Riding Draft Horses

Riding Draft Horses – Tips for Choosing, Training, and Competing

Their immense size, strength, and gentle nature make draft horses an excellent choice for riders of all skill levels. These magnificent creatures have been used for centuries in agriculture and transportation, but they are also gaining popularity as riding horses due to their versatility and endurance. In this article, we will explore the benefits of riding draft horses and why they are an excellent choice for equestrians.

 Draft Horses 

People know draft horses for their size and strength, with some weighing over a ton, which makes them a unique breed. Their gentle nature and willingness to work also contribute to the draft horses’ reputation. Some of the most popular draft horse breeds include Percherons, Belgians, and Clydesdales. When compared to other horse breeds, draft horses have a few unique characteristics. They have a wider back, which can make it difficult to find a saddle that fits correctly. They also have a slower metabolism, which means they require less food than other horse breeds.

 Benefits of Riding Draft Horses

One of the biggest benefits of riding draft horses is their gentle nature. People know draft horses for their calm demeanor and willingness to work with riders of all experience levels. Additionally, draft horses are incredibly versatile. They can pull carts and plows, carry heavy loads, and even compete in shows.

Riding draft horses can also improve your posture, strength, and coordination. Due to their size and weight, riders must engage their core muscles and maintain proper balance while riding.

what are draft horses used for

Draft horses have been used for centuries in agriculture and transportation. They were often used to pull plows and carts on farms and in cities. As transportation technology evolved, draft horses were used less frequently for work and more for leisure activities like riding and competition. Today, there are many events and competitions dedicated to draft horse riding, including draft horse shows and rodeos. These events showcase the unique talents and abilities of draft horses, from pulling heavy loads to jumping and dressage.

How to Choose the Right Draft Horse: 

Choosing the right draft horse can be an exciting and rewarding experience, but it’s essential to take the time to evaluate your needs and select the best breed for your goals. We will explore some tips and considerations to help you choose the right draft horse for your needs.

Selecting the Best Breed for Your Needs Draft horses come in several different breeds, each with unique characteristics and traits. Some of the most popular breeds include the Percheron, Belgian, and Clydesdale. When selecting a draft horse, consider your goals and needs. Do you want a horse for riding, showing, or heavy work? Different purposes may be better suited for different breeds.

Evaluating Conformation and Temperament Once you have selected a breed, it’s important to evaluate the individual horse’s conformation and temperament. Look for a horse with a strong, balanced build, and a well-proportioned body. The horse should have a calm and gentle demeanor, with no signs of aggression or nervousness.

 Working with a Reputable Breeder or Rescue Organization When choosing a draft horse, it’s essential to work with a reputable breeder or rescue organization selecting a reputable breeder, people can obtain a horse that has been well-cared for and is in good health. They can also offer valuable insights and advice on selecting and caring for your horse. If you choose to adopt a draft horse from a rescue organization, make sure to research the organization thoroughly and ask for references. A reputable rescue organization will have a thorough screening process and will work to match you with a horse that is suitable for your needs.

Draft horse breeds by size

There are several draft horse breeds, and they vary in size. Here is a list of the most popular draft horse breeds listed by size:

  1. Shire Horse: The Shire horse is the largest of all draft horse breeds. It can weigh up to 2,000 pounds and stand up to 18 hands (6 feet) tall.
  2. Clydesdale Horse: The Clydesdale horse is slightly smaller than the Shire horse, weighing between 1,800 and 2,200 pounds and standing up to 18 hands tall.
  3. Percheron Horse: The Percheron horse is a bit smaller than the Clydesdale, weighing between 1,800 and 2,600 pounds and standing up to 18 hands tall.
  4. Belgian Horse: The Belgian horse is a medium-sized draft breed, weighing between 1,800 and 2,200 pounds and standing up to 18 hands tall.
  5. Suffolk Punch Horse: The Suffolk Punch horse is a smaller draft breed, weighing between 1,500 and 2,000 pounds and standing up to 16.2 hands tall.
  6. American Cream Draft Horse: The American Cream Draft horse is a rare breed, weighing between 1,500 and 1,800 pounds and standing up to 16.2 hands tall.

Preparing Your Draft Horse for Riding

Groundwork and basic training are essential for preparing your draft horse for riding. A well-trained horse is not only easier to ride but also safer for both the rider and the horse.  We will discuss the importance of groundwork and basic training, saddle and tack selection, and health considerations for draft horses.

Groundwork and Basic Training:

Groundwork and basic training are the foundation of a well-trained draft horse. It is essential to establish trust and respect between the rider and the horse. Teach your horse to lead, stand still, pick up their feet, and respond to basic commands to achieve effective communication. Groundwork is also an opportunity to assess your horse’s temperament and identify any potential issues.

Saddle and Tack Selection:

The right saddle and tack are crucial for a comfortable and safe riding experience for both the rider and the horse. When selecting a saddle, it is important to consider the size and shape of your horse. Draft horses require a wider saddle than a typical riding horse due to their broad backs. The type of riding you plan to do will also impact your saddle selection. Carefully consider tack selection. A draft horse’s thick neck and broad chest require specialized tack designed to fit properly. You may need to purchase draft horse-specific bridles, bits, and reins to ensure a comfortable and secure fit.

Health Considerations for Draft Horses:

Draft horses are prone to certain health issues, such as weight management and joint problems. It is essential to maintain a healthy weight for your horse and provide them with proper nutrition. Regular exercise can also help to maintain joint health. Draft horses are also susceptible to respiratory issues, so it is important to provide them with a clean and well-ventilated living environment. Regularly recommend veterinary check-ups to monitor your horse’s health and identify any potential issues.

How to Mount and Ride Your Draft Horse

Mounting and riding your draft horse can be a rewarding experience, but it’s crucial to do it safely and confidently. We’ll explore some essential steps for mounting and riding your draft horse, including proper mounting technique, basic riding cues and commands, and maintaining balance and control.

Proper Mounting Technique Before you can start riding, you need to mount your draft horse safely and correctly. This involves positioning yourself correctly and using a mounting block or another sturdy surface to help you climb onto your horse’s back. Once you’re on your horse, ensure that you balance your weight and adjust your stirrups correctly.

 Basic Riding Cues and Commands Communicate effectively with your horse once you’re mounted. This involves using basic riding cues and commands, such as leg pressure, rein pressure, and voice commands. These cues will help you communicate your intentions to your horse and maintain control.

 Maintaining Balance and Control Maintaining balance and control while riding your draft horse is essential for your safety and your horse’s comfort. This involves sitting in a balanced position, keeping your weight centered, and using your legs and reins to maintain control. Additionally, it’s crucial to anticipate your horse’s movements and adjust your position and cues accordingly.

Riding Draft Horses

Mastering Advanced Riding Techniques for Your Draft Horse

Once you’ve mastered the basics of riding your draft horse, you may want to explore more advanced techniques.  We’ll cover three key areas of advanced riding: collection and extension, jumping and other athletic pursuits, and trail riding and obstacle courses.

Collection and Extension Collection and extension refer to the way your draft horse moves, from shortened, collected strides to longer, extended strides. These techniques can help your horse build strength, balance, and flexibility. To achieve collection and extension, you’ll need to work on your horse’s balance, suppleness, and responsiveness to your cues.

 Jumping and Other Athletic Pursuits With proper training and conditioning, draft horses can excel in jumping or other athletic pursuits, even though these activities are not typically associated with them. To prepare your horse for jumping or other activities, you’ll need to work on their strength, balance, and coordination. You’ll also need to choose the right equipment, such as a jumping saddle and boots, and work with a qualified trainer.

Trail Riding and Obstacle Courses Trail riding and obstacle courses can be a fun and challenging way to ride your draft horse. To prepare for these activities, you’ll need to work on your horse’s fitness and endurance, as well as their responsiveness to your cues. Choose appropriate equipment such as a comfortable trail saddle and sturdy boots to prepare for a variety of terrain and obstacles.

Building Strength and Performance:

Training and conditioning your draft horse can be a rewarding and challenging experience.  We’ll cover three key areas of horse training: exercise and fitness considerations, building strength and endurance, and advanced training techniques for performance riding.

 Exercise and Fitness Considerations Just like with any athlete, exercise, and fitness are key to keeping your draft horse healthy and in top condition. When designing your horse’s exercise routine. You’ll need to consider their age, fitness level, and any health conditions they may have. You’ll also need to choose activities that are appropriate for their breed and temperament. Such as lunging, long-lining, or hill work.

 Building Strength and Endurance To build strength and endurance in your draft horse. You’ll need to focus on conditioning exercises that target their core and hindquarters. These may include activities like trotting or cantering on the lunge line, hill work, or ground poles. You’ll also need to gradually increase the duration and intensity of your horse’s workouts to avoid injury or fatigue.

Advanced Training Techniques If performance riding such as dressage or driving competitions with your draft horse interests you, you’ll need to use more advanced training techniques. These may include activities like lateral work, flying changes, or piaffe and passage. To succeed in these disciplines, you’ll need to work with a qualified trainer and be patient and consistent in your training.

Riding Draft Horses

Competing with Your Draft Horse

Competing with your draft horse can be a thrilling experience. Whether it’s in the show ring or on the competition circuit.  We’ll cover three key areas of horse competition: show ring and competition opportunities, judging criteria and expectations, and preparing yourself and your horse for competition.

 Show Ring and Competition Opportunities There are many different opportunities for competing with your draft horse. From local county fairs to national competitions. Some of the most popular options include draft horse shows, driving competitions, and even jumping or dressage competitions. It’s important to research different events and find ones that are suitable for your horse’s breed and temperament.

Judging Criteria and Expectations When competing with your draft horse. You’ll need to be aware of the judging criteria and expectations for each event. This may include factors like confirmation, movement, obedience, and overall performance. It’s important to train and condition your horse specifically. For the event, you plan to enter and work with a qualified trainer to ensure you’re meeting the judging criteria.

 Preparing Yourself and Your Horse for Competition Preparing for competition with your draft horse involves more than just training and conditioning. To prepare your draft horse for competition, ensure that you groom them well, provide proper shoeing, and maintain their health. Additionally, it’s important to prepare yourself mentally for the competition by staying focused and positive.

Draft horse price

The price of a draft horse can vary greatly depending on several factors, such as breed, age, training, gender, and size. Generally, draft horses tend to be more expensive than lighter breeds due to their size and strength. Here are some approximate price ranges for draft horses:

  1. Shire Horse: $5,000 to $15,000 or more
  2. Clydesdale Horse: $3,000 to $10,000 or more
  3. Percheron Horse: $3,000 to $8,000 or more
  4. Belgian Horse: $2,500 to $7,000 or more
  5. Suffolk Punch Horse: $3,000 to $6,000 or more

These prices are just estimates and can vary depending on many factors, such as the horse’s age, health, training, and breeding. It’s essential to work with a reputable breeder or seller and have a veterinarian examine the horse before purchasing to ensure you are getting a healthy animal.

Can you ride draft horses, Even though draft horses are not typically bred or trained for riding, people can still ride them. People primarily use draft horses for heavy work and pulling, such as plowing fields or hauling heavy loads. Because their build is not designed for comfortable riding, people may find it challenging to ride draft horses. However, trainers can train some draft horses for riding, and people can use them for activities such as trail riding, pleasure riding, or even dressage.


Are draft horses good for riding?

Yes, draft horses can be excellent for riding. Despite their large size, people know to draft horses for their gentle nature and calm disposition. Which makes them well-suited for riders of all levels. People also know them for their strength and endurance. This makes them ideal for trail riding, long-distance riding, and other types of riding that require a sturdy and reliable mount. However, it is important to keep in mind that not all draft horses are suitable for riding, and it is crucial to work with a trained and experienced instructor when learning to ride a draft horse.

Are draft horses good for beginners?

Draft horses can be good for beginners, especially those who are looking for a calm and gentle mount. They have a reputation for being calm, patient, and easy to handle, which can make them a good choice for riders who are new to horseback riding or who are looking for a low-stress riding experience.

What is the best draft horse for riding?

The best draft horse for riding will depend on the specific needs and preferences of the rider. People consider the Belgian draft horse a popular breed for riding because of its calm and docile personality. They are also known for their strength and endurance, which makes them well-suited for long-distance riding.
Another popular breed for riding is the Percheron, which is known for its athleticism and versatility. People often use them in a variety of equestrian sports, including dressage, jumping, and driving.

What is draft vs riding a horse?

Draft horses and riding horses are two different types of horses that are bred and trained for different purposes.
Draft horses, also known as heavy horses or workhorses, are bred for their strength and power and are typically used for heavy labor such as plowing fields, pulling wagons, and hauling heavy loads. People know them for their large size, muscular build, and strong, sturdy legs and feet. 
Riding horses, on the other hand, are bred for their athleticism, speed, and agility, and are typically used for recreational riding, and equestrian sports. Such as dressage and show jumping, and working on ranches and farms.

Can draft horses carry heavy riders?

People know draft horses for their strength and ability to carry heavy loads. Which can make them well-suited for carrying heavier riders. However, it is important to keep in mind that the horse’s size, conformation, and fitness level will all play a role in determining how much weight it can comfortably carry.

Why are draft horses so big?

Draft horses are typically larger than other horse breeds because they were originally bred for heavy work. Such as plowing fields and pulling heavy loads. Their size and strength made them well-suited for these tasks, and their calm and docile temperament made them easier to work around people. The selective breeding of draft horses over many centuries has also contributed to their large size.

Are draft horses aggressive?

Draft horses, like all horses, have individual personalities and temperaments that can vary depending on their breeding, training, and environment. While some draft horses may be more prone to aggression than others. In general, draft horses are known for their calm, docile, and gentle temperament.

How strong is a draft horse?

Draft horses are incredibly strong animals, capable of pulling or carrying heavy loads. The exact strength of a draft horse can vary depending on its breed, size, and physical condition. But in general, draft horses are capable of pulling or carrying several times their weight.
For example, a typical Clydesdale horse can weigh up to 2,000 pounds and is capable of pulling loads weighing up to 8,000 pounds or more. Similarly, a Belgian draft horse can weigh up to 2,200 pounds and is capable of pulling loads weighing up to 10,000 pounds or more.


Riding draft horses offers a unique and rewarding experience for equestrians of all skill levels. These gentle giants are versatile and strong, and offer a calming presence to riders. As you explore the world of draft horse riding. Be sure to keep in mind the unique characteristics of these horses and the proper training and care they require. With the right approach, you can develop a deep and meaningful connection with your draft horse. And discover the joy and thrill of riding these magnificent creatures.

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