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Percheron Draft Horse
Percheron Draft Horses at The Farm at Walnut Creek
  • The Percheron is a breed of draft horses that originated in the Perche valley in northern France. Percherons are usually gray or black in color. They are well-muscled, and known for their intelligence and willingness to work. Although their exact origins are unknown, the ancestors of the breed were present in the valley by the 1600s. They were originally bred for use as a war horse. Over time, they began to be used for pulling stage coaches, and later for agriculture and hauling heavy goods. In the late 1700s and early 1800s, Arabian blood was added to the breed. In the late 1800s, exports of Percherons from France to the United States and other countries rose exponentially, and in 1893 the first purely Percheron stud book was created in France.

After going through various incarnations and stud books, the current US Percheron registry was created in 1934. In World War I, the breed was used extensively by the British. In the 1930s, Percherons accounted for 70% of the draft horse population in the United States, but their numbers declined substantially after World War II. However, the population began to recover, and as of 2009, around 2,500 horses are registered annually in the United States alone. Today, the breed is still used extensively for draft work, and in France they are used for food. They have been crossed with several light horse breeds, such as the Criollo, to produce horses for range work and competition. Purebred Percherons are used for forestry work and pulling carriages, as well as under saddle work, including competition in English riding disciplines such as show jumping.

Percherons generally stand between 16.2 and 17.3 hands (66 to 71 inches, 168 to 180 cm) high, although the breed has an outer range of 15 and 19 hands (60 to 76 inches, 152 to 193 cm). They average around 1,900 pounds (860 kg), although the top weight is around 2,600 pounds (1,200 kg). They are generally gray or black in coloring, although the American registry also allows the registry of roan, bay and chestnut horses. The British registry only allows horses of gray or black to be registered.[2] Many horses have white markings on their heads and legs, but registries consider excessive white to be undesirable. The head has a straight profile, with a broad forehead, large eyes and small ears that reflect the breed's Arabian ancestry. The chest is deep and wide and the croup long and level. The feet and legs are clean and well muscled. They are described as proud and alert, and intelligent, willing workers. They are considered to be easy keepers and easy to work with and train. The breed adapts well to many different conditions and climates.

The Percheron is still used extensively for draft work. Like other draft breeds, it is also used in France for meat production.[3] In Great Britain, the Percheron is used for advertising and publicity, as well as forestry and farm work. They are crossbred with lighter horses by breeders of heavy hunters in order to increase size and improve disposition.[8] Percherons are used for parades, sleigh rides and hayrides, as well as being used to pull carriages in large cities in the United States.[4] One of the most famous horse teams in the United States is the Heinz hitch of Percherons, whose appearances have included multiple showings at the Tournament of Roses Parade.[13] Purebred Percherons are also ridden, and some have proven useful at show jumping.[1] Crossbred Percherons have been used successfully in dressage.[14] In the Falkland Islands, Percherons are crossed with Criollo horses to produce horses used on the cattle ranges. In Australia, they are crossed with native horses to produce horses for competition and range work. A Percheron mare from Australia, having pulled 3,410 pounds (1,550 kg) over 15 feet (4.6 m), holds the unofficial world pulling record.
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