The impressive Ardennes Horse is an ancient breed of draft horse that originated in the old world, Belgium, Luxembourg, and France.
The Adennes, sometimes spelled Ardennais, is a magnificent animal with a long and storied history. Check out these amazing facts about this gentle giant.
1. The Ardennes horse breed is tall!
Horses are traditionally measured in hands, where each hand is 4 inches. Ardennes Mares stand an impressive 15.3 hands tall while the massive Ardennes stallion can top 16 hands tall.
2. They are heavy too
Ardennes horses have a broad and muscular body perfect for pulling large loads. They tip the scales at 1,500 to 2,200 pounds! The earliest Ardennes horses were much lighter but through breeding with other draft breeds their weight has increased a lot over the centuries.
3. Julius Caesar was an Ardennes horse fan
Historians believe that the Ardennes is the direct descendant of the famed breed of horse Julius Caesar wrote about in his Commentarii de Bello Gallico.
Julius Caesar wrote that this breed was “rustic, hard and tireless” and that he wanted them to be used as heavy cavalry horses.
4. Napoleon helped make the breed what it is today
Napoleon Bonaparte loved the Ardennes as a war horse and bred them with Arabians around the time of his Russian campaign. Napoleon wanted to increase the stamina and athleticism of the Ardennes while maintaining their strength and calm personality.
Prior attempts to increase the Ardennes size by breeding with Percheron and Thoroughbreds did not have the desired effect but in the 19th century, the Ardennes was bred with Belgian draft horses in order to increase their size. We can thank the Belgian lineage for the broad and muscular Ardennes horse we know today.
6. Ardennes, a horse of many colors
Ardennes horses can be found in roan, chestnut, bay, palomino, and gray. While bay and roan are by far the most common color to find an Ardennes in, there are black coat individuals as well. Black Ardennes horses are not a recognized color in the Ardennes breed associations.
7. They were a prized war horse
Napoleon wasn’t the only military leader to see the Ardennes as an ideal warhorse. Godfrey of Bouillon chose the Ardennes to be his breed of choice for multiple campaigns of the Crusade. The Ardennes was also a great artillery horse as they were able to haul large loads of ammunition without tiring even over rough terrain. The Ardennes saw military service from the Crusades through WWI.
8. Ardennes meat is prized as well
The Ardennes lean muscle is widely eaten in parts of Europe. In France, Germany, Belgium, and Switzerland is common to consume Ardennes meat, though they are also used still on the farm, and for riding.
9. When did they come to the US?
Nobody knows for sure when the Ardennes first made it’s way on to US soil. We know that they were imported from 1917 on but do to poor record keeping, how many Ardennes were in the United States before 1917 is a mystery.
10. Germans prized the breed
In 1914 the Germans established the Commission for the Purchase of Horses and the Ardennes was one of two breeds, along with the Brabant, chosen by the Germans to secure from Belgium.
11. They still perform
The Ardennes is used extensively across Europe in driving competitions. Ardennes horses excel at driving due to their strength and agility, combined with their calm and collected demeanor.
12. Great therapy horses
The calm and steady nature of the Ardennes is not only good for driving competitions; the massive breed is also highly desired for it’s skill as a therapeutic riding horse. Youth and adults with emotional or physical difficulties have found tremendous benefit from riding these gentle giants.
13. Thrives on rough terrain
Not all draft breeds can handle varied and challenging terrain but the Ardennes can handle hilly and tough conditions. A rocky hill and heavy cover doesn’t slow the mighty Ardennes down.
14. Easy keepers
With their imposing size and impressive strength you wouldn’t be crazy to think that these horses are big eaters but compared to other draft breeds of similar size the Ardennes is a breeze to care for and keep fed
15. The Ardennes legacy carries on
The Ardennes has been the basis for multiple draft horse breeds around the world. This includes the Russian Heavy Draft, the Swedish Ardennes, and the Baltic Ardennes. In Sweden, a descendant of the Ardennes is still used in heavy forestry work carrying on the noble work of this majestic breed.
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Fred is the editor of Equine Ridge. He grew up raising horses and has been riding, training, and competing for almost four decades. Fred started out performing on the AQHA and PHBA circuits. Fred trained other competitors in English and Western riding disciplines and today offers free riding lessons to youth who would otherwise not be able to afford lessons. When not working with horses he can be found backpacking or trying to brew the perfect cup of coffee. Email Fred at firstname.lastname@example.org