The Ardennes Horse is a draft breed that originated thousands of years ago in the Ardennes region of western Europe. These stocky and kind horses remain relatively unchanged through centuries of breeding and continue serving people and working the land today, despite their endangered breed status.
The name gentle giant is often used to describe draft horses, and that term may have been coined because of the Ardennes Horse. These kind, strong animals typify gentle giants with their calm and workmanlike behavior and noble expressions. The Ardennes horse breed is thousands of years old and helped build countries, fight wars, and survive harsh conditions. They continue serving people today as workhorses in the fields and mountains, in therapeutic riding programs, and as leisure riding and driving horses.
History of the Ardennes Horse
The Ardennes is a region in Belgium, France, Germany, and Luxembourg that is thick with forests, mountains, challenging terrain, and beautiful rivers. Battles were fought here in both World Wars, but there is a brighter, kinder history associated with the region too, that of the Ardennes horse.
The breed’s history extends back 2,000 years in the Ardennes region, where they’re also known as the Ardennais horse and the Belgian Ardennes horse. They are thought to descend from the Solutré horse, an extinct breed from southeastern France. Naturally, horses were used by early populations to build their communities, for transportation, and for their sheer power. They easily withstand the harsh climates of the area and played vital roles as war horses, keeping the area and its people safe.
The Ardennes horse is one of the oldest and stockiest draft breeds. Their height is between 15.2 and 16 hands, and today’s horses are slightly taller than their ancestors. Their weight is proportionally greater than height, with most horses between 1,500 and 2,200 pounds. Common colors are bay, chestnut, grey, palomino, and roans. Their bone structure is heavy, and they have especially thick legs. Their head has a noble appearance with large, kind eyes.
Ardennes horses have long, elegant strides and freely move through the terrain with agility despite their thick legs. They are known for their pulling power and are used as singles and pairs for draft work. Their personality type is kind, gentle, and people-oriented, another reason they are popular choices for therapeutic riding programs.
They were used to help create the Swedish Ardennes, the Baltic Ardennes, and the Russian Heavy Draft Horse because their breed characteristics were sought after. Belgians were crossed with the Ardennes to help increase their size and weight. This contributed to the taller, heavier horse of the modern era.
History is full of Ardennes that served as war horses, with rulers from Caesar to Napoleon using the breed. They were also used in modern-day battles in the Ardennes region during World War I and II. Roman Empire records, including those from Caesar, mention the Ardennes horse, with Roman Emporers using the Ardennes in their campaigns.
Napoleon used the Ardennes horse for at least one of his campaigns into Russia. He also bred Ardennes and Arabian crosses to create war horses with more speed and stamina.
The Battle of the Ardennes occurred during World War I and the Battle of the Bulge in World War II, also known as the Ardennes Offensive, was the last major German campaign of that war. Horses played a greater role in World War I than they did in World War II but contributed to both. These two wars contributed to the sharp decline in the Ardennes breed’s population.
Red Dead Redemption 2
Today, non-equestrians are learning about the Ardennes horse through the video game Red Dead Redemption 2. Players of this popular game can purchase an Ardennes War Horse, either a strawberry roan or a bay roan. Gamers beware though, the Ardennes Horse is known to buck players off during the game. This doesn’t jive with their real-life personality, but the increased name association can’t be all bad.
Arthur Morgan is the character that players become in Red Dead Redemption 2 and surprisingly enough, the game takes place in the midwestern United States. The Ardennes breed has a small population in the United States. But, they are gaining more name recognition thanks to the game.
Ardennes Horse Today
The Ardennes Horse remains endangered, however, breed associations in Belgium and Luxembourg are working to stabilize the population. Horses are also exported, and small populations are found around the world, including in the United Kingdom, Sweden, and the United States. These are in addition to the current populations in the Ardennes region.
Breed ambassadors are also introducing the Ardennes to more audiences. Simon, a teddy-bear-like stallion in the United States, was at BreyerFest in 2015. Petra is a YouTube star. This Ardennes mare is shown pulling logs and equipment in 2005 (although the video does call her a Belgian).
Popular uses are draft and agricultural work, as well as pleasure driving. They can also be ridden and continue their work in therapeutic equine programs. The Ardennes horses’ strength, kindness, and nobility will impact all those who work with them for generations to come.
Sources: Ardennes Studbook, BreyerFest, Regional Federation of Ardennes Heavy Horse Breeders, Globe Trotting, Rockstar Games, Petra – The Strongest Draft Horse, and Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.