Directly descended from the Flemish horse of medieval times, the Belgian horse is a draft horse breed that is known for its amiable personality, hardworking nature, and unique coloring. Like other draft breeds, the Belgian horse has a tall and muscular appearance.
With the right training, Belgian horses can be quite good for riding. However, because of their large size and muscle, they can be very uncomfortable to mount especially for people of average build. This also rules out their use in dressage, jumping, among other disciplines, restricting them to trails and casual riding.
If you plan to use your Belgian horse for riding, this guide will cover everything you need to know to do that well, among other interesting facts.
Are Belgian Horses Good for Riding?
Belgian horses can be good for riding as they are highly trainable. However, because they are quite large, they can be rather uncomfortable to mount. Their large build also makes them unsuitable for riding disciplines such as dressage and jumping, restricting them to use for trail or casual riding. They are best suited for riders with larger or heavier builds. The laidback temperament of this horse breed also makes it a good choice for the more anxious rider.
If you intend to ride your Belgian horse, there are some factors you need to take into consideration:
Because a Belgian horse has a thicker and wider build, it can be uncomfortable to mount one especially if you are of average height and build. That said, it is worth noting that a heavier rider, especially one with rounder thighs or shorter legs, will have a hard time sinking into the saddle and getting a leg on the Belgian’s side. On the other hand, if a large rider is fit and has a well-cultivated balance, then they will have an easier time riding this horse breed than lighter riders who are less fit and lack balance.
Here are some general training points to keep in mind when working with a Belgian horse:
- Emphasize halter work and handling from the very beginning and keep doing it until your Belgian understands personal space and gains considerable agility.
- Train your Belgian to lower its head so that you can reach over to put on a bridle or halter.
- Belgians are bred for strength rather than speed, so getting them into a canter can prove to be a challenge. You want to maintain consistency when riding and lunging so that they understand what you want from them.
If you intend to ride a Belgian horse, you need to consider the size of your saddle, helmet, and other bits. You must use the right size tack. You also need to consider the riding boots that you use when riding this breed of horse as they have a considerable impact on your comfort.
Belgian Horse Origin
The Belgian horse breed, as the name suggests, is native to Belgium. Historically, this horse breed is believed to be a direct lineal descendant of the “Great Horse” of the medieval times that was used by knights in battle.
Stallions from Belgium were mass exported to other parts of Europe as the demand to produce draft animals for farm and industrial use increased. The great National Show in Brussels was established as a result to serve as an international showcase for this horse breed.
The American Association of Importers and Breeders of Belgian Draft Horses was established in 1887 in Wabash, Indiana, to keep track of all the horses of this breed. In 1903, the Belgian government sent an exhibit of Belgian horses to the St. Louis World’s Fair and the International Livestock Exposition in Chicago. This significantly increased the interest of Americans in the breed and led to an even wider acceptance of this horse type.
During the Second World War, the importation of Belgian horses sharply declined, which encouraged American breeders to develop their version of the Belgian horse that is popular today.
Belgian Horse Colors
The most recognized Belgian horse colors are black, bay, and chestnut. Each of these main colors has a roan variant: blue roan, bay roan, and red roan. As a result, there many variations in shade, and they can feature black points. The most desirable color is the sorrel or chestnut with a white tail and mane, four white socks or stockings, and a white stripe on the face referred to as a blaze.
Belgian Horse Size and Appearance
The Belgian horse is known for its heavy body and towering appearance. This massive, powerfully built horse stands anywhere between 16.2 and 17 hands (168 and 173 cm, 66 and 68 inches) on average and weighs anywhere from 1800 to 2200 pounds (820 to 1,000 kg)
The modern Belgian horse has a square and light head, with a profile that is either straight or slightly concave. It has a short and muscular neck, and its back is broad and short. The body of the Belgian is compact with powerful loins and massive quarters characterized by double muscling that can be found over the croup.
The gaskins have a heavily muscled appearance, and the legs are short and strong. The hooves of this horse are medium in size, and the feathering is considered to be limited as compared to other draft horses.
What is the Lifespan of a Belgian Horse?
Belgian horses have an average lifespan of 18 to 20 years. Because of their large size, Belgian horses are prone to heart problems and strain on the musculoskeletal system, which accelerates the aging process. Health problems that may negatively impact a Belgian horse’s mortality include:
Junctional Epidermolysis Bullosa (JEB)
JEB is a hereditary disease that affects Belgian horses. This condition typically manifests itself as soon as Belgian foals are born. The most telling symptom of this disorder is missing patches of skin and/or blisters forming on the limbs or body. Other symptoms include oral abnormalities, with loss of the enamel causing serrated teeth, which subsequently results in gum lesions and bleeding.
A study carried out in 2001-2003 found that 17.1% of Belgian horses in the USA and Canada were carriers. If carriers don’t mate, JEB can be avoided.
Chronic Progressive Lymphedema (CPL)
This is a progressive swelling, fibrosis, and hyperkeratosis of the lower limbs. It affects several draft horse breeds, including Belgian horses.
Belgian horses are particularly susceptible to cataracts, with increased risk as they get older.
Belgian Horse Temperament
Belgian horses are renowned for their docile, quiet, and kind temperament. They are beloved for their intelligence and willingness to please, which makes them highly trainable. This breed of horse is hardworking, loyal, friendly, and easy to handle.
Belgian Horse Grooming Requirements
Just like any other horse breed, the Belgian horse requires regular grooming. You will need to pay a bit more attention to the hooves – they must be regularly inspected, cleaned, and trimmed to reduce the risk of infections.
You can use standard grooming tools for your Belgian horse, though you might want to consider getting a small step ladder to be able to reach the top of the horse due to its enormous size.
Use a curry comb to remove dirt, debris, and loose hair from your Belgian’s coat. You can then follow this up with a dandy brush to remove deep-seated debris. A body finishing brush is best suited for use on sensitive areas such as the legs and face. Use a mane comb to detangle and smooth out the Belgian’s mane, and a tail brush for the tail. It is worth noting that you should not remove or trim the feathering on the legs.
How Strong are Belgian Horses?
Belgian horses are used for all kinds of draft work, including logging, plowing, forestry work, and pulling hitches, carriages, and sleighs. An average Belgian horse can work an 8-10 hour day and pull a load of up to 8,000 pounds.
At the National Western Stock Show held in Denver, Colorado, a team of two Belgian horses in the heavyweight class pulled 17,000 pounds over a distance of 7 feet and 2 inches. This just goes to show how strong a Belgian horse in its prime can be.
Are Belgian Horses Bigger Than Clydesdales?
When it comes to comparing size, the Clydesdale has a bit of an advantage over the Belgian, in terms of both height and weight. As previously mentioned, the Belgian is anywhere from 16.2 hands to 17 hands (66 to 68 inches) on average, whereas the Clydesdale in comparison is 16 hands to 18 hands (64 to 72 inches). Similarly, Belgians weigh between 1,800-2,200 pounds on average, whereas Clydesdales weigh anywhere from 1,600 to 2,400 pounds.
What is the Difference Between a Clydesdale and a Belgian Horse?
Other than size, several qualities distinguish these two breeds:
- The Belgian horse originated in the Brabant region of Belgium. On the other hand, the Clydesdale comes from Scotland, where it is named after Clydesdale, the ancient name for Lanarkshire, known for the River Clyde.
- The Belgian horse descends from the “Great Horse” which was used in battle during medieval times. On the contrary, the Clydesdale was developed by breeding Flemish stallions that were imported into Scotland with local mares.
- Most Belgian horses are chestnut or sorrel in color, although bay, roan, and black varieties also exist. Clydesdales are typically bay in color, although brown, black, chestnut and roan patterns also exist to a lesser extent.
- Belgian horses are a bit stockier and shorter than Clydesdales in appearance, with broad backs, strong shoulders, thick neck, and a head that is relatively small when compared to the body. The Clydesdale appears a bit less muscular and stocky, with slender legs.
- There is also a noteworthy difference in gait between these two horse breeds. The Belgian horse moves with a regular and high gait, with a lot of power from their muscular hindquarters. This movement style makes them seem like they’re stomping. Clydesdales on the other hand have a very active gait, with long straight strides and commendable joint flexion.
Belgian Horse Facts
- The Belgian horse is the most popular draft horse in the United States. The number of Belgians in the USA exceeds that of all draft horses put together.
- The tallest horse in the world is a Belgian draft horse called Big Jake. He stands at 20.275 hands (82.75 inches) and weighs 2,600 pounds.
- Belgian horses are recognized as an easy-to-maintain breed. As long as they are regularly fed, exercised daily, and provided with proper health care, this horse will happily work daily.
- Belgian horses are renowned for their success in pulling competitions, but this isn’t the only discipline that they are good at. Plowing classes and harness classes also see frequent entries from this horse breed.
- The American Belgian breed was developed from the Belgian Brabant. The American Belgian has more slope to its shoulder, is leggier, and has less feathering on the legs than the Brabant.
- The world’s largest horse at some point was a Belgian Draft called Brooklyn Supreme. He stood at 19.2 hands (78 inches, 198 cm) and weighed 3,200 pounds (1,451 kg)