Name of breed: Boulonnais
Country of origin: France
Breed origin: Also known as the ‘White Marble Horse’, the Boulonnais is a type of draft horse breed from France. The breed’s origins trace to a period before the Crusades, and during the 17th century the bloodlines of Spanish Barb, Arabian and Andalusian breeds were added to create the modern-day Boulonnais.
During the early 1900s, Boulonnais’ were imported in large numbers to the US are were extremely popular in France. But unfortunately with two world wars in Europe in the first half of the century, the breed population suffered severely and almost became extinct following WW2.
Breed numbers still remain low – it’s estimated that less than 1000 horses remain in Europe, mostly in France, with a few in other nations.
Distinguishing features: Known for its large but elegant appearance, the Boulonnais is usually grey in colour, although chestnut and black are also allowed by the French breed registry. Unlike other breeds of draft horses such as the Shire or Clydesdale, the Boulonnais has no heavy feathering on its lower legs.
The Boulonnais has a very elegant appearance that is not often seen in heavy draft breeds and it has been called ‘Europe’s noblest draft horse’. The fineness of the skin and delicate appearance of the veins has allowed the horse to be described as looking “like polished marble”, leading to its ‘White Marble Horse’ nickname.
Modern day Boulonnais: While in the past the breed has been used for transporting fresh fish from Boulogne to Paris, or moving heavy blocks of building stone, and even pulling artillery and supply wagons for the French army in the 20th century, falling demand for the breed in later years means that today it is bred mainly for horsemeat. In 2010, sixty percent of Boulonnais horses bred in France were intended for slaughter. However, the slaughter industry is in crisis due to falling prices, controversy and importation of cheap meat which has seen the consumption of horse meat fall sharply in Europe (thank god!).
In France, a breeding program has been developed by the National Stud to cross Boulonnais and Arabian horses to create a fast, alert driving horse called the Araboulonnais.
Image credit: Wikimedia