Everyone who knows me knows that I’m a draft person. A person, who above all other horses, loves draft horses. It’s true, I am a draft lover.
Know anyone like that? I think it happened when I got my second horse, a Clydesdale cross who I named Gemini. He knew nothing, I knew nothing. It was a spectacularly terrible mix. Plus, he was incredibly frustrating, and was big enough to overpower me. Sound familiar? Anyone who’s dealt with a draft horse knows what I’m saying. So, how is it that now, I’m crazy about draft horses? Enough to write an article about it?? Well, after years together, it’s safe to say that he won me over… Wholly and completely. Here’s why I love drafts– and why you should too. If you’re debating what kind of horse to get, please, let me weigh in.
Why I love draft horses– and why you should too.
1. They’re just big teddy bears.
The general rule with horses: the bigger they are, the gentler they are. Of course, there are exceptions to all rules, but this is a well accepted one. Draft horses especially (as opposed to large warmbloods or thoroughbreds), have been bred to be gentle giants. They’re generally quiet, cuddly and just plain sweet.
2. They don’t hold grudges.
Part of the calm and quiet mindset means that they’re pretty accepting of their surroundings. If you have a moment while you’re riding where you need to explain something to them, it might take a bit, but they won’t hold anything against you in the future. They’re willing and they generally just want to please you. They are a bit different than other breeds, who might hold grudges after “training moments” or times of frustration for either of you.
3. They’re calm and safe. Usually.
Gentle giants. They’re big, but they don’t have excessive energy or have any grand desire to run. They also aren’t easily spooked, and just take things as they come. They are usually just happy to hang out as long as they have a purpose– whatever job that may be. They’re not known for bolting or spooking, though unique personality is the biggest teller in all horses.
4. They don’t have a harmful bone in their bodies.
I’ve known some horses that just had their own desires of their mind, rather than other people’s. Drafts, on the other hand, generally just want to please you… Which means they aren’t trying to think about how they can avoid you, get away, run off, etc. Even young green horses generally just want to make you happy and they’re trying to figure out how to make that happen.
5. They’re willing to learn (though it may take a little while).
They want to please. They spend a good amount of time just following in line, trying to figure out what you’re asking and how to do it. However, some drafts can be a little slow when it comes to learning something new– it goes along with the quiet calm disposition. They’re not necessarily going to be at-attention at all times, or responsive in a “hot” way. That’s part of what makes them wonderful. Just take it as it is. If you’re not used to it, you will be soon.
6. They’re powerful.
There’s beauty in that power. There’s something about being connected to an animal so large, and having them so in tune with you. It’s a very special thing. Keep in mind though, when they’re frustrated or in the moment of “I’m trying to figure out what you want!!”, they can use that power against you. Many draft horses in training will pull with their shoulders (naturally, their preferred strong part of their body) to get where they want to go. This is all a part of the training process– if you‘re prepared for it you’ll get through it.
7. You’ll start to get them, and they’ll start to get you.
Drafts have a particular mentality. It’s different from ponies, or Thoroughbreds, or even warmbloods. Those who have lived their lives around draft horses can attest to this. You’ll begin to connect to and understand when they get overwhelemed learning something new, or the situations that they feel most relaxed in. After 12 years riding almost only draft horses, I personally feel the most comfortable around them. I know what I can expect. And after a while, you have just begun to “get each other“.
If drafts are your kind of horse, consider yourself lucky.
They’re not for everyone, it’s true. But if you feel drawn to draft horses, consider yourself lucky. You’re around some of the best, most special horses there are. Of course, I would think that! Who’s your favorite draft horse? Tell us in the comments below.
I have owned 1/4 horses in the past. And indeed they were good companions. I have not had a horse for many years and as I recently purchased ranchland I wanted to get back into horses. Something you wrote was the trigger for me. I have always been drawn to draft horses.Always….so as I now look for a couple horses to buy for basic ranch work I am going to focus on what I am drawn to…..drafts. Thanks for your article…it made sense and has moved me in the right direction.
I’m so glad to hear that Brad, good luck as you’re starting your search. Of course, I think that you’re headed in the right direction. But I love drafts, so I would! Have fun!
Karla Birtchman says
I just stumbled upon this, and I will say that it is pretty great.
I, being a bigger woman, LOVE draft horses. I always have. This thing I struggle with the most is which breed to like more. Just when I think that I love the Clydesdale more than the Percheron, my friend brings home a Belgian. I fell in LOVE with him, but just when I really started loving a Belgian, the Percheron mare goes and has a foal. I love that little boy! HA! I will say, I LOVE them bigger and bigger. The bigger the better. I really do have to say that I really love the dappled grey Percherons (although my friend thinks greys are ugly and only owns blacks), and love the rare Blue Roan too. I am crazy for odd colors. BUT, I love some bald faces, which brings me to the love of Clydesdales. See my problem. So, I think I will just love them all. 🙂 Sure, they are all great, (Belgians, Clydesdales, Percherons, Dutch Heavy Draft, Haflinger (could go two ways), Shires, and Suffolk Punch, etc) You get the point.
I have the same problem Karla! Quite a problem to have 🙂 Of course, I think Clydesdales have to win for me…
Jennifer Stutzman says
Thank you so much for writing this. We as a family are new to the horse world. We bought two draft crosses and we love them so much. We are working with a trainer to get us started off on the right path. Both horses are gentle and kind and calm. Cannot wait to learn more and ride them more. They are very different then the quarter horses I grew up with. We hope to use them for therapy some day. Three of my children are adopted from Ethiopia and they have been amazing with them. Thanks again.
Do you pull any equipment with your horse?
When I think of draft horses I think of a time when people used teams of them on the farm. Even until the 1950s a number of farms had teams of draft horses for work.
Heather Hamel says
I was fortunate to have a draft in my life – Jake…he was an amazing boy: big, goofy, and full of love. Unfortunately, we lost him all too soon (at age 14) to canker. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t miss him…and as soon as I move out of Florida, I’m on the hunt for another one!
I received this great comment and feedback today, which I’ve received permission to publish. I thought everyone might enjoy hearing this, especially if they’re thinking of a new horse in their future:
“Hi! I too appreciate drafts and own a draft cross (Clyde/Hackney harness horse) to use for low level dressage and jumping, volunteer work and trail riding. I bought him from an Amish man in part because I saw potential and felt sorry he was treated like a piece of equipment. His tail has been docked as he was a cart and plow horse so I use the best fly control I can (mosquito sheet, good fly spray etc.) I have figured out he might have had a driving accident or just not much experience as he has no confidence with blinders on and is fearful of getting in trailers, but can I blame him?
I just know we trust each other and they are very loyal and can bond with a person more than some breeds I have owned. I agree with you. If he were a dog, he would be a retriever-type! He seems to understand tone of voice and is calmed by our signal which is a right shoulder rub.
I hope if people decide to own a draft or draft cross horse, that they do their homework, have a vet who is knowledgeable about drafts and know they have unique food requirements (ie: low carb, high in good fats and no sweet feed). They need much more quality hay to do well and can be more expensive to maintain especially in this economy and with the drought here. Shoeing/trimming needs to be done by a farrier who is willing and experienced with draft breeds. They are capable of many kinds of work, but since they are heavy-bodied, they can overheat more easily than a lighter horse. People need to have realistic expectations as they have bigger movements and often not as smooth to ride as other breeds.
I have also learned as with all horses, if they have a bad experience, it takes 3 times longer to “unlearn” or earn their trust. I know that bullying our draft is not fruitful; he understands patience and maybe a growl or firm reminder if he is occasionally disobedient or does not understand what I am asking….
I also think full drafts may not be the best choice for first-time horse owners unless they have an experienced person to assist. I have owned horses since ’81 and it has been a learning curve as well as needing some professional training for both of us. We had much retraining to do to “finish” ours as a riding horse since he had only pulled a cart or plow. Thanks for hearing me out!”
Gerald Lane says
I love your comments, did not know that . Is that Gemini ?
Hi Gerald– yes, that’s Gemini!
I have had a Percheron for 8 years. He was 2 years old when I bought him. I was managing a campground and riding stables when I decided to buy a horse of my own for the first time. He had been trained by Mennonites who sold him at an action. The first time I saw him I fell in love with him. He was the sweetest horse I had ever been around. He was large at the time but by the time he turned 5 he was huge, standing 18 hands and 2200 lbs. I now have 2 horses and by far he is the easiest keeper. He never spokes, never gets excited, loves attention, and loves people. The only thing he hates is horse flies. But, we have plenty of fly sheets for those nasty flies. He is very smart for a draft. He learns quickly when treats are involved. When we go camping and horseback riding people take his picture and wants to know if I would sell him. Absolutely NOT, I will have Thunder to death do us part. I told him he was a celebrity because he had pictures floating all around the Central part of the United States. It seems everywhere we go now people say, “I have heard about this horse”. He is an amazing horse and great companion. He takes care of me and in turn I take very good care of him. And yes, he is spoiled and he knows it. Fan in his stall, free run of barn, and pasture. At feeding time in the afternoon, if I don’t come to the barn when he thinks I should, he stands at the fence and talks. If he could speak, I know he would be saying “Hey, don’t forget it is sweet feed time”. Love this big guy. I will always trust and ride a draft!
Gina I love hearing that! Your story is so sweet. He’s one lucky guy!