|First Posted June 24,2009|
Mar 1, 2010
Boulonnais Horse or White Marble HorseBoulonnais Horse
The Boulonnais, also known as the "White Marble Horse," is a heavy draft horse breed now bred mainly by the French government due to their decreased numbers. The origins of the breed trace to a period before the Crusades, and they were at one point a very popular draft horse in France and other parts of Europe. The breed is generally branded on the left side of the neck with an anchor.
Most Boulonnais are gray in color. Black or very dark bay coat colors were frequent in 18th century, but as gray is a dominant gene, and breed numbers are small, non-gray members of the breed have become extremely rare. There is an attempt today to reintroduce black color via the genes of a single black Boulonnais stallion, named Esope.
There were originally two varieties of Boulonnais recognized: a larger type was called the Maree, which stood 15.3-16.3 hands high and weighed 1,430 to 1,650 lbs.. The smaller type was called the Mareyeuse or Mareyeur (horse of the tide), and ranged between 15.1 and 15.3 hh and weighed 1,210 to 1,430 lbs. The Boulonnais has a short, elegant head with a broad forehead, and a short, muscular neck. The breed has a full chest, rounded rib cage, and a sloping shoulder. The legs are fairly short, but robust and strong. Unlike other draft breeds such as the Shire or Clydesdale, it has no heavy feathering on its lower legs.
The Boulonnais breed is thought to have emerged from the crossbreeding of native French mares and stallions brought by the Numidian army in 55-54 BCE. During the Crusades, two breeders, Eustache, Comte de Boulogne, and Robert, Comte d'Artist, wanted to create a fast, agile, and strong warhorse for knights to ride in battle. They crossed the existing heavy French stallions with German Neckline mares, similar to modern-day Hanoverians. During the 17 th century Spanish occupation of Flanders, a mixture of Spanish Barb, Arabian, and Andalusia blood was added to the breed, to create the modern Boulonnais type.
The Boulonnais was once a popular workhorse in France, with an estimated population of over 600,000. World War I and World War II almost destroyed the breed, as their home area saw heavy combat in both wars and the bands of brood mares were scattered. Unfortunately, the smaller Boulonnais type has died out. The larger Boulonnais is still bred in small numbers, with an estimated population of less than 1,000 animals remaining in Europe.
There have been several efforts to save what remains of the breed from extinction. According to the Boulonnais Directory for 2000, there are 391 Boulonnais breeders and owners, most of them living in northern France, Belgium and Germany. 56 stallions have been designated for breeding purposes and preservation of the breed. Many studs are government funded, in order to prevent the breed from dying out.
The Boulonnais has lively and energetic gaits, useful for pulling carriages as well as working in the fields and riding. During the 17 th century, the smaller Marketer type was used for transporting fresh fish from Bologna to Paris, a distance of almost 200 miles, in under 18 hours. This journey is remembered annually in the Route du Poisson race. Unfortunately, falling demand means that today the breed is bred mainly for horsemeat.