Man has bred horses for hundreds of years to fulfill tasks for humans, and we have bred them to obtain the perfect stature and coloring. Large horses are primarily used in agriculture, sport, war, and everyday transport. Some breeds are much bigger and stronger than others, but how big do some breeds become?
The 15 biggest horse breeds are:
- The Russian Draft
- Italian Heavy Draft
- The Boulonnais
- The Breton
- The Dutch Draft
- North American Spotted Draft
- American Cream Draft
- The Suffolk Punch
- The Ardennais
- The Percheron
- The Belgian
- The Brabant
- The Shire
The average horse is a big, beautiful animal in its own right, but there have been some magnificent giants bred and recorded worldwide. This article gives more detail about how a horse is measured and lists the 15 biggest horse breeds globally. So read on!
How Do You Measure The Height And Weight Of A Horse?
When it comes to big horses, the largest is usually the tallest. A horse is measured to find out if it falls within this category. Horses are typically measured in hands (hh or h), and one hand is equal to four inches. The decimal after the hand’s amount is a base of 4, with the number after the decimal representing one inch. For example, a 15.2hh horse is fifteen hands and 2 inches.
The largest breed of horses will be on average 16.2hh to 19hh+. Historically, horses were measured using actual human hands, which led to discrepancies. Thanks to new-age technology, we now use a horse measuring stick that measures the hose perpendicular to the floor to the highest point of its withers (skeleton).
There are two ways of measuring a horse’s weight. The first is to use a weight tape method; this is only an estimate and will show if the horse is getting heavier over a period of time. Using a measuring tape, measure the horse around its heart girth (chest) in inches, and then measure the body length in inches (from the shoulder to the buttock). Apply the following formula for a weight estimate (Heart Girth x Heart Girth x Body Length).
The second method of weighing a horse is using a livestock scale, but this device is not always available. Using a scale of this sort may stress the animal, as the horse is not used to the metal platform or hang straps that are used. A livestock scale will give the most accurate total of the two weighing methods.
The 15 Biggest Horse Breeds
When it comes to large horses, the taller they are, the more they typically weigh, but the brut strength that these majestic animals possess cannot be disputed. Below is a list of the 15 biggest horse breeds in the world.
1. The Russian Draft
The Russian Draft or Russian Heavy Draft is one of the heaver Draft horse breeds. The horse is solid and muscular, and it was bred for mundane farm work, and due to their lively gait, they were suitable for pulling carriages. The Russian military also utilized the breed thanks to its strong pulling ability.
The characteristics of the Russian draft are short legs compared to its body length and almost no feathering. The horse has a light head due to being bred with the Orlov Trotter breed. They are fast-growing horses and may suffer from sickle hock, which weakens the back as they get older.
The Russian draft is commonly bred for milk and meat in Europe. Mares can produce more than 2500kg of milk during their lactation period, and this is often used to make Kumis, a Russian fermented milk drink.
- Country of Origin: Russia
- Height: 14.2 – 15 hands
- Weight 1,280 – 1,555 pounds
- Common Colors: Bay, Strawberry Roan, Chestnut
2. The Italian Heavy Draft
The Italian Heavy Draft looks similar to a French Breton and Haflinger Horse, but they are much heavier. The Italian Heavy Draft was bred for farm-work, as the Italian farmers of the time required a fast and agile horse as they did not need to pull excessively heavy loads.
The breed characteristics are a light head (for a draft horse) and have a slightly convex profile with a short, broad neck. The back of this draft horse is straight and short, with rounded flanks. The legs are short and have well-formed hooves.
Percheron and Boulonnais breeds were introduced to the local farm horses, and it resulted in a strong and agile horse suited to small-scale farming. With most small farmers using a mechanized farming infrastructure, the Italian Heavy Draft is now generally bred for its meat.
- Country of Origin: Italy
- Height: 14.2 – 15.3 hands
- Weight: 1,320 – 1,540 pounds
- Common Colors: Chestnut
3. The Boulonnais
The Boulonnais is often referred to as the “White Marble Horse” and is equated as Europe’s noblest draft horse due to its large but elegant way of moving. The Boulonnais is commonly found pulling carts in its home country of France and has been a source of meat for the population of Normandy for more than a century. There are currently less than a thousand of these beauties in Europe.
The characteristics of the Boulonnais are a broad forehead with a short elegant head. A muscular neck and a full chest complimented with sloping shoulders. The coat fineness has a delicate appearance that will show some veins, hence the nickname “White Marble Horse.”
The Mareuse, a smaller breed of Boulonnaise, could complete a 200 mile trip in less than 18 hours while pulling carts of fish between Boulogne and Paris. The Journey is now commemorated as The “Route du Poisson” relay horse race.
- Country of Origin: France
- Height: 14.3 – 16.3 hands
- Weight: 1,250 – 1,650 pounds
- Common Colors: Grey, chestnut, black
4. The Breton
The Breton originates from Brittany, France, bred mainly for farm work. There are three distinct types of Breton horses; the smaller Corlay Breton is used for riding and buggies. The Postier Brenton is used for light farm work and the heavy draft Breton for serious farm work. The Breton breed has a long history with military and agriculture and remains a handy horse to this day.
The Breton has a medium size head with a straight profile, a long neck anchored with long and sloping shoulders. It has a broad back and croup with strong muscular legs making it great for drafting.
- Country of Origin: France
- Height 15 -16 hands
- Weight: 1,000 – 1,800 pounds
- Common colors: Chestnut, bay, roan, grey
5. The Jutland
The Jutland has a strong foundation in The Danish National Pride, and it is seen in commercials, pulling the nation’s beer wagon. The Stocky horse is associated with many Danish folk tails and songs as the Jutland’s ancestors were ridden in the 9th-century by the Vikings.
The Jutland was exported to England, Germany, and France during the Middle Agesand, were prevalent mounts for knights partaking in the sport of Jousting. In the 1950s, the Jutland horse had a large population of 15,000, but in recent years the numbers have dropped to 1,000.
The Jutland has a convex facial profile, a short arched back, low withers with straight shoulders, a broad chest, and a slightly sloped croup. The horse breed is compact and robust, with a very energetic, calm temperament.
- Country of Origin: Denmark
- Height: 15 -16.1 hands
- Weight: 1,430 -1,760 pounds
- Common colors: Chestnut
6. The Dutch Draft
The Dutch Draft is still used for farming activities in the Netherlands to this day. They have a strong neck and chest and are bulky, similar to the Brabant’s and Belgian breeds. It is quite rare to find Dutch Drafts, but a few are still used in competition or on the farmlands.
The characteristics of the Dutch draft are a massive cold-blooded (heavy draft) horse that has free movements, good stamina, and a calm temperament. The legs of the horse are powerful and heavily feathered. The population of the Dutch draft was 1,424 in 2009 but remains scarce, even with active local breading programs.
- Country of Origin: The Netherlands
- Height: 15 -16 hands
- Weight: 1,500 – 1,800 pounds
- Common colors: Chestnut, bay, grey
7. North American Spotted Draft
The North American Spotted Draft combines many horse breeds, including Percheron, Shire, Suffolk, Clydesdale, and Belgian. This breed is used as a carriage horse but is suited for farm work and logging. A registered Spotted Draft horse must display a pinto coloring (light/dark patches splashed across a darker/lighter body) and be classed as premium, regular, or breeding stock.
The North American Spotted draft has a willing and docile temperament similar to its cousin, the American Cream Draft.
- Country of Origin: United States
- Height: 15 – 17 hands
- Weight: 1,250 – 2,000 pounds
- Common colors: Black and white, bay and white, sorrel and white
8. American Cream Draft
The American Cream Draft has a unique color and is admired for is elegant movements that it portrays. Over 98% of the American Creams can trace their bloodline back to a single cream-colored mare called Old Granny, which lived in Iowa in 1911.
The characteristic of this Cream Draft is a refined head with flat facial features. The horse has sloping shoulders, a short back, and well-muscled hindquarters. An ideal coat for the breed is a medium cream color with pink skin, amber eyes, and a white mane and tail.
The American Creams are large horses suitable for carriage work, but they are great for dressage due to their light and graceful movements.
- Country of Origin: United States
- Height: 15 – 16.5 hands
- Weight: 1,250 – 1,800 pounds
- Common Colors: Light to dark cream
9. The Suffolk Punch
The Suffolk Punch is a friendly horse that is easy to keep and originates from Suffolk in England. The hose is muscular and heavy but is known for its good temperament and long life span. The breed has not been altered as most horses reside in the area, and their bloodline can be traced back to a horse from 1768 named “Thomas Crispin’s Horse.”
The characteristic of the Suffolk Punch is a shorter horse than most British draft breeds such as Shires or Clydesdales. The horse has a powerful arching neck, sloping shoulders, a wide back, and a broad, muscular croup. The horse’s legs are stocky and robust with big joints, well-formed hooves with no feathering. The breed is known for its energetic trot and long life expectancy.
The Suffolk Punch was mainly used for draft work and was implemented into the military to haul heavy artillery during wartime.
- Country of Origin: England
- Height: 16.1 – 17 hands
- Weight: 1,500 – 2,000 pounds
- Common Color: Chestnut
10. The Ardennais
The Ardennais is a docile temperament horse with a war history dating back from ancient Rome to artillery horses in the French Revolution. The Ardennais or Ardennes is one of the first draft horse breeds and comes from the Ardennes area in Belgium, Luxembourg, and France. They are very popular agricultural horses and were used on farms for hundreds of years. The Ardennes is amazingly agile, even though it is a large horse.
The characteristics of the Ardennes are a heavy head, broad face with straight or convex features. The horse has a vast, muscular, compact body, short back, and short, stocky legs with a free-flowing gait. Their eyes are large and pronounced, and they have small ears that point forward.
- Country of Origin: France and Belgium
- Height: 15 – 16 Hands
- Weight: 1,500 – 2,200 pounds
- Common colors: bay, roan, chestnut, palomino, grey
11. The Clydesdale
The Clydesdale is derived from the Flemish Stallions imported to Scotland and mated with the local mares in the area. In the Nineteenth century, Shire blood was introduced to the Clydesdale, and the breed grew from there. The Clydesdales were much heavier in the pre-World War 1 era than they are now. The reason for this is not all due to the war but rather the mechanization of farms in the area.
The characteristics of Clydesdales are a straight to slightly convex face, a broad forehead, and a wide muzzle. The horse is very muscular and strong and has an arched neck, high withers, and sloped shoulders. Clydesdales are very energetic and have a very active gait.
Clydesdales are at risk of contracting Chronic Progressive Lymphedema, a disease that causes severe swelling of the joints. The horse can suffer from “Clyde’s Itch,” a type of mange that affects the lower legs and Fibrosis.
- Country of Origin: Scotland
- Height: 16,2 – 18 hands
- Weight: 1,800 – 2,000 pounds
- Common colors: Bay, brown
12. The Percheron
The Percheron is strong and heavy but is finely built; they do not have heavy feathering on their leg like most draft horses. Percherons have an elegant way of moving and are commonly used to pull carriages for pleasure riding and are favored by circus performers for their temperament.
The characteristics of the Percheron are a straight profile head, large eyes, small ears, and a broad forehead. A deep, wide chest and long croup with heavily muscled legs give the impression of powerful ruggedness, and the temperament is one of being proud and alert. The endurance of the horse is good, and they are easy keepers.
The Percheron has been bred with smaller horses to obtain better features suited to range work and competitions.
- Country of Origin: France
- Height: 16 – 18 hands
- Weight 1,600 – 2,400 pounds
- Common Colors: Grey, black
13. The Belgian
The Belgian is a perfect carriage and riding horse and can ferry tourists around. The horse has a unique high-step trot and a good gait, add in strength, weight, and big build, and you have the perfect pulling machine. The beautiful white tail and mane of the Belgian breed make it stand out and iconic this breed.
The Belgian is a decedent of the Medieval Flemish battle horse and has thick muscles, a heavy body, and short, stocky legs. In 1866 the first horse was brought to the United States, but the Americans favored the Percheron. The docile and patient temperament of the Belgian is revered by many.
- Country of Origin: Belgium
- Height: 16 – 18 hands
- Weight: 1,800 – 2,200 pounds
- Common colors: Chestnut or sorrel with a white mane and tail
14. The Brabant
The Brabant is a massive horse and can weigh up to 3,000 pounds making it the heaviest of all the Belgian Draft horses. It is heavy, muscular, solid, and docile, making an excellent workhorse for farms. The Brabant has been imported to the US for more than 100 years, and it has bred with the American Belgian resulting in a tall, light-boned breed that has only two colors, chestnut or sorrel.
The Brabant has a square head with straight features, strong necks with deep, broad chests, and solid backs. The horses have muscular legs and large round hoofs; Brabant’s are gentle giants but are lively, brave, and tough. Farmworkers praised the horse for its obedient and hard-working nature.
Up to the 1940s, the Belgian and Brabant breeds were fundamentally the same. After World War II, the European Brabant was selectively bred to have a thicker body and weigh more. In the United States, the Belgian was bred to be taller and more slender.
- Country of Origin: Belgium
- Height: 15.2 – 17 hands
- Weight: 2,400 – 3,000 pounds
- Common colors: Red bay, bay, blue and strawberry roan, dark bay
15. The Shire
A Shire is the tallest of the draft horse breeds, often reaching 19 hands and just lighter than the Brabant. The Shires have a graceful way of walking and have thick and significant feathering on their feet to aid them in the wet and muddy conditions of the English countryside.
They were commonly used as logging horses and for heavy agricultural work. Shires can pull massive loads, and in 1924 the Shire named Vulcan pulled a huge 29-ton load. The largest horse ever recorded was the Shire named Sampson and measured in at 21.2 ½ hands and weighing 3,360 pounds.
The Head of the Shire is long and lean with large eyes and a slightly arched, strong neck. A muscular back, deep and broad shoulders, and wide chest make this horse stand proud. The coat of the Shire is fine, straight, and silky.
During the early twentieth century, large numbers of Shire were exported to the United States, but with the introduction of mechanization of agriculture and transport, the need for draught horses dwindled swiftly. In the early 1960s, Shire numbers had fallen from over a million to only a few thousand, and the breed is still considered to be at risk.
- Country of Origin: England
- Height: 16.2 – 19 hands
- Weight: 1,500 to 2,200 pounds
- Common colors: Black, brown, bay, chestnut, gray
The Biggest Horses in History
In the last 200 years, we have bred horses for their strength, and some individual bloodlines have produced some astonishingly large animals. Here is a list of the eight largest horses in recorded history:
|Name||Breed||Country||Weight (lb.)||Height (hh)||year|
|Big Jake||Belgian Draft||USA||2,600||20||2010|
|Radar||Belgian Draft||USA||2,300||19.3 ½||2006-2009|
A tall horse is usually heavy, but the only way to prove this will be to use the correct measuring and weighing techniques. Using a weighing tape and converting the horses’ length and girth will give a reasonable weight estimate. A measuring stick is used to determine a horse’s height and is measured in hands. One hand is equal to 4 inches.
The biggest horse breeds in the world have been bred for farm work and to do heavy draft work like pulling multi-ton loads. Each of these large breeds is unique in character and build, and they continue to assist us with heavy drafting tasks.