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7 Biggest & Burliest Horse Breeds in the World

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Written by Susie W.

Which breed of horse is the largest? Heft meets height in these massive equines.

The largest breeds of horses generally fall into the category “draft horse.” These horses were bred for heavy work until they were eventually replaced by machines. Because of their immense size, draft horses were bred to have calm, docile, willing temperaments.

Typically, draft horses weigh over 1,600 lbs and are over 16 hands high (hh).* In this article, we’ll discuss some of the biggest horse breeds:

  • Clydesdales
  • Belgian Draft
  • Percheron
  • Shire
  • Suffolk Punch
  • American Cream
  • Dutch Draft

* Horses are measured in hands; 1 hand equals four inches.Disclaimer: The breed attributes discussed in this article are generalizations. Individual horses within these breeds may be smaller or larger than the average.

Clydesdale

Clydesdales typically weigh between 1,600-2,400 lbs and stand 18+ hands tall.

Originating in Scotland, Clydesdales are a very popular draft breed in the United States. The horses are an American icon and a symbol of Budweiser beer. The Budweiser Clydesdales even have their own mascot—the Dalmatian. While they are known for their ability to pull a load, Clydesdales can also make great riding horses.

You might like the Clydesdale if you:

  • Want a horse with an easy temperament: Clydesdales are calm and easy to train
  • Want a horse that is easily recognized: These horses are the most popular draft breed in the US as recognized by non-horsey people
  • Like these colors: Bay or brown with white feathers

Hold Your Horses: Clydesdales need some special considerations due to their size. They take up more room than your average horse, eat a lot, and may need a special diet to maintain good body condition. The white feathering that is common on their legs can be very high maintenance.

Eager to Learn More? Visit Clydesdale Breeders of the USA

Belgian Draft

Belgians typically weigh in between 1,800 and 2,400 lbs and stand between 16 and 18 hh.

The Belgian Draft comes from (you guessed it) Belgium, however there is an American Belgian draft horse as well. We will discuss both here for the sake of simplicity. The American version was selectively bred to have a sorrel color with a flaxen mane and tail.

You might like the Belgian Draft if you:

  • Want a horse with a mellow temperament: Like most draft breeds, the Belgian is calm, cooperative, and gentle
  • Want a popular draft horse: Belgians are the most common draft horse by the numbers—In the US, they outnumber all other draft breeds combined
  • Like these colors: The American version is known for their sorrel color with a flaxen mane and tail and white facial markings, and limited feathering

Hold Your Horses: Belgian draft horses are very common in the US and are generally healthy and structurally sound. They are susceptible, however, to chronic progressive lymphedema, a common ailment in some draft breeds. The disease, linked to a genetic component, results in the lymphatic system malfunctioning, which may cause severe complications and even death. It has been observed in many draft breeds including Shires, Clydesdales, Belgians, and Percherons.

Eager to Learn More? Visit Belgian Draft Horse Corporation of America

Percheron

Percherons typically weigh an average of 1,900 lbs (but can weigh up to 2,300 lbs) and stand between 16 and 18 hh

Percheron horses originated in France and are known as the “Do-All” draft horse. You can see them throughout American history doing agricultural work. Today, they are used for breeding, pulling, competitive driving, riding, and in therapeutic applications.

You might like the Percheron if you:

  • Want a horse with a good temperament: The Percheron is known to be intelligent and willing with a good disposition
  • Want a popular draft horse: Known as “America’s favorite” draft breed, Percherons are known for their versatility
  • Like these colors: Black or gray are the most associated colors for this breed, but they can also come in chestnut, bay, or roan colors (with feathers!)

Hold Your Horses: In general, Percherons are sturdy, hardy horses. The breed can be prone to equine polysaccharide storage myopathy. This disease affects the muscles and is not curable, but is manageable.

Eager to Learn More? Visit Percheron Horse Association of America

Shire

Shire horses typically weigh 2,000 lbs and stand at 17.2 hh

The Shire is a British draft horse that dates to the 16th century. First used in war, the Shire was later repurposed for harness work, becoming the largest and strongest draft horse in Britain. First imported to America in 1853, the Shire was not as popular as Belgians and Percherons.

You might like the Shire if you:

  • Want a mild-mannered, massive horse: The Shire is described as calm and placid—they don’t spook easily
  • Want a well-known draft breed with roots dating back to the Roman Conquest: While less common in the United States, the Shire has an impressive history in Europe
  • Like these colors: The Shire comes in many colors, including bay, black, brown, and gray, and the breed has feathering on the legs

Hold Your Horses: Since the Shire is less popular in the US than other draft breeds, it may take additional time and travel to find the right horse for you. The feathered legs require a lot of grooming; if not kept clean, they can get a bacterial infection known as scratches, or mud fever.

Eager to Learn More? Visit Shire Horse Society

Suffolk Punch

The Suffolk Punch typically weighs 2,240 lbs and stands at 16.1 hh; stallions may stand at 17 hh or more

The Suffolk originated in England and is known for its uniformity of type. According to the breed standards, it should be “a pleasant, roundly modeled whole that pertains, like the singleness of color, to no other breed.” They may only be chestnut in color, and unlike other draft breeds, do not have feathering on their legs.

You might like the Suffolk Punch if you:

  • Want a horse with an easy temperament: The Suffolk horses are known for their docile temperament and faithful work ethic
  • Want a unique horse that is a piece of history: These horses are one of the oldest and rarest draft breeds in existence!
  • Like this color: The Suffolk Punch only comes in chestnut, but can range from a light golden to dark liver color. White markings are permitted but are generally less prominent. No other color may be registered

Hold Your Horses: If you want a Suffolk Punch, it may be hard to find one—they are very rare and, as of 2016, considered to be critically endangered. That said, there are several breeders in US and Canada; the web page below also lists available horses for sale.

Eager to Learn More? Visit North American Suffolk Horse Association

American Cream

The American Cream weighs between 1,500 and 2,000 lbs and stands between 15 – 16.3 hh

The American Cream is America’s only native draft horse breed, with roots going back to the early 1900’s. They have three defining traits: a cream-colored coat, amber-colored eyes, and pink skin. Similar to the Suffolk Punch, the American Cream is also on the critically endangered breed list.

You might like the American Cream if you:

  • Want a horse with an easy temperament: Known for a calm and willing demeanor, these horses were developed for pulling, but also make excellent riding horses
  • Want a rare horse with roots in American history: These horses farmed America’s breadbasket before mechanization. Today, there are less than 500 in the world
  • Like this color: American Cream horses are not palominos—they possess the “Champagne” gene which results in a horse with pink skin and amber-colored eyes. They have very limited feathering

Hold Your Horses: Looking for an American Cream? They are difficult to find as the breed is critically endangered. That said, the breed association is actively looking for new enthusiasts and owners and even offers a scholarship for youth who work with these animals. Since they are bred for farm work, they tend to be heavier on the forehand than your average horse, which requires some additional training to excel at movements like the extended trot.

Eager to Learn More? Visit American Cream Draft Horse Association or this article for a great story on an American Cream excelling in dressage!

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Dutch Draft

Dutch Draft horses typically weigh 1,600 lbs and stand 16 hh

Originating from The Netherlands (Holland), the Dutch Draft is the heaviest of the Dutch breeds. Bred for prolonged, hard work on the farm, this breed is solidly built and good at working in heavy marine clay or sandy soils. While fairly uncommon in present times, this draft breed was popular before being replaced by machinery.

You might like the Dutch Draft if you:

  • Want a horse with a willing temperament: Dutch draft horses are known for having a quiet disposition and good work ethic
  • Want a lesser known draft breed: The Dutch Draft is not very common, with less than 2,000 left in the world
  • Like these colors: These horses can be chestnut, bay, gray, or black and have feathers. These horses closely resemble the Belgian Heavy draft, as they share ancestry

Hold Your Horses: Dutch Draft horses are not very common anymore and were one of the most difficult breeds to find information on, especially in North America. It may take additional time and travel to find one.

Eager to Learn More? Visit Oklahoma State University Dept. of Animal Science

Frequently Asked Questions

What horse is bigger than a Clydesdale?

While the Clydesdale tends to be one of the biggest breeds, the tallest AND heaviest documented horse (of all time) was actually a Shire named Sampson, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.

Is Big Jake still alive?

Big Jake is a Belgian gelding that broke the record for the tallest living horse in 2010. As of 2018, he was still alive.

What is the biggest horse in history?

The biggest horse in recorded history was a Shire named Sampson. He was 21.25 hands tall and weighed more than 3,300 lbs. He’s also the heaviest horse ever recorded.

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What is the smallest horse breed?

Miniature horses are the smallest horse breed in the world. They stand between 34 and 38 inches tall at the withers. The smallest horse is a miniature horse named Thumbelina; she is only 17 inches tall because of a genetic condition called dwarfism.

What are the best large horse breeds for riding?

Each of the draft horses discussed in this article have merit as riding horses as well as driving. Riding capabilities may vary depending on individual confirmation and behaviors.

Want to learn more? Check out our article about the best horse breeds for beginners.

Parting Thoughts

Draft horses have many wonderful characteristics—they are known for calm demeanors, willing personalities, and (obviously) their impressive size!

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Sources/References:

https://horseyhooves.com/biggest-horse-breeds/http://afs.okstate.edu/breeds/horses/dutchdraft/index.html/https://www.ruralheritage.com/new_rh_website/resources/market_gardening/work_horses_2.shtml?fbclid=IwAR3sn13M9iP7Y4oterV07IqGFDO6IyUScRt45qoTAmFjY9S9pX8nolslya0https://ceh.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/health-topics/chronic-progressive-lymphedema-cplhttp://imh.org/exhibits/online/breeds-of-the-world/europe/shire-draft-horse/

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About the author

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Susie W.

Horses are my first love, but travel is a close second! I grew up riding in 4-H and went on to ride on my college equestrian team. As an adult, I've ridden and shown Quarter Horses for 20+ years, including several wins at Quarter Horse Congress. I also worked for 7 years at a leading horse feed company, and I'm passionate about equine health and nutrition. Lastly, I have a big soft spot in my heart for senior horses!