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Horse Breeds
First Posted: June 24,2009
May 7, 2013

Ardennes or Cheval de Trait Ardennais or Ardennais (French), Belgian Ardennes

Ardennes Horse

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Countries of Origin: Belgium, Luxembourg and France

Their history reaches back to Ancient Rome, and the breed was instrumental in Napoleon's Russian campaign. Ardennes today are used mainly for heavy draft and farm work.

Breed Description

Ardennes generally stand between 15 and 16 hands (60 to 64 inches, 152 to 163 cm) high, and weigh between 1,540 to 2,200 lbs. Their heads are heavy, with a broad face and a straight or slightly convex profile. Their conformation is broad and muscular, with a compact body, short back, and short, sturdy legs with strong joints. Their fetlocks are feathered. Their coats may be bay, roan, chestnut, gray, or palomino. Bay and roan are the two most common colors. Black is excluded from registration and is very rare. White markings are small, usually restricted to a star or blaze. The breed matures early, and they are said to be easy keepers, economical to feed despite their size. The Ardennes is a free-moving, long-striding breed, despite their compact body structure.

Breed History

The Ardennes breed is thought to be descended from the type of horse described by Julius Caesar in his Commentarii de Bello Gallico, and could even be a direct descendent of the prehistoric Solutre horse. The breed's ancestors are thought to have been bred for 2,000 years on the Ardennes plains, and it is one of the oldest European heavy draft breeds. In the Roman era the breed stood only around 14 hands (56 inches, 142 cm) high. Later, Napoleon added Arabian blood to increase stamina and endurance and used the breed in his Russian campaign. Percheron, Boulonnais and Thoroughbred blood were also added, although they had little effect on the breed. In the 19th century, Belgian draft blood was added to give the breed the heavier conformation it has today. The extra weight and size was desired to turn the breed into a very heavy draft breed, after their role as an artillery horse had diminished through the advent of mechanization, as well as a desire for a meat animal. The breed increased in size from an average of 1,210 lbs to their current weight, which at the same time had the consequence of reducing their vigor and endurance. Breed registries have been in existence since 1929. Today there are three separate studbooks in France, Belgium and Luxembourg, although there is extensive interbreeding between the three. The Ardennes Horse Society of Great Britain was also formed in the late 20th century to preserve and promote the horses of that country.

It is difficult to determine when the first Ardennes were imported to the United States because originally, when imported to the United States, Ardennes were eligible for registration with the now-defunct National French Draft Horse Association of America or French Draft Horse Society. This organization published a stud book and registered six individual French draft breeds as one breed, combining the information so that no totals of individual breeds are known. Many of these horses were imported to the United States with their breed being considered simply "French draft" and no individual type being specified. Some Ardennes horses imported to the United States prior to 1917 were called Belgians when they were imported and subsequently registered as Belgians. Ardennes horses have continued to be imported into the United States from Belgium, with imports occurring as late as 2004.


Horses from the Ardennes region were used in the Crusades in the 11th century by knights led by Godfrey of Bouillon. They were used during the 1600s by Marshal Turenne as remounts for his cavalry. In the French Revolution they were considered to be the best artillery horse available, due to their temperament, stamina and strength. Napoleon used large numbers of Ardennes to pull artillery and transport supplies during his 1812 Russian campaign. They were said to be the only breed used by Napoleon that was hardy enough to withstand the winter retreat from Moscow, which they did while pulling a large amount of the army's wagon train. They were also used to pull artillery in World War I, when they were depended upon by the French and Belgian armies. Their calm, tolerant disposition, combined with their active and flexible nature, made them an ideal artillery horse. The breed was considered so useful and valuable that when the Germans established the Commission for the Purchase of Horses in October 1917 to capture Belgian horses, the Ardennes was one of two breeds specified as important, the other being the Brabant.

Today, the breed is used mainly for meat, due to their extensive musculature. However, they are increasingly used for farm, forest and leisure work. Their nimble action, stamina and good temper make them increasingly used for competitive driving across Europe, and they have also been used as mounts for therapeutic horseback riding. The breed is known for its ability to work in rough, hilly terrain.

The Ardennes has been used to create several breeds and subgroups, including the Baltic Ardennes and Russian Heavy Draft. They are closely related to the Auxois breed, and were used in the 1920s to improve the Comtois by adding size. The Swedish Ardennes is a sub-group of the breed well established in that country, where it is in demand for use in forestry. The Ardennes was used, along with the Breton and the Anglo-Norman, to create the Sokolsky horse. The Trait Du Nord was created through a mixture of Ardennes and Belgian blood.

For More Information

Oklahoma State University/Ardennes Horse


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Horse Breeds