The Breton horse may be smaller than your average draft, but this breed packs a ton of power into that smaller package. Bretons are suitable for everything from driving to riding, and the breed’s three subtypes create plenty of variety and versatility. Hardworking and hardy, the Breton is a beautiful French breed.
Weight: 1,250 to 1,700 pounds
Height: 15 to 16 hands
Body Type: Draft-type body with short, powerful legs
Best For: Farm work and driving
Life Expectancy: 25 years
Breton Horse History and Origins
The Breton horse originated in the Breton mountains of France, but just how the horses first came to be in the area remains a mystery. Those Breton ancestors were bred with oriental horses during the Crusades, and they proved to be desirable military horses during the Middle Ages. The influence of other breeds during the Crusades led to the creation of different Breton breed styles, including a light riding horse and a heavier draft horse type. Crossbreeding continued up through the 1900s, and Arabian and Thoroughbred blood was introduced to create another breed type.
Today, three breed subtypes exist and the Syndicat des Eleveurs de Cheval Breton regulates the Breton breed. All breed types are registered together and the official stud book has been closed to outside breed influences since 1951. Breeding is still concentrated in France, since the stud book will only register horses that were foaled in Brittany or Loire-Atlantique.
Breton Horse Size
Breton horses fall within three different breed types, each having slightly different physical characteristics. The Corlay Breton is a smaller version of the breed, standing between 14.3 and 15.1 hands. It has draft features but thanks to Arabian and Thoroughbred crosses, it also has a smaller stature.
The Postier Breton is influenced by the Hackney and the English Norfolk Trotter. It averages 15.1 hands high and its lighter build makes it a great carriage horse.
The Heavy Draft Breton is the largest type. Averaging between 15.2 and 16.2 hands high, it’s influenced by larger draft breeds like the Ardennes and Percheron. Its shorter legs mean that while it isn’t terribly tall, it’s plenty powerful.
Breeding and Uses
Breeding practices were once concentrated in Brittany, but programs do exist throughout France (though horses must be born in certain regions to be eligible for registration). The Breton has also been exported and you can find this breed all over the world.
Thanks to the existence of multiple breed subtypes, the Breton is quite versatile. These horses are still used for farm work, but the different breed types have added versatility and you can find the Breton working as a carriage horse, a riding horse, and more.
Colors and Markings
Traditionally, Breton horses have chestnut coats and flaxen colored manes and tails. Other colors do occur within the breed, though, and you’ll see bay, roan, and grey Bretons.
Unique Characteristics of the Breton Horse
While many breeders have focused on breeding larger draft horses for increased strength, breeders of the Breton have taken a different approach. With an increased focus on preserving the breed’s purity, Breton horses have remained smaller than many of their draft breed counterparts. Breeders have worked to produce horses that can withstand rigorous conditions and still deliver the power of a traditional draft horse.
Diet and Nutrition
The Breton needs a diet consisting of forage and feed concentrates that can meet its caloric demands. Since Bretons weigh significantly more than your average riding horse, they will need more hay and grass each day to maintain their weight. These demands will increase for horses in heavy work, so it’s important to make sure that you can afford to feed this breed.
Common Health and Behavior Problems
The Breton is at risk of some health issues that commonly affect draft horses:
- Equine Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy (EPSM): Horses who have EPSM can’t property metabolize starch and sugar, which can cause muscle weakness and wasting. These horses often have difficulty with intense exercise. While there isn’t a cure for EPSM, careful dietary management can help to reduce symptoms.
- Shivers: This neuromuscular condition often occurs in draft breeds and causes a jerking or trembling motion in the hind legs. Shivers is often chronic, though massage and exercise may provide some relief.
- Scratches: Bretons have significant feathering on their legs which can trap moisture and dirt against the skin, leading to scratches, a skin condition. Thorough, regular grooming can help to prevent this.
The Breton will benefit from regular grooming. Currying can help to relax muscles and supports a shiny, healthy coat. The thick feathering on the legs will require plenty of attention, especially in muddy or wet conditions. If the horse is driven, then docking or braiding the tail can help to keep it from getting tangled in a harness.
Versatile with three subtypes
Powerful, hardy horse
Smaller and easier to work with than other drafts
Rare in the United States
Prone to the health issues common in draft horses
Champion and Celebrity Breton Horses
The Breton is a somewhat rare breed, especially in the United States. While there aren’t many champion and celebrity Bretons, the breed itself has a rich history dating back all the way to the Crusades, so getting to meet any Breton in person is an honor.
Is the Breton Horse Right for You?
The Breton is a versatile breed, and you can choose from the three subtypes to find a horse that’s just right for your needs. Powerful, hardy, and smaller than many other draft breeds, the Breton is easy to work around. While taller breeds like Clydesdales and Percherons can be difficult to harness simply because of their height, the Breton’s height makes it far more manageable, especially for a person who is harnessing up alone.
How to Adopt or Buy a Breton Horse
While there’s plenty to love about the Breton horse, this breed is still rare in the United States. Some individuals surely exist, but it will be rare to find a Breton for sale within the country.
If you have your heart set on this breed, then you will probably need to budget to import the horse from France. Import transportation costs can range from $3,000 to $10,000 alone, driving up the price of your new horse. Don’t forget to also budget for expenses like quarantine and transportation from the quarantine facility to your barn.
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