What is a Percheron?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The Percheron is a very old and rightfully famous breed of French draft horse. Many people are familiar with Percherons, although they may not be aware of it, because these horses are often used to pull carriages for novelty carriage rides, and they appear in advertisements and company logos quite frequently, especially in the United States. This ancient horse breed was almost lost in the middle of the 20th century, when horses were replaced by cars, leading to a decline in demand for draft horses, but it was fortunately rescued by dedicated fans in France and abroad.

Percheron horses originate in the Perche Valley in Northwest France, a region long famed for its horses.
Percheron horses originate in the Perche Valley in Northwest France, a region long famed for its horses.

These horses originate in the Perche Valley in Northwest France, a region long famed for its horses. The origins of the Percheron are actually a bit shrouded in mystery, since the breed pre-dates studbooks and organized horse breeding in Europe. Historical records show that Percherons were used as military horses as far back as the Middle Ages, and the breed may be even older. The modern Percheron, therefore, comes from a very distinguished bloodline.

Like other draft horses, the Percheron has a very compact, muscular build which is designed to generate a lot of power. These horses also have incredible endurance, and they are remarkably agile and surefooted for a draft breed. These horses have very muscular hindquarters, long, thick necks, and blocky heads with wideset eyes and small ears. Their tails tend to be clipped for farmwork, but when allowed to grow, they are long, wavy, and surprisingly silky.

As is the case with other draft horses, the Percheron is known for having a very amiable disposition. They are very gentle, even with young children and nervous farm animals, and many are quite friendly and curious, as well. These traits have made the Percheron popular for centuries, as the horses will stand patiently and tolerate boring conditions and inexperienced handlers with remarkable equanimity.

In the 1800s, the Percheron began to be exported in large numbers to the United States, where it quickly outnumbered other draft breeds by about three to one. The Percheron may have been especially well suited to the United States because the horse can handle a wide variety of weather conditions, and demand among farmers for these horses was historically quite high.

Today, Percherons are used primarily as show horses, and they are sometimes seen pulling carriages, often in teams of dappled grays or blacks. On farms which still use horses for work in the United States, the Percheron continues to dominate the field, and these horses are also widely used for work in France and some parts of Europe. Several enthusiast organizations sponsor regular get-togethers of Percherons and their owners, some of which include demonstrations of Percherons in front of the plow and in harness.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@DinoLeash: They range from 15hh to 18hh.


@dill1971: I completely agree with you. We own a pair of Percherons and a pair of Tennessee Walkers. The Percherons are amazingly friendly. We have a 4 year old granddaughter and she rides the Percherons regularly. They seem to sense when a child is around and act accordingly.

We used to pull my granddaughter around with a lead rope until we were confident that the horses would do well with her. Now, she has her own small saddle and she rides by herself (with us riding beside her, of course). The one that she rides stands 16.4 hands. I would highly recommend a Percheron for a child.

Our Percheron stud has fathered several colts and my granddaughter always wants to keep every one of them!


@dinoleash: Percherons can range in height from around 15 to 19 hands. Most are between 16.2 and 17.3 hands. The average weight of a Percheron is around 1900 pounds but they can weigh as much as 2600 pounds.

In my opinion, the Percheron is one of the best horses you could own. They are very gentle and social animals. They are usually gray or black. There are some registries that will only accept them if they are those two colors. However, bay and chestnut colors are acceptable for registry in the United States as long as you have a DNA confirming their lineage. Some of them have white markings on them as well. Too many white markings is not very desirable for show horse quality.


How big do Percherons get?

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