The ancestor of all draft horses, the Flemish, a heavy black horse much like the Friesian, originated in the small European country of Belgium. From him came another draft in the early 1800s–one sharing similar traits to the Flemish.
To encourage the breeding of this new breed, the Belgian government started making district shows, all of which were qualifying rounds for the great National Show In Brussels. They began offered generous cash prizes for well-bred mares and stallions. They even had inspection committees examine stallions that were in public stud service so they could control the type of horses that were produced. It was a huge-scale operation, set to produce the best new type of draft horses. These "Belgians," as they came to be called, were like a treasure and national heritage to the people of Belgium.
In 1866, Dr. A. G. Van Hoorebeke from Monnouth, Illinois imported the first Belgian horses to the United States. Several businessmen in Wabash, Indiana, became interested in the breed and began importing them and selling them to the Midwest in 1885. In February of 1887, they founded the American Association–breed offices–for the Belgian in that city.
The gentle nature, strength, and willingness to work made the breed the perfect choice as a foundation for many other draft breeds. In 1891, Belgians were exported to government stables in countries such as France, Germany, Italy, Russia, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Twelve years later, they breed had it's first official public appearance in America when some were sent St. Louis World Fair and the Chicago Livestock Exhibition. From there, the popularity of the breed steadily increased and Americans "Americanized" the breed, as they sometimes do for other breeds. However, all that changed as the twentieth century wore on. Once World War I started in 1914, importation halted.
During the '20s, draft breeds everywhere began to decline. Parts of certain countries that were still in need of drafts bought Belgians, which were imported in small numbers. By the mid 1930s, things began to look up for drafts. Belgians were once again exported in massive numbers. The last group to be imported were sent from Iowa to New York on January 15, 1940, just four months after the start of World War II. Four months later, the Germans invaded Belgium.
|I can't believe she's riding that beast! source|
Throughout World War II, with the push for mechanization, draft horses once again began to decline, and the Belgian was no exception, At one point, under 200 were being registered a year. Then, slowly, ever so slowly, the number of Belgians increased. During the first half of the '80s, the average number of Belgians registered a year was a whopping 4,000! Today, the Belgian remains the most popular draft breed.
Breed Characteristics and Uses:
Belgians are strong, hefty horses, standing 16.2 to 17 hands high, and built to work hard for hours at a time. They can haul a load of 6,000 to 8,000 pounds! At first, the breed was a farm horse used to pull plows, but later on they found themselves in cities working at warehouses, freight stations, and fishing wharfs alongside other draft breeds. Today, they are used for hobby farming, logging, pleasure driving, and sometimes even riding. Unlike most other horses, they mature quickly and can begin working at a mere eighteen months.
When the breed was new, it was commonly bay, roan, black, gray, and chestnut/sorrel. As time went on, though, they changed to how they are today: sorrel with a blaze, four white stockings, and white manes and tails.