Name of breed: Ardennes
Country of origin: France, Belgium, Luxembourg
Breed origin: One of the oldest documented breeds of draft horse, the Ardennes horse originates from the Ardennes area (funny that) in Belgium, Luxembourg and France. There is belief that the breed could be a direct descendent of the prehistoric Solutre horse, and their history reaches back to Ancient Rome as they are also thought to be descended from the type of horse described by Julius Caesar in his Commentaries on the Gallic War.
The Ardennes’ ancestors are thought to have been bred for two thousand years on the Ardennes plains. In the Roman era, the breed was quite small, standing at only around 14 hands high. Later, Napoleon added Arabian blood to increase their stamina and endurance and it is said that he used them during his Russian campaign in 1812. Percheron, Boulonnais and Thoroughbred blood were also added but had little impact. However, in the 19th century, Belgian draft blood was added to give the breed the heavier conformation it has today.
The first breed registry was established in Europe in 1929 and today there are three separate studbooks in France, Belgium and Luxembourg. The Ardennes Horse Society of Great Britain was also formed in the late 20th century to preserve and promote the breed in the UK.
Distinguishing features: These heavy-boned, thick-legged horses have an incredibly muscular and compact stature. Their short, sturdy legs are heavily feathered around their fetlocks and they have minimal white markings, usually restricted to a star or blaze on their face. This breed matures early and are said to be easy keepers despite their size. Despite their compact body structure, Ardennes are quite a free-moving, long-striding breed of horse.
Modern day Ardennes: Ardennes have been used throughout history as war horses, both as cavalry mounts and to pull artillery. Their calm, tolerant disposition, combined with their active and flexible nature, made them an ideal war horse. Today they are mainly used for heavy draft and farm work, and sometimes for competitive driving events. They have also been used as mounts for therapeutic horse riding. Their influence can also bee seen in several other horse breeds throughout Europe and Asia.
Image credit: Mark J Barrett via Cowgirl Magazine