Thursday, October 28, 2010


I couldn't believe my eyes: there, in Highland Park this afternoon - in the parking lot where the Farmers' Market is held on Fridays - were three trailers with horses, and carriages done up in Hobby Lobby-style autumnal decorations.   This horse was still in his trailer: two other very handsome chestnuts, with flaxen manes and tails, were tied up alongside.   I was slightly puzzled by them - they looked like Suffolk Punches, but slightly less chunky.   So ... what kind of breed are they? I asked.   Belgian Percherons, came the reply.

That's puzzling.   The horse above, a very light grey, was quite possibly a Percheron.   But Percherons are a breed from Northern France, not Belgium.   I thought, in any case, that one can only get grey and black Percherons - which would rule out the chestnuts - though I've found out that in the US, you can register browns and bays and chestnuts - though not in the UK.   However, the chestnuts looked far more like Belgian - or, indeed, Brabant horses - which are far more common here than in England, for some reason (though they were common enough once - they were one of the three usual breeds of medieval warhorse).  

But - whatever they were - there's a case to be made for an article on transatlantic horses ... I thought that a few years ago with Buffalo Bill's Wild West - and the international enthusiasm not just for Indians on horseback, but for his internationalizing of Cossack horses and riders.   It turns out that the transatlantic history of the Percheron is a fascinating one, too.   In the late C18th and C19th Arab blood was added to the solid warhorse stock (although one theory of their origins is that they were, in any case, captured C8th Moorish warhorses, so they were already Oriental, and later on, more Oriental blood was introduced by the Comte de Perche when he came back from the Crusades).   After the Civil War - which hugely depleted the number of horses here - many were imported to the US, largely from France.   And then in the late C19th, American Percherons were shipped back across the Atlantic, to be used as draught horses to pull large urban buses.   In 1900, 325 were shipped off for the British Army to use in the Boer War...

Somehow it would have seemed a little surreal to have stood in a carpark in Highland Park arguing about European heavy horse breeds.

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