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.
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.