Also known as the Belgian Ardennes or the French Ardennais, the Ardennes is one of the heaviest of heavy horse breeds. The Swedes began their own version in the 1800’s, but the Swedish Ardennes is now considered a separate breed from the original Belgian and French bloodstock. They helped to build many other draft horse breeds such as the Belgian, Russian Heavy Draft, the Auxois and Trait Du Nord.
This just may be the oldest known draft horse breed in Europe. Throughout the centuries, the Ardennes has quietly helped further humanity’s conquest over the earth. He carried knights, helped men clear forests and farm stubborn land, pulled carriages and served to pull heavy artillery in wars up to World War II. Now, the noble Ardennes is mostly bred for meat.
Which Breed is Which?
There are many fine horse books that refer to Belgians and Ardennes as the same breed, such as the works of the prolific Elwyn Hartley-Edwards. But they are considered separate breeds in “International Encyclopedia of Horse Breeds” (University of Oklahoma Press, 1995), where the breeds are called the Belgian Ardennais and the Belgian Draft or Brabant.
To make things even more confusing, the Brabant is considered a breed separate from the Belgians in Storey’s Illustrated Guide to 96 Horse Breeds of North America (Storey Publishing, 2005), although they are registered with the American Belgian Draft Horse Corporation. The American Brabant Association calls Brabants European Belgians in order to differentiate from American Belgians, although American Belgians are not considered a separate breed from Belgians.
For the sake of argument (and this writer’s headache) we will just assume the Ardennes is a separate breed that happens to bear a remarkable resemblance to the Belgian and Brabant.
They aren’t the tallest breed of draft horse in the world (that would be the Shire), but they seem to be the tallest just because they are so massive. Although most breeds of draft horses are getting progressively slender due to market demand, this hasn’t quite happened to the Ardennes. Although averaging 15.2 hands high, they can easily tip the scales at one ton.
In comparison to the rest of their bodies, their eyes may look very small, but they have they are not prone to shying like most horses with vision problems. Their manes and tails are very thick as well as their “feathers” (hair covering the legs from the knees or hocks to the hooves).
Their colors include various shades of chestnut, bay, grey, palomino and red roan. Although true blacks can occur, for some reason they are excluded from breed registry. They usually do not have much in the way of white markings, and if they do they are also not allowed to be registered.
“Storey’s Illustrated Guide to 96 Horse Breeds of North America.” Judith Dutson. Storey Publishing, 2005.
“International Encyclopedia of Horse Breeds.” Bonnie Hendricks. University of Oklahoma Press, 1995.
“The Ultimate Horse Book.” Elwyn Hartley Edwards. Dorling Kindersley; 1991.
The Joy of Horses. “A Brief History of the Ardennes Horse.” http://www.thejoyofhorses.com/oct98/ardenneshistory.htm