What is the largest breeds of horses?
Horses have been domesticated for thousands of years and there are countless breeds and variations across the species. Historically they have been man’s greatest help when it comes to transportation, war, and brunt work on the farm. Have you ever wondered what the largest breed of horses is? There are quite a few giants in the horse world, most of them classed as draft horses that were bred to pull heavy things and not necessarily ride for pleasure or sport. Let’s explore some of these huge beasts in this article.
The Shire horse is the largest horse breed in the world. They make other horses look like dwarfs. They range from 17 to 19 hands tall and can weigh up to 2,400 pounds. They were selectively bred to be large for farm and industrial work. This led to the enormous size they are today.
In the past, this breed towed barges, pulled carts, and handled heavy plows. They’re used for both farm and industrial work.
However, because most farms are mechanized these days, these horses are nearing extinction. Their numbers continue to lower, as many don’t want to keep large horses unless they have a practical need for them.
Multiple groups are looking to revive this breed, though. Their numbers have slowly recovered, though they are still considered endangered today.
The Clydesdale horse is a handsome, strong horse breed popularized by the iconic Budweiser commercials. They are characterized by their distinct brown coat and white markings and can range from 16.2 to 18 hands tall.
Clydesdales are known for their gentle and excitable temperaments. They have been used for their strength for a long time but are now hailed for their beauty. Their white, feathered hooves and magnificent size make them extremely popular for shows and parades.
This ancient horse breed has no record of when they were first bred. Records of Clydesdale horses imported to Scotland go back as early as the 18th century.
While Clydesdale horses are popular, they still face risks of extinction in certain countries due to their large stature and difficulty to keep.
Characterized by its elegance, the Percheron horse is a draft horse breed popular for show. They can be as tall as 16 to 18 hands, with a strong and large frame.
Whether pulling carriages or performing, these horses have an elegant way of moving. As a result, they’re popular for circuses and parades. They are known for being friendly and calm.
They’re usually black and gray with white markings and have a strong physique with long necks and muscular legs.
Belgian Draft Horse
The Belgian Draft horse, ranging from 16.2 to 17 hands tall, is a docile and hardworking breed. There are two subcategories of the breed, the taller European Brabant and the short and stocky American Brabant.
In the United States, the Belgian Draft horse is the most popular breed of draft horse. This hardy breed is popular for carriages and shows and is also known for making an excellent pet.
Their coats are usually chestnut and sorrel, accompanied by a white mane and tail. They have small heads and a wide range with sloping shoulders.
The powerful Suffolk Punch horse breed, originating from England and named after their Suffolk county, is used across the world in militaries and for work like plowing.
This breed can range from 15 to 17 hands tall, with short legs and thickly muscled frames. Their coats are always chestnut, and they usually sport distinct white manes, tails, and leg feathering.
These horses are believed to descend from a lineage over 400 years old, but little documentation of their history exists.
Dutch Draft Horse
The Dutch Draft horse is a friendly and calm horse breed that ranges from 15.2 to 16 hands tall. It is a relatively new breed, and after a brief period of decline, was brought back by enthusiasts.
This breed has a solid and large frame and can have beautiful coat colors like gray, chestnut, and bay. Their legs are heavily feathered, and their gait is slow and precise.
Aside from their utility in agriculture, Dutch Draft horses are popular for recreation and dressage. Their easy-going personality and characteristic high stamina make them a popular choice.
Australian Draft Horse
The Australian Draft horse is a friendly and healthy horse breed that can range from 16 to 17.3 hands tall. They descended from a 17th-century crossbreed of four breeds, namely the Clydesdale, Percheron, Suffolk Punch, and Shire breeds.
This hardy horse is popular for many uses, whether in agriculture or for competitions and shows. They have a well-proportioned and strong frame with feathered legs. They’re usually brown or black with white markings.
This breed is famed for its strength. In 1900, a group of Australian Draft Horses set the record for pulling 150 bales of wool — over 40 thousand pounds in weight.
American Cream Draft Horse
The American Cream Draft is a rare horse breed with all 500 horses alive today descending from a mare named Old Granny. This breed is 15 to 16.3 hands tall.
This breed originates from the United States in the early 20th century and was once popular for heavy works. Although industrialization contributed to a huge decline in their population, they’ve garnered more interest recently due to their rarity and distinct appearance.
Their bodies are muscular and heavy, with pink skin and a golden coat. Their eyes are wide-set and amber or hazel in color, and their gait and demeanor are gentle.
Russian Heavy Draft/Ardennes
The hardy Russian Heavy Draft horse, also known as the Ardennes horse, is descended from several hardy horse breeds in a lineage started in 1860s Imperial Russia.
This hardworking breed can come in many beautiful coat colors, such as bay, chestnut, and even strawberry roan. These horses are popular to this day in Russia and surrounding regions, where the mares are famed for their plentiful and healthy milk.
These horses have a short-legged and stocky build and are divided into three types (Massive, Ural, and Novo Aleksandrov) based on their appearance. They are known for their tolerance of harsh conditions and their calm nature.
Lithuanian Heavy Draft
The Lithuanian Heavy Draft horse is a recent and strong breed distinguished by its 15 to 16 hands tall frame and its stocky, short-legged build.
This beautiful horse has many different coat colors, with chestnut, bay, black, and gray all being possibilities.
Due to their strength, this horse breed is favored for difficult farm work and tasks like pulling carts.
Soviet Heavy Draft
Developed for heavy agricultural labor in Soviet-era Russia, the Soviet Heavy Draft is a breed of horse, ranging from 14.1 to 15 hands tall.
This broad, muscular horse can have a chestnut or roan coat, with a beautiful and thick mane and a straight or complex profile. Due to their strength and size, these powerful horses are considered one of the best workhorses to this day.
The milk of Soviet Heavy Draft mares is thought to be medicinal and is known as “kumis“ in Russian.
Vladimir Draft Horse
The Vladimir Draft horse is a medium-sized heavy draft breed originating from the former Soviet Union. These horses can range from 15.1 to 16.1 hands tall and are popular for riding and dressage.
This horse breed, which is most often bay with a black mane, has a stout and muscular build with pronounced, handsome features. These horses, despite their size, are spirited and agile. They descend from other heavy draft breeds, such as Clydesdales and Ardennes.
The Vladimir Draft horse breed is known for its characteristic intelligence and good temperament.
Despite their long history in Europe as war horses, the Comtois breed of horse is an easy-going and friendly horse breed that does well with children. This horse breed is typically around 14 to 16 hands tall, with coat colors like chestnut, bay, black silver, bay silver, and black.
The Comtois horse is an old breed that originated along the French and Swiss border in the Jura Mountains range. They are believed to have descended from horses used in the 6th century by an early Germanic tribe known as the Burgundians.
This horse breed has a big head and a wide muscular back. Their powerful legs, straight necks, and large chests give them an imposing and beautiful form. The Comtois horse is the most popular heavy horse breed in France, known for its good temperament and used primarily in farm work.
Irish Draft Horse
Although the Irish Draft horse originated in Ireland for farm and draft work, it has become a popular horse breed in the UK for police and farm work. Ranging from 15.2 to 16.3 hands tall, these horses have a distinct stature with straight, powerful legs.
This breed can be a variety of colors, with white markings no farther up their legs than the knees or hocks. They are beautiful with deep-set eyes, high necks, and powerful and large bodies characteristic of a draft horse.
After the advent of machinery that took its place on farms in the latter half of the 20th century, the Irish Draft breed was in danger. While this horse breed is still endangered in the modern-day, hard work from breeders has ensured that their population grows each year.
With millennia of history, the Boulonnais breed survives to this day with appreciation across the globe. They range from 14.3 to 16.3 hands tall with a short face and broad forehead and shoulders. They’re usually white and gray, but rarer coat colors include chestnut and black.
This charming breed originated in France, and in the early 20th century they arrived in the United States. Their population fell after the Second World War but has since drastically increased.
The Boulonnais was once a popular choice for horse meat but is now primarily used for selective breeding to grow their population further. The French government has undertaken a breed preservation project to ensure that future generations can enjoy this beautiful horse breed.
Guinness World Records Holders
Many breeds of horses are known for their large stature and incredible heights, but there are sometimes individual horses that stand out as particularly massive.
The tallest horse in history was known as Sampson, although he was later renamed Mammoth. Foaled in 1846, the Mammoth measured over 21.25 hands tall in 1850 — over 7 feet. Mammoth was also the heaviest documented horse, weighing in at a massive 3,359 lbs.
Until his death in 2021, the largest living horse was Big Jake. This huge Belgian Draft horse was also the second tallest horse in history, standing at 20.27 hands tall and weighing around 2,500 lbs. He was purchased by a relative of his owner, Jerry Gilbert, who heard about the large foal and speculated how large the horse could grow. Big Jake was known to have two full buckets of grain a day in addition to a full bale of hay.
What Is the Difference between a Shire Horse and a Clydesdale?
The markings of Clydesdales and Shire horses are very different. Shire horses are always solid colors with markings primarily on their legs and head. In contrast, Clydesdales are famed for their silky white leg feathering and distinct white markings all across their bodies. While both Shire and Clydesdale horses are known to be calm and steady, Clydesdales tend to be more excitable than Shire horses.
The Shire horse breed is larger on average than Clydesdales, and they have a higher head and shorter back. Their broad chests and impressive croup angles give them a beautiful and distinct form.
While smaller than the Shire horse breed, the Clydesdale breed has an impressively tall and stout frame. Their leg feathering is much finer than that of Shire horses, and this breed tends to have higher hocks and long leg bones.
Largest Breeds Used For Riding
While large horse breeds are most often originally bred for farm work, many large horse breeds have good dispositions that make them suitable for riding.
The largest horse breed in the world, the Shire horse, is sometimes used for riding. This cool and steady breed of horse is also often used to pull carriages and carts around cities for tourists.
Clydesdale horses make excellent riding horses. The distinct appearance of this breed makes it incredibly popular for shows and parades. Many people admire the Clydesdale breed and love riding them.
The Percheron, originating from France, is also popular for riding. This beautiful horse breed is often crossed with lighter breeds such as Thoroughbreds to produce Percheron sport horses and is commonly used for driving or riding purposes.
War Horses: What Breeds Used in War?
Horse breeds often descend from a purpose, whether for agriculture or war. Many breeds of horses served different utilities in war, whether carrying heavy loads or transporting soldiers. And to this day, many of these horse breeds survive and find new purposes.
During the Early and High Middle Ages, the Friesian horse was popular for warring riders in the Netherlands. The Arabian horse was used for light cavalry from ancient Egypt to the Ottoman Empire, while the Percheron was used with guns and forward units as recently as the First World War. The largest horse breed in the world, the Shire horse, was once used for transporting heavy supplies and wounded soldiers in the First and Second World Wars.