A draft horse is a workhorse, typically larger than the pleasure or riding breeds. Draft breeds originated in Europe and did not come to the United States in significant numbers until after the Civil War. The increase coincided with the invention of gear-driven farm machinery, which required the speed of a draft horse (versus that of an ox) to pull mowers, reapers, planters, manure spreaders, and other machinery that enabled farms to expand and increase production.
Belgian, Clydesdale, Percheron, and Shire comprise the four major draft horse breeds. In addition, there are a number of breeds of slightly smaller dual purpose horses bred for work and pleasure. These breeds include Suffolk, Haflinger, and Vermont's own Morgan horse.
Percheron geldings Jim & Joe, hitched to pull the farm sleigh. Photo courtesy of Julie Ireland.
Currently, the Billings Farm owns three teams of draft horses primarily used for pulling sleighs and wagons and for spring plowing. The senior pair, Jim and Joe, are Percheron geldings that have lived at the farm since 2004 and are 15 and 16, respectively. They came by way of Maine and originally, an Amish farm in Iowa. Originally dapple-gray in color, they have turned white over the years, a common trait in some Percherons. Each stands 18 hands high (one hand is equal to four inches) and weighs about 1,800 pounds. Powerful and steady, Jim and Joe exemplify the Percheron nickname Gentle Giants. Both are extremely laid back and comfortable with the farm environment, which includes a constant stream of admirers in the horse barn.
Percheron mares, Lynne & Sue.
Lynne and Sue are black Percheron mares, purchased from an Amish farm in Ohio in 2009. Lynne is 11, Sue is 13, and they stand 17 hands and weigh about 1,700 pounds. Before coming to Billings, they worked regularly on Amish farms. Both mares are somewhat reserved, but very intelligent and well trained graceful additions to our draft horse family.
Although teams Jim and Joe and Lynne and Sue are the same breed, their genetic backgrounds account for their size and color variations. All Percherons, however, are born black; over the years, some remain black, while others turn gray.
Belgian geldings, Tom & Jerry.
In 2011, we purchased Belgian geldings Tom and Jerry from a private owner living in Maine. Although they were born 13 years ago on the same farm in the Midwest and trained together in Connecticut, they are not related. Chestnut in color with flaxen mane, both horses stand 19 hands and weigh about 2,000 pounds. Our largest team, Tom and Jerry are still considered young draft horses, which is evident by their frequent and spirited horsing around in the pasture.
For additional information: The History of Draft Horses