Belgian Horses

Belgian Horses

Belgian Horses

The Belgian horse breed is easily recognizable as a draft horse, and this large breed is known as being one of the strongest breeds of draft horses out there! As the name may suggest, they came first from Belgium before spreading across the globe. It is believed that these horses descended from the Great Horses that were bred for medieval knights. They are still the most popular draft horse in many countries today. Below, we will go over some of the unique characteristics and personality traits of the Belgian horse, as well as some of the breed’s long history. 

Belgian Horse Characteristics 

The Belgian horse has some distinct characteristics that set it apart and make it easy to identify. These characteristics are distinct even among other draft horses. For instance, the head of a Belgian horse is small compared to its body. They also have a straight nose and a kind eye set into their small head. Stallions, especially, have a thick neck, though this is a trait shared across the breed. Belgians also have short, wide backs, and broad chests, and their legs are short and have feathers around their hooves.

Belgian Horse Size

The Belgian is one of the tallest breeds of draft horses out there!

For height, this breed stands between 16 to 18 hands high. Big Jake, the record holder for the world’s largest horse, is a Belgian. Big Jake in 20 hands and 2.75 cm without shoes. He hails from a farm in Wisconsin in the United States.

Typically, the males of this breed average to be taller than the females are, which is true of most breeds of horses. Young horses will grow to their adult size in the first 5 years of their life. Belgians from the United States are also taller than Belgians from Europe. 

Belgian Horse Weight

As Belgian horses are very tall and are a stocky breed of draft horse, they are a heavy breed of horse, too! Some of the factors that affect the weight of a horse are bloodlines and the height of the individual horse in question.

European Belgians, for instance, weigh more than Belgians from the US. In addition, stallions weigh more than mares, which is clear from some of the breed characteristics such as their thick neck. The Belgian breed averages between 1800 and 2400 pounds in weight.

When they are foals, Belgians are usually around 125 pounds at birth. Big Jake, the world’s largest horse record holder, was 240 pounds when he was born. However, there is a different horse on record as the heaviest horse, and this is Brooklyn Supreme. Of course, Brooklyn Supreme was a Belgian that weighed 3200 pounds and lived between 1928 to 1948. 

Belgian Horse Colors

The Belgian horse can come in many colors, but some are much more common than others are. Usually, Belgians are chestnut, blond, or sorrel, and have a light blond mane and tail. These colors are common in the United States and it is typically how people imagine the breed. However, you may also come across a Belgian in shades of bay, brown, or blue or red roan. This is not as common, and gray or black Belgians are the rarest of all. With all coat colors, we usually see white hairs interspersed throughout the coat. Belgians may also have white markings, like blazes on their face or stockings or socks on their legs. 

A Big Belgian Horse Eating in a field
A Big Belgian Horse Eating in a field

Belgian Horse Temperament

The Belgian breed is beloved for being a gentle, kind horse. In addition to this, they are willing to work and cooperative, making them easy to handle. This is common in draft horse breeds and is why they make such great working horses!

Also common in draft horse breeds is the tendency not to spook and to have a calm temperament, which the Belgian breed has as well. Belgians do have a sense of humor and distinct personality, too— it is not all work and no play! All of these make the Belgian breed well suited to working with and interacting with humans, and these can be humans of all ages. They can be a great horse for children, despite their large size. 

Belgian Horse Care

Belgian horses are easy to care for, but it is also important to remember that they are still animals and will need a certain amount of care and maintenance to keep them happy and healthy.

The lifespan for a Belgian horses averages at around 20 years, but of course this does depend on how well they are cared for, and factors such as their diet, nutrition, and more. They are a hardy breed that is able to withstand cold temperatures and often chooses to spend most of their time outside.  

Belgian Horse Diet and Nutrition

When it comes to the diet of a Belgian horse and the food you feed them, a Belgian is going to need a lot of it! As this is a very large breed and one that is larger than many other horses, it can be inferred that they eat more than other horses, too.

This inference would be correct. Interestingly, Belgians also have slower metabolisms than other breeds of horse. This means that they eat more but need less energy.

Grass and hay are the most significant or predominant part of the Belgian horse diet. You will want to do a hay test to ensure the nutritional content of the hay, and can then add grain supplements to the diet of your Belgian after you are aware of the hay’s nutritional content.

Another thing to consider is the metabolism of the Belgian. This breed does gain weight quickly if they do not work hard and burn energy, so you should keep an eye on both their food intake and their activity level. How the two of these factors intersect is important to keeping your Belgian horse happy and healthy. 

Belgian Horse Health Issues

There are some common health problems that pop up with this particular breed of horse. One of the issues that Belgians can get is called azoturia or “typing up”. It occurs in horses that are working hard, but can be avoided by administering electrolytes and ensuring that the horse drinks enough water.

In addition to this, the Belgian suffers from some genetic problems. One of these is chronic lymphedema, which is an issue that manifests by swelling in the legs, as well as distorting the horse’s skin.

Another genetic issue is junctional epidermolysis bullosa.This causes foals to lose chinks of their skin when born, and results in them having to be euthanized. It can occur when two horses with this gene are bred. Due to this, testing is required by the United States breed registry and research is ongoing to try and laminate this genetic condition. 

Belgian Horse Grooming

It is also important to groom your Belgian horse every day. Draft horses require daily grooming as part of their maintenance. Luckily, the breed’s calm and relaxed temperament makes grooming easy! You will likely need to enlist the help of a stool or a ladder, though, to reach when you are grooming a Belgian horse.

Belgians are especially prone to scratches or mud diseases, which is why daily grooming is so important. Dermatitis and other skin issues can painfully affect their pasterns, and bacteria is able to hide behind the feathers on their legs if not cleaned regularly. Another daily grooming task is to clean the hooves daily to provide any abscesses or hoof rot. 

Belgian Horse History

The Belgian horse breed has a long history as a breed of draft horse. The history of the breed begins in an area of Belgium called Brabant, hence the name of these horses! First, they were used as Belgian war horses, and then as workhorses.

They have a calm demeanour which is well suited to these roles, and led to them being exported to North America and throughout Europe. Work horses and draft horses are not as needed these days, due to technological advances, but the Belgian horse is still a popular breed and beloved for their status as gentle giants. 

Belgian Horse Origin

Some people still call Belgians Brabant horses, especially people in Europe. This is, of course, because the Belgian originated in the Brabant region of Belgium. Careful and deliberate breeding of the Belgian did not begin until the 1600s, but the breed can be traced back to the Great Horse that knights rode into battle in the Middle Ages. Belgians and other draft horses are believed to be descendants of the now-extinct Great Horse breed.

The Belgian breed were not only used as war horses, but were also used for strenuous work like farm work, pulling wagons, and transporting people and goods. If the task required power, then there is a good chance the Belgian would be brought in to do the job!

However, the mechanization that came around the end of World War II changed the role of Belgians within the community. Some Belgians are still used for logging or farm work, while many others are now used for tourism, like pulling sleighs and carriages.

Belgian Horse Historic Development

The Belgian horse did not develop or change throughout much of its history. When the horse began to be transported throughout America and Europe, small changes likely occurred, but nothing large or noteworthy at this point.

After World War II was when we really saw the historic development of the Blegina breed change. European Belgians stayed the same, with heavy horses being the desired outcome. In the United States, on the other hand, the trend skewed towards a taller Belgian horse that was not as heavy as those in Europe. Due to this, there are now two distinct versions of the Belgian breed in existence!

A separate breed organization in the United States also strives to preserve the American Brabant, which have 25% to 99% of the European Belgian bloodline. They have the same type as their European cousins. 

Notable Belgian Horses

There are some famous Belgian horses out there, too. The breed itself is easily recognizable and has been around for hundreds of years, so there has been more than one notable Belgian horse throughout this large expanse of time. We will discuss some of these famous Belgians further on in the article. 

Big Jake

Big Jake was a Belgian horse and also a world record holder! He held the Guinness book world record for the tallest horse. He hailed from a farm in Wisconsin called Smokey Hollow Farm, where he was cared for by Jerry Gilbert and his family. They treated Big Jake as part of their family. People often came to see him and visit him on the farm until he died in 2021.

Big Jake a Belgian Horse
Big Jake a Belgian Horse


Rock was another Belgian draft horse. He was entered in competitions, which is where he earned his fame. Rock’s owner was a logger from West Forks, Maine, named Dick Wallingford. Rick was a staple in pulling competitions and was even featured in Sports Illustrated when he was 12, in one of the 1974 issues. He was paired with a new partner and then set a world record in 1981 where he pulled 22,000 pounds for 66 inches. 


Dick was the partner that Rock was paired with to set the world record that we mentioned above! He was another Belgian horse that Wallingford found in southern Indiana. Funnily enough, Rick and Dick had pastured together when they were colts. Wallingford hitched the two together and they pulled together for some incredible results. This is when the magic happened! 

Belgian Horse Myths and Legends

There are some interesting legends and stories surrounding the Belgian horse breed. Some even date back hundreds of years and to the Middle Ages! Even in modern day, the breed is a source of amazement for people who meet them, and they are able to be a part of many people’s special memories due to the breed’s role in tourism in certain areas. 

Coat of Many Colors

These days, the Belgian often has a reddish brown coat, but a blond mane and tail. This was not always the case! Brabants come in many different coat colors in Europe, and still do have other coat colors to this day— besides the reddish brown that we have come to associate with the breed. Chestnuts with a white blaze on the face and white socks or stockings on the legs and feet are the most popular, especially in the United States. 

The Team That Loved to Pull

Rock and Dick, who were mentioned above as notable Belgian bred horses, are a legendary team of Belgians. We know they set world records and were able to pull the heaviest loads, but they did not even need the director or encouragement of their owner, the logger Dick Wallingford! Rather, the reins were slack and there was no need to use a hitch. Many people who saw the team of horses in action said that it was like Wallingfrod was driving a Rolls Royce car.

Disney Attraction

The Disney park in California, which we know as Disneyland, has horse drawn trolleys that travel up and down Main St. Belgian draft horses are a crucial part of the equine staff here that contributes to the magical experience of each Disneyland visitor! One of the horses who served here the longest was a Belgian breed horse. Another fun fact is that, when the Disneyland horses retire, they are usually adopted by their park caretakers. 

Modern Belgian Horses

The Belgian is the most popular breed of draft horse in the United States. There are also two types of Belgian, the first being the modern Belgian and the other being the American Brabant. They can be used for work or for more recreational equestrian use. 

Belgian Horse Breeding

The Belgian horse today can be found all across the world, though sometimes under different names. The two most common are the Belgian in North America and then the Brabant in Europe. Breed enthusiasts continue to breed this horse, and the bloodlines are used to perpetuate these two most common Belgians, as well as to continue with the breed’s docile and calm temperament, which is important in draft horses or work horses. The Belgian government was actually involved in the breeding of the Belgian in the 1800s. This contributed to the strong bloodlines that were established across Europe and then in North America, too. These days, governments are no longer involved with breeding, but smaller breeders still work to selectively breed the Belgian breed. Belgians are said to be the Cadillac of draft horses. 

Belgian Horse Population

The Belgian is the most popular of all draft horses in the United States! There are about 80,000 of them, total, located in the states, with there being about 4,038 new Belgian horses being registered every year. When it comes to the Brabant version of the Belgian horse, though, there are only around a few hundred of them registered in the United States. Due to this, the Brabant is considered to be an endangered species of horse, while the Belgian is not. That being said, in Belgium, the total horse population numbers about 300,000.

They have about the same number of Belgians or Brabants as the United States does. The breed can also be found spread throughout other parts of Europe— some countries have lower populations of Belgians than others, but the breed is still not considered to be endangered. Canada has Belgians, too, but only registers about 300 of these horses every year. 

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Frequently Asked Questions

Are Belgian horses bigger than Clydesdales?

The Belgian horse is a breed of draft horse. The Clydesdale horse is also a breed of draft horse. However, Clydesdales are the larger of the two breeds of horse. They are about 18 hands tall, and are a bit longer and leaner than Belgian horses are. Belgian horses, on the other hand, average between 16.2 to 18 hands tall.

They are also shorter and stockier than Clydesdales, with broad backs and strong shoulders that are well suited to their purposes as draft horses.

What are Belgian horses known for?

Belgian horses are a type of draft horse. One of the things that this breed of horse is well known for is for being calm, gentle, and easy to handle. This is an important characteristic of a working horse like a draft horse! Belgian horses are still used for draft work to this day in many areas, even though draft horses have been replaced by machinery in many cases. Some of the jobs that you may see a Belgian horse doing are plowing, logging, pulling carriages, and more. They are also becoming popular for riding in many different disciplines. 

Why are Belgian horses so big?

The Clydesdale is known as being one of the largest breeds of horse, and the Belgian horse is a close second! However, when it comes to weight, they can often outweigh Clydesdales because they are shorter and stockier than the taller, leaner horse.

One of the reasons that Belgian horses are so large is because put simply, they were bred to be that way! Their size and weight gives them more strength for their jobs as draft horses. They were bred to do farm work and to haul heavy weights, so a large animal was necessary for this! 

Can Belgian horses be ridden?

It may be more common to see a Belgian horse pulling a sled or a carriage than to see it in the ring, but this is changing. You certainly can ride a Belgian horse, and doing so is becoming more popular than ever. In fact, they are considered to be great horses for trail riding!

However, this is not the only time you can ride a Belgian horse. They have a mild disposition and are easy to handle, so they are well suited for a number of disciplines, such as western, for example.