The Percheron is among the gentle giants of the horse world. Once a war horse and then a powerful draft horse, today's Percheron is equally comfortable under saddle and in harness. Percherons are competitive on the horse-pull circuit, in which teams of horses are matched against increasing weights. Moreover, they are often crossed with light horse breeds, such as thoroughbreds, to produce a sport-type riding horse.
Weight: 1,800 to 2,600 pounds
Height: 15 hands (60 inches) to 19 hands (76 inches)
Body Type: Muscular build; broad, flat forehead; small, upright ears; arched neck
Best For: All levels of owners and riders who are comfortable with large horses
Life Expectancy: 25 to 30 years
Percheron History and Origins
The Percheron breed was developed in the Perche province of France's Normandy region. Not much is known about the breed’s origin, though there are several theories. Many experts believe the earliest Percherons might have been crosses between the hardy Barb horses of the Moors and large Flemish draft breeds. Arabian bloodlines eventually were introduced to add athleticism and refinement.
During the 1800s, the French government further developed the breed to use as cavalry horses. The national breeding farm, Le Pin, still breeds Percherons today, along with several other horse breeds of French origin.
The first Percherons arrived in the United States during the mid-1800s, and by the early 1900s, the Percheron was the most popular draft horse breed in the U.S. But like many other heavy working horses, Percheron numbers dwindled as tractors and cars became the new horsepower.
The Percheron Horse Association of America, which formed in 1934, serves as the breed registry in the U.S. It includes more than 3,000 members in all 50 U.S. states.
Percheron horses stand 15 hands (60 inches) to 19 hands (76 inches) on average and weigh from 1,800 to 2,600 pounds. In the United States, they’re generally 16 to 17 hands (64 to 68 inches) while Percherons in France can be a little smaller or larger, depending on the bloodline. Due to their size, a Percheron will need more living space than your average horse.
Percheron Breeding and Uses
Originally bred as war horses, Percherons today are most often seen pulling carriages, sleighs, and hayrides. Their strength and stamina also make them ideal for use in logging and on farms.
Riders who prefer large horses often choose Percherons for their willingness and adaptability. Percherons can be ridden with Western or English saddles, and they have a captivating presence in the dressage ring. For the timid equestrian, a steady Percheron horse can be a confidence-building ride.
Colors and Markings
Percherons can be black, gray, chestnut, bay, roan, or sorrel. French-bred Percherons are born black and turn gray as they mature; no other color is allowed in the registry. Although white markings are permitted, excess white is frowned upon.
Unique Characteristics of the Percheron
Percherons lack the heavy leg feathering of the Clydesdale and some other draft breeds, but their legs are notably muscular. Plus, their manes and tails can be very thick and are often wavy.
Furthermore, Percherons are a bit more lively than some of their draft horse relatives. They’re prized for their powerful, proud posture, along with their intelligence and eagerness to please. Plus, their stamina is legendary. Breed enthusiasts in the 1800s touted the horse’s ability to travel nearly 40 miles a day at a trot.
Diet and Nutrition
A Percheron typically eats more than an average-size horse. It can easily go through 30 pounds of quality hay and 5 pounds of grain in a day. Vitamin and mineral supplements might be necessary, especially if the horse can’t forage in pasture.
Common Health and Behavior Problems
Percherons are generally sound horses with minimal behavioral issues, though they are prone to certain health problems. Like many other heavy horse breeds, some Percherons might develop equine polysaccharide storage myopathy. With this disease, muscles can’t properly store glucose, and muscle tissue becomes damaged. It’s not curable, but it can be managed with diet and exercise.
Young Percherons also might develop osteochondritis dissecans, a painful joint condition in which cracks form in the cartilage and bone. This is often due to rapid growth and activity.
A good grooming routine is important for Percherons. Especially when they’re in a cold climate, their coats can become very heavy and dense. Thus, regular grooming is a must to remove dirt, debris, tangles, and loose hair. In addition, the hair around the horse’s legs is known to attract bacteria, which can cause skin inflammation and infections. It’s essential to keep that area well-groomed, clean, and dry.
Eager to please
Strong work ethic
Size can be intimidating for some riders
Prone to a few health issues
Champion and Celebrity Percheron Horses
Foaled in 1823, a horse named Jean Le Blanc is considered one of the founding sires of the modern Percheron breed. All of today's Percherons can trace their bloodline to this horse.
During the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Armour packing company was known for the yellow wagons it used to deliver goods, which were drawn by gray Percherons. Armour's horses also competed in the driving ring against top horses of the time. And a circus show featured the Armour team as a headline attraction.
Also during the 1800s, Pabst Brewery used Percherons to power its mills and deliver beer in Chicago. The Pabst family bred its own Percherons and even competed with them at the 1904 World's Fair.
In the 1980s, the Heinz Hitch was created to honor the tradition of horse-drawn delivery. With its eight black Percherons, the hitch was a popular draw in parades and exhibitions across the U.S. After being retired in 2007, the Heinz Percherons were donated to the Army for use in ceremonies.
Is the Percheron Horse Right for You?
Because of their docile nature, Percherons can be good horses for beginner riders, many of whom might need mounting blocks to climb aboard. Sweet, tolerant, and easygoing, these majestic horses are ideal for those who lack the experience in horse ownership that many other breeds require. They're known as easy keepers that are able to adapt to many different climates and conditions.
How to Adopt or Buy a Percheron
Percherons range from $1,000 to $10,000; the price varies based on the horse’s age, level of training, and pedigree. When looking to adopt or buy a horse, aim to visit with it at the rescue or breeder before committing. Note its demeanor, and ask to see its level of training on display if possible.
For breeders, make sure you will receive documentation on the horse’s lineage, where it was bred, and its health history. If this isn’t provided, you might not be dealing with a quality breeder. Likewise, ask a rescue organization to provide as much information as possible on the horse’s history, health, and temperament. If you don’t feel comfortable with the answers, you might want to look for another horse.
Finally, it is highly recommended to have your veterinarian perform a pre-purchase or pre-adoption examination to determine the horse's health and suitability for its desired use.
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