Meet the Percheron Horse

Side view of a Percheron Horse
A Percheron stallion. Bob Langrish / Getty Images

The Percheron is another of the gentle giants of the horse world. Once a war horse, then a popular and powerful draft horse, the Percheron today is equally comfortable under saddle or in harness. They are competitive on the 'horse pull' circuit, where teams of horses are matched against ever increasing weights. Because of their docile natures, they can be good horses for beginner riders, albeit many of us might need a mounting block to climb aboard.

They are often crossed with light horse breeds such as Thoroughbreds to produce a sporthorse type riding horse.

Average Size

Percherons are 16.2 HH to 17.3 HH. They weigh from 1800 lbs to 2600 lbs (kg to kg) depending on the bloodlines. In France, they can range from 15.1 HH to 18.1 HH. The registry minimums in the USA and Britain require that horses are in the heavier range. The breed standards, including body type, color and size differ from country to country. 

Body Type

The Percheron has heavily muscled shoulders, forearms, and haunches and gives an overall impression of compact strength. Their necks are sturdy and elegantly arched and head vaguely reminiscent of the Arabian influence in their past. They have small upright ears and flat forehead, unlike the Arabian dished face


Originally bred as war horses, Percherons today are most often seen driven in harness. Because they are compact, they're ideal for use in logging.

Riders who enjoy riding large horses often chose Percherons for their willingness and versatility. Percherons can be ridden western and English and they have a captivating presence in the dressage ring. For the timid rider, a steady Percheron can be a confidence-building ride.

Color and Markings

Percherons are black or gray, chestnut, bay, roan, and sorrel.

French-bred Percherons are born black and then turn gray as they mature and no other color is allowed. Although white markings are permitted, excess white is frowned upon.

History and Origins

The Percheron breed was developed in the Perche province of the Normandy region of France and the earliest horses may have been a cross between the Barbs brought by the Moors, and the large Flemish draft or 'great horse' breeds. Several other theories about their origins exist. Arabian bloodlines were introduced to add hardiness and refinement. During the 1800s, the French Government developed the breed further to use as cavalry horses.

The national breeding farm, called the Le Pin National Stud still breeds Percherons to this day, along with several other breeds of French origin. Early in the twentieth century, the Percheron was the most popular draft horse breed in America and the largest draft horse breed registry. Like many draft breeds, their numbers dwindled as horsepower changed to the farm tractor and car and were no longer required for farm work. In the USA, they were for a time on the 'watch list' of the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, but are now growing in numbers.

Unique Characteristics

Unlike the Clydesdale with its heavy leg feathering, the Percheron's legs are clean without long hair.

Their manes and tails can be thick and often wavy. They are a bit more lively than some of their draft horse relatives and they are often out-crossed with Thoroughbreds, warmbloods and with Baroque breeds like Andalusians and Lusitanos to be used as sporthorses in dressage, eventing, hunting, and pleasure riding. I know of one owner who claimed her Arabian X Percheron could 'jump the moon'.

Percheron Horse Champions and Celebrities:


  • Jean le Blanc –considered one of the founding sires of the modern Percheron breed.

  • The Le Pin National Stud in France would be a fascinating tourist destination in France and offers tours, seminars and is home to a large Percheron breed show.