There are a large variety of horse breeds that make up the horse population throughout North America. Many people choose to own one or more of the large horse breeds because of their size and ability to compete in most disciplines of horsemanship. Although large horses have been used in most areas of the horse community today, they were originally bred primarily as working horses. Discovering the amazing history of the large gentle giants provides a deeper appreciation not only for their impressive size and strength, but for their natural nurturing quality.
American Draft Horse
First let’s look at the early history of the largest of the large horse breeds. The American Draft Horse was actually developed from an English mare and a Thoroughbred, originally bred for use in war. Although they eventually became a first choice for dressage, they were primarily bred to produce good racing winners. They later became prized riding horses throughout Europe.
Another early giant in North America was the Thoroughbred Arab. These horses enjoyed high speeds and enjoyed competition with the very tall American Thoroughbred. Arabian horses were also known for being very graceful and capable riders, even though they were listed as the tallest living horse breed at one point. Their ability to run long distances made them great choices for track and trail horses in addition to race horses.
Many of the large horse breeds we know today began life as a ‘giant’ in the breeding ranks of the United States. A number of the breeds we know today began life as a ‘giant’ in the British show ring scene. Some examples of this are the Thoroughbreds, Western ponies, and the American Saddle Club, or Association, Shire horses. All of these breeds eventually became winners in their own right, as champions in their own classes, and because of their size, some of them, such as the Arabian, were used as jockeys for dressage, before becoming race horses.
Modern day giants have been bred down from their roots. One example is the English Cable. This horse breed was originally bred to be a specialist pleasure horse. The original intent with this breed was to create a special kind of ‘comfortable’ riding horse. Today’s Cable is still used for this purpose; as a jumping and endurance event horse.
Additional Horse Breeds
Some other well known breeds that have downsized over the years are the English Cocker, English Springer, and the Blenheim. Of course, there is the English Bulldog, and there are many others. Some of the smallest breeds in the top 10 today include the Malise and the Pyrenees. The smallest draft animals ever documented were the Percheron, which was less than four feet in length. The Percheron became extinct around the same time as the English Springer. The only remaining specie of this breed today is the Siberian Percheron, which is only two feet in length.
All of these large horse breeds can be used successfully as riding horses, but there are also some potential health and temperament problems. For instance, the draft breeds can often be overly sensitive to cold and heat, and therefore do not do very well in cold climates. The larger riders may be at risk for obesity and suffer from arthritis due to their extended bones. These horses also have smaller livers, which can lead to breathing problems in extreme heat or cold conditions.
However, despite these potential downsides, these breeds still make great everyday pets, and in some cases, are passed down through several generations. For instance, a great many of these breeds are used for gun dogs. These animals are prized for being so large, and being able to carry around huge amounts of ammunition. Many gun owners also keep these horses around for pleasure, and they do look good and tend to be loyal companions.