The Ardennais horse is one of the oldest recorded heavy draft breeds of horses believed to have descended from one of the earliest heavy horses known today as the Diluvial Horse of Solutré. This massive horse is often referred to as the "forest horse" and is considered to be the horse that was the ancestor of all the coldblooded breeds of today. It is likely that the Celts first domesticated these heavy horses that were then introduced to the Romans through their campaigns into the area. The Romans then further refined the breed into the great warhorses used throughout the Middle Ages.
Some of these warhorses were left behind on various military excursions and the farmers and land owners in the border areas of France and Belgium which led to their development in the area. The original Ardennais was very similar to the modern day Ardennais, which is relatively short, heavyset and rounded in shape. This original type of Ardennais was instrumental in the success of Napoleon's Russian campaign of 1812 where these huge horses were able to survive the cold and freezing temperatures much better than the smaller, lighter breeds. This solidified the Ardennais as an essential military horse in the long marches and campaigns throughout the later 1800s. During this time these horses were also used as heavy draft horses on farms as well as for hauling and carting. Their smaller height made them easier to work with than some of the larger draft breeds and they were fairly popular as an agricultural work horse.
For reasons that are a bit of a controversy in the breed, during the early 19th century other horse breeds were added to the original Ardennais resulting in three distinctive and different body types within the breed. It is still possible to see the results of this infusion of blood in the more refined heads of the traditional Ardennais as well as the huge size difference between the original and the much larger Auxois type. The middle type is now known as the Trait Du Nord and is the most common of the Ardennais horses seen today. The original type of Ardennais is often seen in the smaller, more remote areas and in the mountainous areas around the original breeding areas between France and Belgium.
The Auxois is the heaviest of the already heavy boned and muscled Ardennais breed. There massive size and great weight was developed through infusions of the Boulonnais and Percheron blood. These huge horses have slightly smaller legs than the Ardennais but are still excellent draft horses. The Trait du Nord is a heavier horse than the original Ardennais and it is not uncommon for a stallion to weight over 1000 kg or 2200 pounds. They are used as draft and cart horses where they typically barrel like body makes them ideal for pulling heavy loads for long and sustained periods of time.
Although there are three distinct breeds or body types of the original Ardennais they all have the same gentle, kind and willing disposition that has made them an ideal draft breed for centuries.