Did you know that horse riding in the French tradition has been included since 2011 on the representative list of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity by UNESCO? This practice stems from a long history and in particular founded on the harmony of human-horse relations. Horse breeding was much linked to political prestige and Colbert ended up creating the national stud farms under Louis XIV to control private breeding. This long tradition has given rise to French horse breeds, of which here are some details.
French draft horse breeds
The Percheron is certainly the most famous of the French horse breeds. It was used at the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century to pull horse-drawn vehicles: this is why it was nicknamed the diligencier. A solid and powerful horse, it was all the more appreciated because it is docile and easy to maneuver. It was mobilized in various jobs, such as posts or, in the agricultural context, to carry out plowing. Finally, the Percheron exhibits great variations in size and weight. This horse measures between 1.60 m and 1.85 m at the withers and weighs between 500 kg and 1.2 tons. The largest listed Percheron is an American horse born in 1902: it measured 2.13 m and weighed nearly 1.4 tons. Despite these impressive numbers, the Percheron is a very elegant looking horse. Today, breeders cross him with American stallions to lighten him up and make him more sporty.
The Comtois is a horse of modest measurements compared to the Percheron. It measures between 1.50 and 1.65 m and weighs “only” 650 to 800 kg. Its color is most often dark chestnut or coppery, and its hair is said to be “washed”, that is to say of mahogany color with blond hair. The Comtois is an enduring, resistant and rustic horse, with a gentle and docile temperament. He can stay outside all year round. This is why many sled-taxis have chosen this breed of horse to exercise their activity in the pedestrian ski resort of Avoriaz. Some of these horses are marked with the initials TC on the neck. These are horses recognized as stallions, from a line of stallions, after having passed before a commission of experts certifying that they have the standards of the breed.
The Breton’s dress is often the same as that of the Comtois: chestnut with washed horsehair. But its standard accepts a varied palette of shades: bay, aubère, roan, black, black pangaré and chocolate. There are two morphological types: the draft Breton and the postman Breton. The latter is lighter and is capable of a wider range of gaits. This breed of horses was very appreciated in times of war, in particular to serve in the artillery under Napoleon. It is a horse with a silhouette all the more imposing as its limbs are short. He is very muscular. Its size varies between 1.45 m and 1.70 m, for an average weight of around 750 kg. Brittany has been investing since 2011 for the preservation of this breed.
The Ardennes is a rustic draft horse breed that has become versatile over time. At the start of the 19th century, it was considered one of the best breeds of saddle horses. He was present alongside the Breton during the Napoleonic campaign in Russia. The work of the breeders has evolved him since then and from being intended for light draft work he became a heavy and powerful draft horse. Considered a breed in danger of extinction, it has found renewed interest in the 21st century with the rise of ecological concerns. The Ardennais proves to be an efficient horse for the maintenance of green spaces and logging in the forest. In adulthood, depending on its destination, this horse can weigh between 700 kg and more than 1 ton.
The Auxois is a horse with a coat most often bay or roan, like the Ardennes. In the 1970s, he narrowly escaped death. Its numbers are limited and this breed is threatened by inbreeding. Of all the French draft horse breeds, the Auxois is the only one that is not exported. In 1991, the agricultural school of Semur-en-Auxois launched into the production of milk from auxoises mares in order to find a new outlet. In 1997, this breed was included in a national list of animals benefiting from the Protection of Endangered Breeds (PRM).
The Boulonnais is nicknamed the “thoroughbred of draft horses” or the “white marble colossus”. This large horse, frequently gray in color, is renowned for the high quality of its meat. Like the Auxois, it is an endangered breed of horse. Yet he is a horse that does not lack qualities: he is particularly lively for a draft horse, and he is able to sustain a supple and energetic trot over long distances. It can be seen in Boulogne-sur-Mer where it is used by the equestrian brigade. The famous Zingaro Equestrian Theater also used a Boulonnais in its show Ex Anima.
The Norman Cob
The silhouette of the Norman Cob is much lighter than that of French draft horses intended for slaughter. He is a light draft horse which also proves to be an excellent saddle horse. The coat colors are bay, chestnut, and sometimes aubère or gray. Its size varies between 1.58 m and 1.71 m for a very variable weight depending on the model, generally around 550 kg. Enduring, energetic, it is the lightest and most sporty of the workhorses.
The Poitevin mulassier
The Poitevin mulassier has always been reared in the Poitevin marshes in the open air: this is why it is very well suited to wetlands. It is for this reason that in the 90s, the General Council of Ille-et-Vilaine acquired a herd of Poitevins mulassiers for the maintenance of marsh areas. Today, it is found in saddle or harness activities. It is therefore a versatile horse. The City of Niort used it for garbage collection. It is also appreciated by wine growers because it is not heavy enough to compact the soil. Its exceptional calm allows it to be used for equitherapy sessions.
The Trait du Nord
The Trait du Nord is a strong, short and powerful horse. Its color is berry, roan, chestnut and sapwood. It may more rarely be iron gray or black. Resistant and energetic, it was once used in cereal and beet crops. In Cambrai, where the Trait du Nord breeding union is located, every year, on the last Sunday of July, parade among the most beautiful specimens of the breed.
French blood horse breeds
The French Trotter
The French Trotter is one of the four breeds of trotters currently existing in the world. It is not subject to any breed standard. But the characteristics of the horses are organized according to the discipline in which they run: mounted trot or harnessed trot. Their size varies between 1.55 m, for the smallest of them, and 1.70 m. These horses are tough and powerful. They are muscular and the horns of their hooves are strong. They testify to a lot of courage and hardness in the task.
The French saddle
Its official status only dates from 1958: it embodies the fusion of all the so-called half-blood races. But it is no longer a breed strictly speaking because it has not been protected, crossbreeding with horses of non-French origin having been authorized. It is more of a distinction of horses particularly gifted for show jumping. This is why these horses, even if they do not constitute a homogeneous group, have recurring morphological features such as a straight back and a muscular rump, and a powerful hindquarters.
The Camargue is a small, rustic saddle horse with a gray coat, inseparable from the region where it comes from. Strongly embedded in local traditions, it conveys a strong image of freedom. A legend says it “born from the foam of the sea”. The reproduction of the breed is not supervised, the owners leaving “to nature”, thus opposing studs which deplore a drop in quality. These horses are not often trained. They are satisfied with pasture grass all year round. He is the only horse capable of grazing underwater by pulling aquatic plants from brackish water.
The Mérens is another rustic little saddle horse. Originally from the Pyrenees mountains, her dress is black. These horses live 6 months a year in summer pastures, and that from an early age. This is why their foot is particularly sure and skillful on mountainous paths. Although it can live outside all year round, it does not tolerate heat well. In the 1970s, there were only about forty Mérens. Breeders successfully signed up to save the breed and in 1985 there were 4,000 horses. But since 2009, the number of births has continued to drop again.
The Corsican horse
The Corsican horse is a small saddle horse with a bay, black pangaré or black coat. It is also inseparable from the island where it comes from and has become a vector of cultural identity. Horses originating from the north of the island and the eastern plains are larger. Equestrian tourism is its main use, especially since it adapts well to an equestrian center. It is a very suitable horse for walks on difficult trails. The Corsican horse is also found in the world of polo, in work riding or in endurance.
The Castillonnais is a small French saddle horse, with a black pangaré or dark bay coat, very close to the Mérens. This breed being in the process of reconstitution, its standard is not very homogeneous. It is an agile and lively horse, enduring to the effort and having great capacities for the portage: its size does not exceed 1.55 m, but it is capable of performances similar to those of a mule. Familiar with mountainous terrain, his foot is sure. His calm and his sensitivity make him a suitable horse for equitherapy. It is also excellent for driving.
The Auvergne horse
This breed was recognized by the Ministry of Agriculture in 2012. The Auvergne horse measures between 1.43 m and 1.57 m. It is exclusively berry in color. Its weight varies from 450 to 650 kg. He is a very versatile little hobby horse, excelling both in the saddle and in the hitch. Previously, it was a work horse, used by peasants for travel, proving to be able to cover 60 kilometers in a day, and work in the fields.
It is a saddle horse resulting from the crossing of Arabian horses and Thoroughbreds. The breed developed at the end of the 18th century in France, but also in England and Russia. Despite the world wars, this breed continued to gain importance in France until the 1980s and 1990s. Today, his breeding is in crisis there but continues in other countries. The Anglo-Arab is a not very homogeneous breed of saddle horses because the origins of the parents influence the characteristics of the horse. They nevertheless have some points in common such as lightness, skill, courage and a strong personality.
The Anglo-Norman horse breed originated in the first half of the 19th century, the result of crosses between purebreds, English trotters and heavy Norman horses. It became popular under the Second Empire. As with all breeds of horses, it suffered from the modernization of transport and the army in the 20th century and it had to find outlets. These horses were then among the first to be reoriented towards equestrian sports; the breed eventually became the main sport horse breed on the international scene in the 1950s and 1960s.
The Henson or horse of the Bay of Somme, is the most recent breed since it was created in the early 1970s from the cross between French Saddles, Anglo-Arabs and Fjords. Its aim was to respond to the development of equestrian tourism in the Bay of Somme. The breed was recognized by Haras in 2003. Measuring between 1.50 m and 1.60 m, it looks a lot like the Fjord, but more slender. Her dress is Isabelle or bay, and the presence of a stripe on the back line is mandatory. Like the Camargue, it can live outdoors all year round, supporting sandy or marshy soils without problem, and it reproduces freely.