Breed Organization Information
About the Breed
Except for the recent past, the history of the Percheron breed is not exactly clear. The Percheron Horse did originate in the province of Le Perche, near Normandy, France. The ancestors of the modern day Percheron served as war horses carrying knights into battle instead as draft animals in the field. Those horses were light, sure-footed and spirited. As agricultural pursuits began to take precedence over battles, these horses were bred more for size, weight and strength. The French, however, kept very few records regarding breeding which allows for speculation on the breeds true origins.
It is widely believed that the Arabian horse played an important role in the development of the Percheron. By the time of the crusades, the Percheron breed was widely recognized as outstanding for his substance and soundness, as well as for his characteristic beauty and style.
By the 17th century horses produced in Le Perche had attained widespread notoriety and were in demand for many different uses. The Percheron of this time showed less scale and easily adapted to pulling the heavy mail coaches of France. They stood from 15 to 16 hands high at this time.
In the early 19th century the French government established a stud at Le Pin for the development of army mounts. In 1823, a horse named Jean La Blanc was foaled in Le Perche and all of today’s Percheron bloodlines trace directly to this horse.
Edward Harris of Moorestown, New Jersey first imported Percherons to the United States in 1839. Although in his two attempts to import eight Percheron horses to America, only two survived the journey, a mare named Joan and a stallion called Diligence. These two horses helped establish the Percheron breed in America. Diligence reportedly sired over 400 foals with three of his being recorded among the foundation stock in the first American Percheron stud book in 1876.
No other Percheron importations were recorded until 1851. The stallions, Normandy, Gray Bill and Louis Napoleon, were imported in that year. Louis Napoleon had a profound effect on the Percheron breed in America and its owners were instrumental in the forming of the Percheron Association in 1876.
Thousands of Percherons were imported to Americans in the last half of the 19th century, and importations continued up until World War II. The Percheron quickly became the favorite of both the American farmer and the teamster who would move freight on the nation’s city streets.
The Percheron was so popular that by 1930, the government census showed that they were three times as many registered Percherons as the other four draft breeds combined. Following World War II, the invention of the modern farm tractor made the breed nearly extinct. As America modernized and mechanized, the Percheron was all but forgotten. However, a handful of farmers including many Amish, dedicated to the preservation of the breed, kept it alive through the next twenty years of the draft horse depression which lasted through the 1950s and 1960s.
The late 1960s saw a renaissance in the draft horse business as Americans rediscovered the usefulness of the draft horse. Today, Percherons are back on small farms and working in the fields and thousands of are used for recreation such as hayrides, sleigh rides and parades.
Percherons are shown in competition hitching, halter and riding classes at many state and local fairs across the country. They are also used in advertising and the promotion of other businesses. The Percheron is also a common sight on many city streets as the carriage business flourishes.
The Percheron is usually gray or black. The gaits are supple and light; the head is fine with a square, wide forehead, long, thin ears, a lively eye, straight nose and wide nostrils; the neck is long with an abundant mane and the throat is thin. The withers are well set; the shoulder is well slanted; the chest is wide and deep with a somewhat prominent breast bone; the back is short and straight and very strong; the ribs are rounded; the girth is low with full flanks; the hip is long as is the croup; and the tail is set high. The limbs are sound and clean, well set with a powerful forearm and wide and muscular thighs. The buttocks are low; the knees wide and straight in line with the shoulder. The cannon bones are wide, flat and strong; the pasterns are clean and strong and the feet are good. The average height is between 14.3 to 16.1 hands.
In 1876, a group of Percheron breeders met in Chicago, Illinois, and formed the Norman-Percheron Association and the first stud book was started. This was the first purebred livestock association formed in the United States. The following year the name Norman was dropped. In 1905, Percheron breeders again met in Chicago and formed the Percheron Horse Society of America, the name by which the association was known for the next thirty years. In 1934, the present association, the Percheron Horse Association of America, was formed as a non-profit organization. At its height the Percheron Association registered in excess of 10,000 head per year and was the largest draft horse association in the world.
The Percheron Association set many of the registration standards, which are in widespread use in today’s many livestock breed registries. The Association presently has nearly 3,000 members representing all 50 states. The modern association, as in the past, is dedicated to the promotion and preservation of the Percheron horse. The association office processes all registrations and transfers of ownership, publishes a quarterly breed magazine, and the Percheron Stud Book of America. About 2,500 new horses are registered each year by the association.