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Belgian Horse Breed Profile

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The Belgian horse is one of America’s heavy draft breeds. It is known for its exceptional power and ability to withstand the prevailing climate.

Some farmers preferred this breed for farming, industrial work, and transportation. Its duties included plowing, pulling carriages, and logging. 

As a heavy draft breed, the Belgian is docile and easy to handle. Although not commonly used for draft duties today, enthusiasts prefer it for horse riding and other disciplines.

This article outlines all you need to know about Belgian horses before adopting one.

The History of the Belgian Horse Breed

Origin of the Belgian Horse 

The American Belgian draft horse originated from the Brabant (Belgian Heavy Draft). It’s huge, typically weighing more than a Clydesdale horse even.

In its native Flanders region in Europe (Belgium), the Belgian Heavy Draft (BHD) was commonly called the Flanders Horse. 

The Belgian horse contributed significantly to the production of other draft horse breeds. For example, the Shire, Suffolk Punch, and Clydesdale have traces of BHD.

The BHD adapted well to America’s heavy soil and climate. Therefore, the American breeders resisted crossing it with other breeds.

Breeders concentrated on selective breeding to preserve the Belgian’s desirable traits. 

After successive selective breeding, the Belgian Heavy Draft emerged. Its exceptional power and easy-going temperament increased its popularity in the region.

Two Belgian horses grazing during sunset

Belgian Draft Horse Corporation 

The Belgian Draft Horse Corporation of America (BDHA) dates back to 1887. It partnered with Wabash Importing company to keep the breed pure.

The Corporation keeps a record of importations and breed descriptions. Their primary duties include:

  • Keeping importation records 
  • Providing imported stock descriptions
  • Issuing registration certificates
  • Transferring purebred Belgian horses

The Corporation’s primary vision was to maintain and improve the Belgian breed’s quality traits.

Foundation Sires 

The foundation sire for the Belgian horse is the Brabant, or Flanders horse.

Unlike other draft breeds, which resulted from crossbreeding different stallions, the Belgian was a selective breeding product.

The American Belgian’s weight and height were popular, and breeders sought to improve these qualities. 

By selecting and breeding horses with quality traits, European breeders produced thicker-bodied and more drafty horses.

However, American breeders produced taller and lighter-bodied breeds. This was different from the ancient breeds that were used on farms.

This prompted Albert Stankiewicz to import the heavier European mares and breed them with the older American stallions in 1960. He hoped to restore their desirable qualities.  

Three Belgian horses standing on the snow

Characteristics of the Belgian Horse

1. Height and Weight

The Belgian horse has an average height of 16-17 hands (64-68 inches). An adult Belgian horse weighs about 2,200 pounds (800-1,000 kg).

However, some Belgians are taller (up to 20 hands), like Big Jake of Smokey Hollow Farm. There are also some that weigh more than 2,200 pounds.

2. Colors 

Belgian horses appear in many colors. Although chestnut and sorrel are the common ones, other rare colors exist. 

Most Belgian horses’ legs, face, mane, and tail have white markings, while the rest of the body is blonde or chestnut.

However, some horses have light blonde manes and red-brown bodies.

In these shades, chestnut is the darkest, while blonde is the lightest.

Other rare colors are bay, blue, gray, and black.  

3. Conformation

The Belgian horse is a heavy breed with thick muscles and powerful hind limbs. It has a broad chest and a high neck. Despite its height and weight, the breed has a small head with a straight profile.

Its compact body, wide back, and thick muscle over the croup allow it to excel at pulling carriages. 

The hooves of the Belgian horse are medium-sized with light feathering along the legs.

4. Temperament 

The Belgian Draft horse is gentle and easy to handle. It is wise and self-aware, with a big personality.

Although Belgians have imposing bodies, their sense of humor makes them popular among riders. 

Besides, the Belgians are cooperative and willing to work. This makes them ideal for beginners in equine studies, especially for riding lessons.

5. Lifespan

Draft horses have a shorter lifespan compared to other horse breeds. Their heavy bodies and the work they do contribute to this. A typical Belgian Draft horse lives for 17–22 years.

Another contributing factor to their short lifespan is their proneness to different health conditions.

A beautiful Belgian horse with black mane and tails

Genetic Diseases 

Belgian horses are generally healthy. However, they suffer from a common hereditary disease junctional epidermolysis bullosa (JEB).

Lack of enough proteins in the body results in this condition. A horse suffering from JEB will show the following signs.

  • Fragile skin that rubs off easily
  • Blisters at pressure points
  • Mouth and tongue ulcers
  • Sloughing of hooves

Horses with this condition die a few days after birth. Since the disease exposes them to severe pain, veterinarians recommend euthanasia.

Thanks to a genetic test available to detect mutated genes in horses before breeding, if a Belgian horse has the gene, breeders don’t use it. 

Other health issues common in this horse breed include

  • Chronic progressive lymphedema (CPL). This condition arises from lymph fluid buildup in the lower legs. The fluid accumulation causes inflammation and painful ulcerations on the skin.

This condition has no cure, but a veterinarian can show you how to manage it. 

You only need to administer antibiotics regularly and apply other management techniques throughout the horse’s life.

If you fail to detect this condition early and start treatment, your horse may get lame, disfigured, or suffer from secondary infections. In extreme cases, CPL leads to death.

  • Obesity. Due to the slow metabolic rate, Belgians frequently become obese. However, you can manage this condition through regular exercise and calorie control in your horse’s diet.
  • Dermatitis. Failure to groom your hose well exposes it to fungal and bacterial skin infections. One such infection is Pastern dermatitis, common in Belgian horses’ legs.

However, you can eradicate it through regular cleaning. 

Belgian Horse Disciplines 

The breed’s gentle temperament, height, and weight make them ideal in many disciplines. 

They perform many duties on farms, industries, and shows, such as:

  • Plowing. Their heavily built bodies with muscular hindquarters enable them to pull the plow. Furthermore, their medium-sized hooves are suitable for walking through the tilled land comfortably. 
  • Logging. The Belgian Draft horse helps in selective tree harvesting. This ensures the cutting of only mature trees while moving around the forest. 

Furthermore, their impact on the forest floor is minimal compared to logging machines.

  • Pulling carriages. The Belgian’s body structure and thick muscles enable them to pull heavy loads. They are also easy to control and wise.
  • Hitches and sleighs. During Christmas, Belgians give sleigh rides in open fields and sugar maple forests.
  • The breed is also popular in horse riding disciplines such as Western riding and jumping. Since they are gentle, beginners can easily handle them.
A brown Belgian horse pulling a carriage with tree logs


Although horse lovers praise the Belgian Horse for its temperament and uses, some criticize it for the following:

  • The breed has a short lifespan. A healthy Belgian Draft lives for 17-22 years and may die earlier from infections.
  • Health issues. The common health issues in Belgian horses lack cures. This makes their management expensive, and can lead to early demise.
  • Expensive to feed and manage. Due to their large bodies, these horses need a lot of food. Therefore, you need substantial financial input to rear a BDH.
  • Lack of genetic diversity in future generations. This breed emerged from breeding pure Brabant stock. Preserving their genetic makeup exposes them to genetic defects and lowers their ability to withstand harsh conditions because of the lack of genetic diversity.

Belgian Horse Breed vs. Clydesdale

Belgians and Clydesdales are both draft horse breeds. Although they share some characteristics, such as friendly temperaments and heavy bodies, they differ in the following ways.

Weight2,000-2,200 pounds, although the heaviest Belgian may weigh up to 3,000 pounds.1,800-2,200 pounds.
Country of originBelgiumScotland
BloodlinePure Brabant stockCross-breed between a Flemish stallion and native Scottish draft mares.
ColorsChestnut and blonde are the main colors. Other rare colors include bay, blue, gray, and black.Gray, black, bay, and chestnut.
Lifespan17-22 years20-25 years

The Belgians’ lifespan is shorter than Clydesdale’s.  

Another difference is their weight and height. Clydesdales are taller than Belgians, but the latter is heavier. 

There are color differences between the two breeds. Both are commonly chestnut, but the rare colors in Belgians are more than in Clydesdales.

Two Clydesdale horse standing and waiting behind a wooden fence
Clydesdale horses with typical white markings and chestnut coats


The BDH is among the draft horses with desirable qualities and many uses. Although the breed was popular for farmwork and transportation in the medieval ages, it still remains useful in many disciplines today. 

If you need a horse for pulling wagons, sleigh rides, and horse-riding disciplines, the Belgian is ideal. Their mild temperament and power make them suitable for transport and riding disciplines.