We’ve talked about African or Japanese horses, but let’s go back to Europe now. France is home to the Eiffel Tower, croissants and a whole lot of culture and history. But that’s not all! France also has its share of native horses – there are 26 altogether! If you want to learn more about a few of the horses that come from this beautiful country, you’re in the right place. Read on to learn more about my favorite French horse breeds.
What You'll Learn Today
The Ardennais, or Ardennes, originated from the Ardennes area in Belgium, Luxembourg and France. Their history stretches all the way back to Ancient Rome, and they have been used for centuries as war horses, both as cavalry mounts and for pulling heavy artillery.
They stand about 16 hands and have broad, heavy conformation with sturdy legs. They are usually bay or roan, though chestnut, gray and palomino also exist. They are known for their good temperament, and are mainly used for meat – but their strength and endurance is making them popular for farm, forest and leisure work.
This large yet elegant horse has been around since before the Crusades, but it nearly became extinct after WW2, and efforts are being made to keep it alive. The Boulonnais stands between 14.3 and 16.3 hands, and although it has a draft-type appearance it is unusually elegant compared to other draft breeds, because Spanish horses were added to the bloodline in the 17th century.
Chestnut, gray and black are the only colors allowed in the breed, with the vast majority being gray. The Boulonnais has always been used as a work horse, and for pulling carts of fish and ice, but these days it is mainly bred for meat.
The Breton was created by crossing many European and Oriental breeds, and there are three subtypes – the Corlay (used for light draft and under saddle), the Postier (used for harness and light farm work), and the Draft (the largest type, used for heavy draft work). The Breton has been used in military, agricultural and draft capacities, and for improving other breeds and producing mules.
They are usually about 15.2 hands, and are often chestnut with a flaxen mane and tail, but can also be bay, gray, or red or blue roan. They are muscular horses, with well feathered legs and well-formed hooves. Because of their size and strength they are often used for draft and agricultural work, and are also bred for the meat industry.
The Camargue is arguably one of the oldest breeds of horses in the world, and lives wild in the Camargue marshes and wetlands. This harsh environment has made them hardy and agile, and they have great stamina. Traditionally they were used for rounding up the Camargue bulls which were used for bullfighting in southern France.
They are small horses, standing about 13.1-14.3 hands, but despite their size they are strong enough to carry grown adults. They are rugged, compact, and have strong limbs and a full mane and tail. The Camargue has a calm temperament, and coupled with its intelligence and agility this makes it perfect for use in equine games, dressage and endurance riding.
This ancient breed was formerly known as Cheval du Biros, and comes from the south west of France. It is thought to be descended from the horses that inspired many cave paintings, with Oriental and Iberian blood added in. Originally used as a cavalry and driving horse, the Castillonais’ population waned in the 20th century, but an association to save it was set up in 1980.
The breed standard calls for an average height of between 14.1 and 14.2 hands, and it should be a rustic mountain horse, with good gaits and a good temperament. They are easy going and easy to keep, and are mainly used for pleasure riding, though are sometimes used for driving and dressage.
The Trotter was bred specifically for racing in Normandy, and the breed was officially recognised in 1922. There is no breed standard for the French Trotter; it is bred for its racing capabilities rather than its appearance. They are compact horses, of a size between 15 and 17 hands, and are most often chestnut or bay.
Despite the influence of the American Standardbred, which is a lateral pacing breed, the French Trotter performs an ordinary diagonal trot. Most of the foals born these days are used for racing purposes, though some are used for riding, trekking, showjumping or hunting.
This small horse originated in the woodlands and marshy plains of Landes in south western France, and because of influences from Arab and Welsh horses, it looks more Oriental than many other Celtic breeds.
They usually stand between 13.1 and 14.3 hands and are generally bay, black, chestnut, liver chestnut and seal brown, with some white markings permitted. They are used mainly by children as riding horses, and also for jumping, eventing and dressage. They are also excellent trotting horses and a Landais holds the record for the 100km race between Paris and Chartres.
This heavy draft horse is from the Nievre area of central France. It was created by crossing black Percheron stallions with local mares, and the resulting offspring have always been black. Like many draft horses, the population declined from the 1950s following the increased mechanisation of agriculture, but efforts are being made to preserve the breed. The Nivernais can reach over 17 hands, and it has the stocky, muscular draft horse stature, but is also agile and high spirited.
Originating from the Huisne river valley in western France, the Percheron’s ancestors have been around since the 17th century. They were first bred for use as war horses, then later for pulling coaches and heavy goods, and for agriculture, due to their huge size and strength.
The height of this breed varies from country to country, the tallest being in its native France where they can be 18.1 hands. Only the gray and black horses can be registered. They are intelligent, willing work horses with good natures, and are easy keepers which adapt well to many different conditions. These days they are still used for forestry and farm work, as well as for advertising and publicity.
The Selle Francais is a sports horse, renowned for its success in showjumping. It is a relatively new breed, created in 1958, and was meant to serve as a unified sports horse at a time when horses were changing from working animals to those used for sport and leisure. A great number of breeds make up the Selle Francais, so its characteristics are not set in stone, but they are generally tall (16.1-16.3 hands) with an athletic frame.
They are generally bay or chestnut, with some white markings often on the lower legs, inherited from its Norman ancestors. The temperament varies between horse to horse more than some other breeds because of the varied genetic make up, but they are reputed to be intelligent and quick to learn. They are used mostly for showjumping and three day eventing, as well as for the production of race horses.