15 French Horse Breeds

15 French Horse Breeds

France has been the home to many unique horse breeds over the centuries. Horse breeding has been a priority since arguably the Roman era, which has led to the development of several horses because of the many different needs of the region. Some French horse breeds have histories that are both complex and obscure, so this list should not be considered an exclusive list of pure French horses.

#1. Percheron

This draft horse breed originated in the Huisne River valley in France. It is usually black or grey in color and a highly intelligent horse. This breed has a willingness to work and are generally calm in demeanor. Once used as war horses, they are generally used for range work and competitive events today.

In France, this breed is also used for food. 

#2. Breton

Developed in Brittany, this breed of horse was developed by crossing several different Asian and European breeds. The stud book for this breed has been closed since 1951. Bretons are generally a chestnut color and is characterized by their strength. There are 3 sub-types within the breed that are recognized, with each coming out of a different area of Brittany.

These horses are typically used in agricultural work, but have been utilized for military and draft work as well. 

#3. French Trotter

The French Trotter was developed in the Normandy Region in the 19th century. It is the combination of Norfolk Trotter and English Thoroughbred crossing. Five initial trotting lines were established during the early days of this breed, but today there are no breed standards in place for the French Trotter. It can be any solid color, stand over 17 hands, and have several varying physical characteristics.

After this breed retires from hunting, they are primarily used as a hunting horse. About 60% of French Trotters don’t qualify for racing and are used in riding centers to train new riders.  

#4. Camargue

Indigenous to Southern France, the origins of this striking breed are unknown. They are smaller horses that have often lived in the marshes and wetlands, living a semi-wild life. As a breed, they tend to have a certain hardiness and agility that makes seeing a herd of them quite the sight. These horses are always gray, so they have a black skin and a white hair coat. 

There are currently three registration categories available for this breed, including a stud book that keeps track of Camargue horses foaled outside of the region.

#5. Norman Cob

Another breed that calls Normandy its home, this is a mid-sized light draft horse that has a long-striding trot. There are three subsets that are accepted within this breed: under saddle, under harness, and food production. Initially popular for their willingness to work, especially in the agricultural sector, the breed has transitioned into recreational uses today.

Starting in the 1970s, the breed was threatened by genetic drift and inbreeding. This caused the stud book to go through a number of changes to help stabilize it. Most horses in this breed are still found in their home region.


#6. Boulonnais

This large and elegant horse is usually grey, but black and chestnut colors are also allowed. Initially, there were several sub-types for this breed, but they were cross-bred out so that only one standard Boulonnais exists today. The origins of this breed can be traced to before the Crusades, with modern development occurring in the 17th century to include Arabian and Andalusian bloodlines.

#7. Poitevin

This draft horse was originally bred in the Poutou area. It’s a breed that matures later than the average horse, which helps it to develop strong bones and a very calm temperament. They are primarily used for driving and riding today, but their demeanor also makes them a good candidate for experiential therapy.

The stud book for this breed has been closed since 1922, after being formalized in 1884. In the middle of the 20th century, breeding for the Poitevin concentrated on food production, until there were only about 300 animals left in the 1990s. Conservation plans are in place, but there is still a downward-trending population of this breed.

#8. Ardennais

This is one of the oldest breeds of draft horses and it has a history that reaches back to Ancient Rome, though it is a breed that was developed within the French region. The horses are characterized by extremely stout, muscular bodies, feathering around the hooves, and a broad appearance. 

Unlike many draft horses, this breed has a maximum height requirements in some associations. Most stallions are about 16 hands in height. 

#9. AQPS

This breed translates to “other than Thoroughbred.” AQPS is an abbreviation for the term “Autre Que Pur-Sang.” It is a term that is used in French equine circles to describe any breed of horse that is not a French Riding Horse, French Trotter, or Thoroughbred. The designation means one parent isn’t listed in an association book. 

#10. Auvergne

Coming out of central France, this breed has been cross-bred several times throughout the centuries. It was originally a small riding horse, often used for cavalry and warfare, but this sub-type has disappeared. Larger horses in this breed were developed to help with transportation needs. By the 1970s, it almost disappeared because of mechanization and a desire to develop horse meat production.

Since 1994, an association has been in place to save this breed. About 200 animals are known to exist today and most of them are still in the Auvergne region.


#11. Henson

This is a modern French horse breed, developed with the idea of promoting horse tourism within the country. It was created through a selective breeding process that included Fjord horses and light saddle horses from the region. An association was formed in 1983 and the stud book was closed in 1995 to horses not born from breed parents. It has been an officially recognized breed since 2005.

Most of the horses in this breed are used for outdoor riding or other recreational purposes. 

#12. Landais

This small pony from the Landes region is often used for riding and driving. They have an extremely fast trotting speed. A horse from this breed holds the current speed record for the distance between Chartres and Paris. Until World War II, this was a mostly feral breed. Today, breed numbers are fairly low, but more than 100 new foals are born each year.

It could be one of the oldest breeds in France, with documentation indicating that the Landais was present around 732 AD.

#13. Merens

This is a rustic horse breed that originated in the Pyrenees and Ariegeois Mountains. There are two generaly types within this breed, based on whether the horse lived in the mountains or the plains. The mountain horses tend to be smaller and lighter, while the sporting horses tend to be stout and muscular. It is primarily used as a saddle horse today, though carriage driving is also quite common in France.

It is still a rare breed today, with the stud book only registering 40 horses in totals in the 1970s. Herds are still relatively small and there is a genetic bottleneck to overcome, but conservation efforts to save the breed do seem to be working.

#14. Nivernais

From central France, this is an endangered heavy draft house that is always black. First created in the late 19th century, it is a breed that has been primarily used for agricultural work. Since 1966, the stud book for this breed has been merged with the Percheron book. For more than 30 years, preservations efforts have been in place, but it is no longer officially recognized as a breed within France. 

#15. Trait du Nord

This heavy draft horse was developed in Northeastern France and Belgium and was bred to be large and heavy due to the demands for horse meat in the 1950s. At the same time, demand for work horses was declining in the region, which eventually led this breed toward a path of extinction by the 1970s. It’s abilities in riding and driving, however, have caused a surge in its popularity since the 1990s.

Stallions in this breed can easily weigh more than 2,200 pounds. Their pulling power is enormous and they are sure-footed as a breed. There is a slightly smaller sub-type that is also recognized, which are utilized for faster work instead of heavy pulling.

This breed has also changed its name several times over the years. At one point, the Trait du Nord and the Ardennes were thought to be the same breed. It wasn’t until 1913 that this name was used for the breed and it has been the recognized name since 1961.

These French horse breeds have helped to define the equine world in many ways. Whether they have been used to improve other breeds or conservations efforts were created to save them, these horses have unique personalities, great charm, and impressive strength. Although some are at-risk for extinction, many are starting their comeback. In the next century, we may see a reintroduction of these French breeds all over the world. 

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