These spotted gentle giants have worked their way into the hearts and minds of breed enthusiasts across the country, known for their flashy good looks and gentle temperaments. Keep reading to find out all about this unique new breed.
“Spotted draft horses” have been around for centuries. Pinto coloring has fallen in and out of fashion in the horse breeding world over the years, and breeders selectively choose animals that will “throw color” (or not, when it’s out of fashion).
Queen Elizabeth the 1st had a brown and white spotted draft horse in her service, and they’ve been popular in the United States since the 1700s.
While “spotted draft horses” have always existed, it’s only recently that enthusiasts have made a concerted effort to register and refine the breed we know today as the North American Spotted Draft horse.
The first official member of the breed was a spotted pulling horse named Charlie, out of a Morocco Spotted stallion (also known as a Spotted Saddle horse) and a Percheron mare. Charlie competed in pulling contests across the Midwest, and broke a Wisconsin state record in 1976.
Charlie’s owner and breeder, Leonard Tostenson began breeding spotted draft horses for agricultural work and pulling competitions. Together with Gail Clark, they founded the North American Spotted Draft Horse Association registry in 1995 to preserve and improve breed characteristics, and for other enthusiasts to share their love of these spotted giants.
Because the breed is relatively new, a specific phenotype is still in development. For now, Spotted Drafts must have pinto coloring (tobiano, overo, or tovero patterns) and must resemble a draft horse breed recognized by the NASDHA.
The NASDHA recognizes 6 breeds of draft horses that can be included in a Spotted Draft’s pedigree or added as a crossbreeding prospect: American Cream, Percheron, Belgian, Clydesdale, Shire, and Suffolk Punch. Drum horses may also be included with special registration provisions.
Physically, these horses are bred for color and for power – rather than for style. They range anywhere from a minimum of 15 to 17+ hands, and can weigh between 1,250 and 2,000+ pounds.
Spotted Drafts are dense, stocky, and strong. Proper specimens of the breed should have well-formed shoulders and “depth and thickness from the withers to the tail” (Dutson 2012). Despite being bred for power, they should have intelligent heads with active ears, and be agreeable and docile.
The Spotted Draft (sometimes affectionately shortened to “Spots” or “Spotteds”) is not just a color breed – these horses have specific registration requirements that gain them entry into the registry.
There are four basic categories for registration in the NASDHA:
Spotted Drafts in the Premium class must have at least 7/8ths draft horse blood and be over 15 hands tall. They must show draft horse characteristics and must have at least one Premium registered parent.
Premium horses also can’t have any Saddlebred, gaited, mule, donkey, pony, Appaloosa or Gypsy Vanner in their pedigrees. They must also have pinto coloring, as well.
To gain entry into the Regular registry, a Spotted Draft must have ½ – 7/8ths draft horse blood and meet the color and height requirements.
They may be products of a registered Spotted Draft and a registered light horse (over 15 hands and excluding gaited horses and Appaloosas), or registered draft breed.
A Spotted Draft may also be registered as Regular if he lacks the proper pedigree, but meets the “draft type” and color requirements.
Solid-colored Spotted Draft mares and stallions are registered as Breeding Stock. While they do not display spotted characteristics, it’s possible for a solid-colored horse to produce a spotted foal that does.
Geldings cannot be registered as Breeding Stock, for obvious reasons.
The Indexed category is reserved for Spotted Drafts with an unknown pedigree but has acceptable draft horse characteristics. They must be at least 15 hands high and resemble a draft horse, and be of acceptable quality.
This category is used to further broaden the breed and develop a proper set of characteristics for the Premium and Regular classes.
Spotted Draft horses may come in any color – as long as it’s spotted. Solid-colored individuals may only be registered as Breeding stock, if they could theoretically produce a spotted foal.
The NASDHA recognizes the following coat patterns:
- Tobiano – Large vertical patches of white on a dark base color, may extend across the back.
- Overo – The inverse of tobiano. Large patches of dark color with smaller, irregularly shaped patches of white on sides, belly, or legs.
- Tovero – A mix of tobiano and overo coloring.
Horses are evaluated as youngsters, but their registration may be removed if they don’t end up with the correct amount of white as adults.
Weanlings must have at least 4 square inches of a white coat pattern, yearlings must have 8, and over 2 must have 15 inches.
The base color can be anything, but it is typically black, sorrel, or bay. Blue eyes are rare, but allowed, and striping on the hooves is also acceptable. Appaloosa spotting is not permitted within the breed registry.
The spotted draft horse typically displays the temperaments of their “cold-blooded” ancestors – they are docile, quiet, willing to work, and eager to please. They are not easily spooked, and are intelligent and sensible.
Sometimes this can be mistaken for stubbornness, but it’s a trait that just requires patience from the handler. According to the NASDHA, Spotted Drafts are well known for their good temperaments and “heart.”
These horses can be used for many things. While we no longer rely on horses for agricultural work as we did before the advent of mechanization, horses can be useful for a small hobby farmer interested in sustainable farming.
Spotted Drafts tend to be more athletic and agile than other draft horses, which also makes them suitable for riding under saddle. They often appear in harness in the show ring or during parades or other performances.
Because of the variety in their pedigrees, individual spotted drafts may be more suited for certain disciplines – the heavier spotted drafts could be excellent pullers (like Charlie) and those mixed with lighter riding horses can become excellent eventers and jumpers.
The Spotted Draft vs. the Gypsy Vanner
If you see a spotted carriage horse in a parade, how do you know it’s a Spotted Draft and not a Gypsy Vanner? Without a DNA test, it’s impossible to tell for sure, but here are some of the main differences:
|Spotted Draft||Gypsy Vanner|
|Larger||Elegant and flashy movers|
|Often less expensive||Intense feathering on the legs|
|Lack feathering on the legs (generally)||Long, flowing mane and tail|
|Tend to resemble other draft breeds||More costly|
Spotted Drafts may not contain any Gypsy Vanner blood in their pedigrees, despite their colorful similarities. There is also a lot more variation in the Spotted Draft type, due to crossbreeding with several different breeds. Purebred Gypsy Vanners tend to have the same relative build and appearance.
Spotted Draft horses can vary wildly in price. A registered Spotted in the Premium class can fetch $15,000 or more on equinenow.com. However, those who are looking for the right partner (and not the right pedigree) will have a lot more luck finding the horse of their dreams at an affordable price.
Young Spotted Drafts in the Regular class or mixed pedigree Spotted Draft Horses often pop up for sale between $1,000 – $5,000, depending on pedigree and training.
Because these horses are so unique as individuals, there’s likely a Spotted Draft out there to suit many needs. If you’re looking for a solid performance partner or a good trail partner to carry a heavier rider, consider a Spotted Draft!