|First Posted: July 14, 2009|
Sep 26, 2010
Poitevin Horse or Cheval du Poitou, MulassierPoitevin, Cheval du Poitou or Mulassier Horse
The Poitevin, or Mulassier ("mule-breeder"), is a draft horse from the Poitou area of France. Today they are mainly used in the production of Poitevin mules.History
The Poitevin is believed to be a descendent of the ancient Forest Horse of Northern Europe. Today's breed was developed from the crossing of native Poitiers mares with heavy draft stallions imported by the Dutch from the Netherlands, Norway and Denmark for use in land reclamation work. The breed was in danger of extinction during the 1950s, but is now enjoying a revival. A descendant of the Flemish horses brought to Poitou in the 17th century to drain the marshes, it is related to the Shire - and hence to the Clydesdale - whose ancestors came from Holland to reclaim the Fens.
Whilst most heavy horses were bred for specific purposes - including meat production - the only work required of the Poitevin was that it sired enough mares to provide for the booming mule trade. It has therefore retained all the characteristics of the "primitive" horse, including the rare dun color. It is lighter than most draught horses and its gait is sprightly. The breed has a long back, heavy bone in the legs with abundant feathers and flowing mane and tail.
When four wheel drives replaced mules, the Poitevin declined and was saved only thanks to the dedication of a few breeders who kept mares because their grandfathers had made their fortunes with them. But numbers plummeted, with only c. 220 females and 40 males left in 1992. Numbers are slowly recovering, now reaching c. 400 animals
Today there are a total of three known horses in the United States. A tick-bourne disease named Piroplasmosis poses the biggest hurdle to bringing the breed into the country.
The Poitevin has been used mainly for the production of Poitevin mules through crossing Poitevin mares with the jacks of the Baudet de Poitou breed. The resulting mules are prized throughout Europe. Poitevins are also bred for the European horse meat markets.
The Poitevin stands between 15 and 17 hands high, and weighs 1,540 to 1,980 lbs. Their coat is usually gray, bay, black, or shades of dun (called isabella in France, but not to be confused with the cream-gene Palomino), with fairly heavy feathering on their lower legs. Their heads are heavy, with a straight or convex profile set onto a neck that is short and muscular. Their shoulders are sloped, their back is long, straight, and broad, and their croup is long and sloping. Their legs are fairly thick and short, with broad joints and hooves. The breed is not as high-stepping and showy as some other breeds, quoted in old text as being somewhat slow, but it has been used as a reliable work-horse for centuries. The Poitevin is also known to be ill tempered and often uncooperative.
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