The Belgian Draft Horse was not an overnight success in America. The popularity that it now enjoys was won through great perseverance over a century on thousands of ranches and farms. Its popularity has been won in numerous show rings and pulling contests as well as on the streets of America while pulling freight wagons. Today, Belgian Draft Horses outnumber all of the other draft breeds combined in America.
The Belgian horse is native to Belgium as its name implies. When the need to produce larger draft type animals for farm and industrial use was recognized, Belgium began to export stallions to fill that need. The Belgian government exported stallions for the use of government stables in France, Italy, Russia, Germany and Austria-Hungary in 1891.
The Belgian government sent an exhibit of the horses to the International Livestock Exposition in Chicago and also to the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1903. This generated a keen interest in the breed. As the acceptance of the breed grew, most major importers began to include the Belgian horse in their offerings. With the onset of World War I in 1914, all importations were brought to a halt, but there was enough seed stock already imported for the new breeders.
During the 1920's, the importation of the Belgian resumed and it moved to a number two position for draft horses in America. The last importation of Belgian Horses was landed in New York on January 15, 1940 by E.F. Dygert, an Iowa importer. This was four months after the start of World War II and it was four months before Belgium was invaded by Germany.
Several of the first imported Belgians were widely criticized. It was said that they were too thick, had heads which were too low and were round boned and straight shouldered. They were often referred to as "the Dutchman's" type. However, even with the faults that were so widely criticized, the Belgian had many friends because their disposition was amiable and they were willing workers. The breeds assets were decided to outweigh its faults by the American farmer. American breeders began to work on retaining what was right and to remedy the things that were believed to be wrong. That effort is one of the greatest successes in animal breeding.
The Belgian Horse today is a big and powerful horse. He has a drafty middle, a lot of bone, a deep and strong foot, heavy muscling and has retained the amiable disposition of the early Belgian Horses. He still retains the sought after qualities of being a willing worker and an easy keeper.
The changes that were made by the American breeders have resulted in a horse with more style. They head and the neck are better and there is more of a slope to the pastern and the shoulder. The Belgian today is a great worker and has become one of the great wagon horses. It does as well in hitching competitions as it does in pulling competitions. This breed is considered to be very versatile and has become the favorite draft horse in America.