An animal for work

Beyond its elitist status and symbolic functions, the horse has also been used as an animal for work, for agricultural and subsequently industrial labour and for transporting people and merchandise. Horses used for such work are called draft horses, as opposed to riding horses. Their development is closely linked to technological – particularly agricultural – developments and to the Industrial Revolution. While the horses used for work differed little from others until the modern era (in the Middle Ages, they did not measure more than 1.40 m), from the 19th century onwards draft breeds were selected just for this use. All draft horses share a wither height larger than 1.60 meters, a significant weight capable of exceeding one tonne and a powerful bone and muscle structure.

Used daily until the early 20th century, the draft horse has witnessed first-hand all the technological developments in history.

From the second half of the 19th century onwards, the increasing use of motors led to their gradual disappearance. The establishment of the railway network made their use obsolete, as was their use in pulling common transport in the early 20th century. The arrival of the tractor definitively marked the end of the daily use of draft horses. Despite their scarcity, there are currently nine draft horse breeds in France, all of which are linked to a specific region: the Ardennes, the Auxois, the Boulonnais, Breton, the Norman Cob, the Comtois, the Percheron, the Poitevin and the Trait du Nord.

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Marcel Mavré, Attelages et attelées : un siècle d'utilisation du cheval de trait, France Agricole Éditions, 2004, 223p.