While the Percheron originated in France, its exact ancient ancestry is unknown. There are a number of theories as to the breed’s origin, including that Muslim invaders may have brought Arabians to the area in the 700s, and that the Percheron is actually a branch off of the Boulonnais breed.
The first known ancestors of the Percheron were smaller horses, averaging between 15 and 16 hands high. These horses were largely grey and were popular in the Perche region during the 1600s. The horses originally served as mounts for knights, then became stage coach horses. With the increased demands for a strong horse that could pull significant stagecoach weight, the breeding of these horses shifted to produce a heavier animal.
The breed’s history was significantly changed by the birth of its founding stallion, Jean le Blanc, in 1823. At the same time, trains began to replace stage coaches, and the demand for the horses shifted to agriculture and hauling heavy loads. Again, the breeding focus shifted to fit the demand, and Jean le Blanc played an integral role in this shift. The breed was developed into a heavier, stockier breed in keeping with the Percheron that we know today.
With the Percheron's growing popularity, exporting the breed was only logical. Percherons were first shipped to the United States in 1839, and subsequent importations established the beginnings of a United States Percheron breeding program. The stallion Diligence sired almost 400 foals in the United States, and the Percheron was bred both as a pure breed and as a cross to improve the quality of United States-bred horses.
The average height and weight of the Percheron varies between countries, due to different preferences and standards. In the United States, Percherons stand between 16.2 and 17.3 hands high, and weigh about 1,900 pounds. French Percherons, on the other hand, stand between 15.1 to 18.1 hands high and weigh between 1,100 and 2,600 pounds.
Percherons are typically grey or black, though bay, roan, and chestnuts do occur. Percherons feature a deep and wide chest, and well-muscled legs. The horses have excellent temperaments and a natural willingness to work, and they are incredibly powerful.
The Breed Today
The Percheron is highly versatile, being used for draft work, parades, sleigh rides, and carriage work. It is often crossbred to improve the temperament and quality of lighter horse breeds, and crossbred Percherons can compete in both hunting and dressage quite successfully. Crossbred Percherons have also served as police horses.
There is far more information available on the Percheron than we could possibly include here. Interested in learning more? The Percheron Horse Association of America's website is a great place to start.
Image Source: flickr.com/photos/carlwwycoff/4065870663
Original Source: The Percheron