can you ride a draft horse

Can You Ride a Draft Horse?

Can you ride a draft horse?

When I started riding horses I was curious, can you ride a draft horse?  Or if they were just used for driving.  I always found their size to be intriguing and wondered, can you ride a draft horse?

Yes, you can ride a draft horse.  All horses can be trained, and draft horses are very trainable in a number of different disciplines.  There are a number of specific things that you need to consider if you are going to ride a draft horse, but they make great riding horses.  It really comes down to what your end goal is and your horse riding goals.   As with all horses, draft horses will need training and proper tack for riding, but they can make great companions.

So what is a draft horse?

When it comes to riding horses, the breed can play a major role in the experience.  Depending on what your end goal is the breed should be a major consideration when it comes to horses.  Some people wonder if draft horses are just for pulling or driving, but draft horses can make great riding horses and are great companions.

Draft horses and draft horse breeds were primarily bred as working horses for pulling large loads, carts, wagons and plows.  Part of the reason that they were used in this manner was due to their strength and size, but also their patience and quiet temperament.  In its simplest form a draft horse or a draft horse breed is just simply ‘bigger’ than other breeds of horses but there are some definite characteristics that they have.

So which horse breeds are draft horses?

Ok so this is not going to be an exhaustive list but there are a couple of breeds that you will have heard of, and they fall into the draft horse class.  Clydesdale is probably the most famous and you have definitely seen them in all the Budweiser commercials during the Superbowl.  Some of the other better-known draft breeds include Percheron, Belgian, Friesian and Shire.  Some of the lesser-known breeds include Haflinger, Irish Draft Horse, Fjord and Murakoz.

Draft horses generally fall in the 16-19 hands high range and are also significantly bigger boned, and have more muscle.  They also, generally speaking, have longer manes and tails and ask have whats called feathering on their feet.  It’s good to know that everything is just generally bigger when it comes to draft horses.  As such you will need to take this into consideration when preparing to be around them and to ride them.

Can you ride a draft horse?

What’s the biggest draft horse ever?

According to Wikipedia, the Shire breed holds the record for the biggest draft horse ever and it stood at 21.2 and 1/2 hands high which are over 7 feet high.  Typically more draft horses are in the 16-19 hands range and weigh anywhere from 1500-2500 pound range.  Typically around the 2000 pound weight.

Draft horse personality and characteristics

The temperament of the draft horse breeds is a big reason why they were used so much.  Draft horses are known for their calm demeanour and relatively patient disposition.  They also have a more upright shoulder, shorter backs and big powerful hindquarters all suited really well for heavy work and pulling.

One other tell-tale sign of a draft horse is on their feet.  It’s called feathering and it’s really cool.  These giant horses get extra hair around their hooves and specifically on the backside of their lower ankle area.

Many draft horses are used in breeding because of their temperament.  The softer demeanour and the less nervous disposition is quite desirable among traits for riding horses.  The issue is the size, obviously as described in this article, getting tack can be a challenge due to the size of the horse.  So what people began to do is breed these bigger horses with smaller horses in an attempt at passing on the quiet disposition and the smaller more athletic size of a smaller horse.  These new breeds were called warmbloods and they are widely used.

With these characteristics, it is still a very important question which is can you ride a draft horse?  The answer is still yes, and it really does come down to training.

My Friesian Sports horse Belle

I personally owned a Friesian warmblood and her name was Belle.  She is a mix between a full Friesian and a Holsteiner sports horse.  I bred her to get some of the characteristics of the Friesian and some of the sports horse.  Belle is a beautiful mare and now is in a jumping program in Saskatchewan.

I also want to point out that draft horses take much longer to develop especially internally. Belle wasn’t really in a full training program till she was 5. It’s important to know the maturity of your horse before you work them too much.

Is a draft horse considered a Cold Blood?

The term cold blood, warm blood and hot blood is more of a description of temperament than an actual fact about the horses’ blood.  Typically hot-blooded horses are smaller, more agile horses that have a more ‘up’ temperament or are significantly more engaged.  These horses are breeds like Arabians, Thoroughbreds, and Andalusians.

Draft horses are cold-bloods, and typically, as described above they have a quieter disposition and are larger in size.

Warmblood horses are a mix of the two.  Draft horses and hot-blooded horses are bred together in an attempt in capturing the best of both types in one new horse.  Warmblood breeds include Sports horses, dutch warmbloods, Irish warmbloods and Holsteiner.

Typically warmblood breeders are looking for the size and strength of the cold-bloods muxed with the athletic ability of the hot-bloods.  They also are hoping that personality-wise warmbloods are closer to their cold-blood parents.

Draft horse training tips

This is not a full training program but rather just a few things to get the conversation started around what things you will need to consider when training a draft horse.

  1. When training a draft horse it is really important that you always emphasize handling and halter work from the beginning and continue it constantly.  These horses are huge and very strong…and they can easily hurt you or someone standing close.  They aren’t as agile and need more space to move and, so they need to be taught respect.  I am by no means a horse trainer, but I definitely know the difference between a horse that understands personal space and respect and ones that don’t.  I own a boarding facility and handle many horses every day.  Draft horses need to be extremely well trained in halter training.
  2. Another thing that you need to train a draft horse to do is to lower its head.  If it doesn’t you won’t be able to reach high enough to put he halter on or the bridle.  This is all about pressure and release.  Again, I am not a trainer so check out these youtube videos here and here.  I am highlighting it here because it will be a critical part of owning and riding a draft horse.  With a smaller horse, it is still important but you can reach if they don’t lower their head.  With a draft horse, you simply will not be able to reach.

One more training tip

  1. Draft horses are not typically as forward as most other breeds, simply meaning that it will take you a little more to get them going.  They are not bred for speed, but strength so to get them into a canter can be a challenge.  It’s important to maintain consistency when lunging and riding so they know what it is that you are asking them.  This part of the process may require you to get some additional help from a professional trainer who has worked on draft horses for the purposes of riding before.

Owning a draft horse

So what considerations does a draft horse owner need to make…

  • The first thing is the cost.  Because the horse is simply bigger everything will cost more.  More food, bigger shoes, bigger more expensive blankets and tack, different trailering and transporting, and of course a bigger box stall or paddocks.
  • Tack is significantly different.  A person who is going to ride a draft horse really needs to consider their helmet, saddle and bits.  They need to fit.  Special care and attention need to be spent to make sure you have the right size tack. You will also need to consider the riding boots that you have for this type of horse.
  • Transporting a draft horse can be a challenge, mostly because horse trailers are not all made the same.  Some are smaller and some are not.  You need to make sure that you either purchase an adequate horse trailer or hire someone who understands transporting heavy draft horses.

Further considerations if you are going to purchase a draft horse.

It is the responsibility of everyone to do ALL of their due diligence when purchasing, leasing or lessoning on any horse.  If you are interested in leasing a horse I have an article here that outlines what questions you need to ask before you lease a horse.  Draft horses, like any other horse, need to be checked out before you purchase.  I am going to devote a whole article to the issues around purchasing a horse and what you need to check.  For the purpose of this article, it is important to know that there will be some additional considerations when it comes to purchasing a draft horse.  Here are a few of them…

  • Does the horse come with blankets?  Sometimes sellers will sell you the blankets with the horse.  This is great because in the case of a draft horse they are significantly bigger and sometimes harder to find.  Local tack stores can be a great help.
  • Does the halter come with the horse?  Most of the time the halter comes with the horse, but again because of size, it would be good to know.
  • Vet paperwork.  It is critical that you know the medical history of the horse and what, if any, current medical issues will need your attention.
    • Vaccinations.  Make sure you know what vaccinations are required by the boarding facility that you are moving the horse to and if any of those have been done by the previous owner.
    • Worming.  Get a record of the worming.
    • All medical records.  Get a copy of all the medical history

Draft Horse Ferrier Considerations

  • If the horse has shoes or is going to be shod it would be a good idea to speak to the current Ferrier or your own Ferrier to find out if there are any issues from the past.  It is also a good idea to get an estimate of how much ongoing foot care will cost.  Typically draft horses cost more for shows, trimming and general hoof care.