Belgian horses are one of the largest draft horse breeds that exists in the world today. They are known for the large, muscular necks and mild temperament. For many beginning riders, Belgians are simply too large to successfully ride. Brooklyn Supreme, who is one of the largest Belgian horses on record to date, stood at 19.2 hands and weighed a total of 3,200 pounds. Brooklyn Supreme lived to the age of 20, dying in 1948.
Belgian horses are easy to recognize with their stocky frame and overall strength, but these Belgian horse facts will help you get to know more than just the characteristics of this breed.
#1. The world’s tallest horse is currently a Belgian.
The tallest horse in the world stands at 20.275 hands and his name is Big Jake. He is a gelding who was born in 2000. He weighs in at just 2,600 pounds, or about 600 pounds less than Brooklyn Supreme.
#2. Belgians suffer from a specific health condition.
Many Belgians suffer from an inherited genetic disorder. It’s called junctional epidermolysis bullosa, or JEB for short. The disorder causes newborn foals to lose large areas of their skin and have other birth defects or abnormalities. Nearly 1 in 5 Belgian horses in North America are carriers for this disorder, with up to 30% of mares being carriers. As long as a carrier is not mated, JEB can be avoided.
#3. JEB testing is required by some breed associations.
The Belgian breed registry in the United States requires JEB testing before a horse can be listed. By taking this step, it is believed that the disorder will work its way out of the breed over time.
#4. The breed history of the Belgian may date back to the medieval era.
It is believed that the lineage of the Belgian breed may date back to the destriers of the Medieval era. Destriers were horses that carried knights into battle. They were also the horses that were used in jousting and other competitive tournaments. The Brabant breed is officially considered to be the foundation stock of the Belgian, with breeding in the US after World War II creating Belgians that were a bit taller and lighter than the Brabant horse.
#5. Belgians have always been considered to be a working animal.
Belgians have always been bred to work, even today. They are often employed as farm horses, especially by communities that do not use modern equipment to take care of their fields. This horse breed doesn’t mind getting out into a field to put in a good day’s work, assuming that there is enough feed available to sustain the work output.
#6. Belgian horse meat is often considered to be a delicacy.
Many nations do not allow for the human consumption of horse meat because of the ethical considerations of butchering horses. Horses are often considered one of the most intelligent creatures on the planet, so laws have been in place to control their slaughter. In areas were horse meat is considered a viable protein source, Belgians are prized for their tender meat, so it is often considered to be a delicacy.
#7. A team of Belgian horses can pull a tremendous amount of weight.
In a team competition held in Colorado, a pair of Belgian horses was able to pull 8.5 tons of weight a total distance of 7.2 feet. The team of horses weighed just 4,800 pounds in comparison. And at the Iowa State Fair, a pulling contest in the heavyweight division saw a Belgian and a Percheron pull a total of 14,600 pounds a distance of 15 feet.
#8. Belgians are the most popular draft horse in the United States.
When the registration numbers of all draft horse breed associations are compared to one another, Belgians are the most popular horse breed of their type in the United States. The registration figures from the Belgian Draft Horse Corporation of America show that Belgians actually outnumber all other draft horse breeds combined.
#9. Belgian horses are one of the easiest breeds to maintain.
One of the nicknames that has been given to the Belgian breed is “Easy Keeper.” This is because the horses are usually a very low maintenance horse. As long as they have access to their feed on a regular basis and can get some exercise every day, they are a very friendly, mild-mannered horse that will have a willingness to work.
#10. You can’t always see the feathers, but they are there with the Belgian horse.
Belgian horses do have light feathering around their hooves. It is not as thick as the feathering on Shires or Clydesdales, but it is there. Care must be taken with the feathers to make sure that wet dirt and debris does not get trapped within them. The constant wetness of damp feathers can lead to conditions like rain rot or permit fungal infections like ringworm to begin.
#11. Pulling contests aren’t the only way that Belgians are competitive.
Belgians might be known for their strength in pulling contests, but that isn’t the only event where this draft horse sees some success. Halter classes and plowing classes also see regularly entries from the Belgian breed. Many open shows will also see at least a handful of Belgian entries to compete with the lighter horses. Skilled Belgians will also show up in dressage from time to time, as well as in pleasure driving classes.
#12. Belgian horses can eat a lot of food over the course of a day.
When all of their feed is combined, it is not unusually for a Belgian horse to eat more than 50 pounds of food over the course of a day. If the Belgian is working hard, that might increase to 60-70 pounds. This can make it a little difficult for some horse owners to financially maintain the horse, especially when the added cost of feed is added to the room, board, and medical care that the horse may need.
#13. The price of a Belgian horse is often quite affordable.
If you do love draft horses and can afford their annual care costs, then the initial price to obtain a horse from this breed is quite reasonable. Many older horses can be obtained for $5,000 or less. Even trained horses from this breed are often less than $10,000. Breeding desirability, competitiveness, and show reputation can cause the price of a horse to rise, which world champions often commanding six figures during a sale.
These Belgian horse facts show that if you want to own a mild-mannered horse that loves a good day of hard work, this is the breed to get. They might be big, but that also means they have a big heart and a lot of love to give.