farm work – plowing, cultivating, pulling wagons and machinery
  • Logging – skidding logs
  • Driving – carts, carriages, wagons
  • Riding – trail riding, pleasure, show ring
  • Showing – halter, driving competitions
  • Therapy horses

Their calm demeanor and tolerance for traffic makes them excellent urban carriage horses. The breed’s gentle nature also makes them suitable for equine therapy programs.


Belgian horses are considered a cold-blooded draft breed. They are one of the most popular draft breeds in the United States and Canada today. Some reasons for their enduring popularity include:

  • Beauty – Their impressive size and flowing manes and tails give them a striking, aesthetic appeal.
  • Temperament – They have a reputation as gentle giants and are easy to handle.
  • Versatility – They can be used for both work and riding purposes.
  • Status symbol – Their large size historically made them a status symbol on farms and estates.

According to recent statistics from the Belgian Draft Horse Corporation of America:

  • Annual Belgian foal registrations in the U.S. range between 600-800 per year.
  • As of 2020, there are around 5,000 active breeding mares and 200 active breeding stallions in the U.S.
  • Belgians make up approximately 6% of the North American draft horse population.

While their numbers are small compared to lighter horse breeds, Belgian horses have an enthusiastic following of breeders and admirers helping preserve the breed.

Year Number of Foal Registrations
2010 621
2011 743
2012 689
2013 644
2014 675
2015 687
2016 647
2017 593
2018 625
2019 613
2020 695

Famous Belgian Horses

Throughout history, some exceptional Belgian horses have become famous in their own right. Here are a few of the most well-known Belgian horses:

  • Big Jake – At 6 feet 10 inches tall, Big Jake is the tallest horse ever recorded. This Belgian gelding lives on a farm in Wisconsin.
  • Brooklyn Supreme – Foaled in 1928, Brooklyn Supreme was considered the world’s largest horse in the 1930s at 19.2 hands and 3,200 pounds.
  • Budweiser Clydesdales – Several Belgians are part of the famous Budweiser horse hitch that promotes the brand.
  • Carlo – At the turn of the 20th century, Carlo was an iconic New York fire horse known for his heroism.
  • Nemo – A popular circus horse, Nemo could supposedly count and was featured on Ripley’s Believe It or Not.

Fun Facts

In addition to their recognizeable size and beauty, here are some fun facts about Belgian horses:

  • Belgian horses do not fully mature until age 6 or 7.
  • A Belgian can pull 8,000 pounds, twice its body weight.
  • The breed standard requires a quiet willing temperament.
  • They are considered good keepers and easy to feed.
  • American Belgians have a slightly coarser appearance than their European counterparts.
  • They were originally known as Flemish horses.
  • Belgians can be used for crossing with other draft breeds.
  • Some are susceptible to a genetic eye disorder called uveitis.
  • The largest number of Belgians reside in Wisconsin, Iowa, and Pennsylvania.


Belgian draft horses have been bred over centuries to be strong, sturdy, and agreeable working horses. While machinery has replaced much of their traditional farm work, Belgians are still valued today for their versatility, beauty, and gentle nature. Their majestic size yet calm temperament makes Belgian horses a special breed appreciated by owners, breeders, and horse lovers alike.