A draft horse is a horse which has been bred to be extremely strong, allowing the horse to handle heavy labor such as pulling a plough or a fully-laden dray, a type of large open cart used to transport things like casks of beer and wine. Draft horses are quite recognizable because they tend to be extremely large; some famous draft horse breeds include Shires, Percherons, Vanner Horses, Belgians, and Clydesdales. Americans may be very familiar with Clydesdales, because these draft horses are famously used in advertising for Budweiser beer.
The draft horse appears to have originated in Europe, and many draft horse breeds are hundreds of years old. Some biologists support the “four foundations” theory of horse breeding, which suggests that modern horses are evolved from four different horse populations, in which case draft horses are probably descended from the imaginatively named draft horse type. These horses have been used in a wide variety of settings from farms to urban environments for hundreds of years, and they were once the main source of power for humans, before the advent of the engine.
The physical build of a horse is known as its “conformation.” A number of things about the conformation of a draft horse set it aside from other horses. Draft horses are quite large, of course, and they tend to have short bodies with very muscular hindquarters designed for pulling. They tend to be Roman-nosed, with broad flat faces which some people find endearing, and draft horses also have very strong shoulders and front legs.
In addition to being bred to be strong, the draft horse has also been bred to have an ideal working temperament. Draft horses are extremely gentle and very friendly; children can ride them and play around their feet without fear, for example. They are also docile and very patient; some well trained draft horses will stand when told without needing to be tethered, for example, a very useful trait in horses used for deliveries.
Despite their heavy builds, many draft horses are very graceful and quite beautiful. Many breeds have feathered feet, meaning that they have tufts of long hair above their hooves, and they are often quite something to see in action, as many breeds have a flowing, high stepping gait. These gentle giants continue to be used for agricultural work in many regions of the world, and some become beloved pets as well as revered working animals.