Meet the remarkable horses who will be taking part in our forthcoming Artillery on Parade event on 22 and 23 July at Fort Nelson. Find out more about the history of the breed, what makes them special and meet the horses who will take part, working alongside the volunteer groups in the re-enactments.

Percheron History

There are many discrepancies and disputes regarding the earliest record and exact origin of the Percheron breed. Some records date back to the 17th century, others involve Arabian stallions being brought back from the Crusades, and some posit that the first king of the Franks, Clovis, brought the Percheron horses back after his battles against the Bretons. However, many reports agree that today, Le Perche, in France is identified as the main breeding ground for Percheron horses which are exported globally.

However, many reports agree that today, Le Perche, in France is identified as the main breeding ground for Percheron horses which are exported globally.

During the First World War, thousands of Percheron farm horses were commandeered in France to pull the guns, waggons, and ambulances. They were used as war horses. Northern France suffered greatly from muddy conditions which proved to be very difficult for the Clydesdale and Shire horse, thus many soldiers favoured the Percheron breed’s hard feet and clean legs which combined with their muscular and athletic build meant they sunk less in the muddy conditions. The introduction of mechanical warfare over time meant that the Percheron become less useful in combat and more useful in transport, such as pulling fire waggons, and agriculture, ploughing and tilling fields.

Physical Characteristics

Percherons are heavily muscled, powerful animals, and come in a diverse range of colours, ranging from the grey, favoured traditionally in France, to the black brought in by later breeders. The animals similarly range in height (from 15 – 18 hands) and size (452 kg – 1135 kg).

The main identifying features of the draft breed is that the head has a straight profile, large eyes, and small ears. The neck is muscular with good sloping shoulders. The chest is deep and wide. The feet and legs are heavily muscled and clean. The body is wide and they have strong muscular quarters and legs. The Percheron breed is frequently referred to as having athletic ability, impressive power, strength and ability. The breed’s temperament is described by enthusiasts as being curious and proud.

The Percheron breed is frequently referred to as having athletic ability, impressive power and strength. The breed’s temperament is described by enthusiasts as being curious and proud.

It is believed that Percheron horses tend to be a little lighter than other draft horses, such as Shire horses, due to the influence of Arabian bloodlines in the breed. Therefore they are able to adapt to a range of climates, conditions and are agiler. It has been recorded that in the 19th century they were known to travel up to 60 kilometres (37 miles) a day at a trot. Percherons are cold-blooded horses, which means that they have a gentle docile nature compared to their larger hot-blooded cousins such as the Alaska draft horse.

Percheron Today

Percherons are extremely calm, docile and have excellent temperaments. Combined with their athletic ability, this has made them one of the most popular draft breeds globally. Today the breed is used in events, agriculture, and riding schools.

Introducing the Percheron horses starring in this year’s Artillery on Parade:

NORSE

Dark grey mottled stallion
17.2 hands
Age: 4 years old
Weight: 800 kgLead horse, very reliable and strong. Muscular. Intelligent. Largest stallion.

Lead horse, very reliable and strong. Muscular. Intelligent. Largest stallion.
The feisty 4-year-old is a high calibre Percheron and all too eager to get trotting and tilling. He takes the traditional approach to farming and events in his stride.
French import from Le Perche, Normandy.

DOLLY

Grey Percheron mare
17.2 hands
Age: 14 years old
Weight: 830 kg

At 17.2 hands, Dolly is a fantastic example of a ‘gentle giant’. Nothing seems to faze this horse. She is calm, loyal and reliable. Dolly is a very sociable horse who likes company and recognises safety in numbers – despite her size she is not particularly brave.

ISABELLE

Black Percheron mare
18 hands
Age: 7 years old
Weight: 850 kg

Despite her young age, Isobel’s combination of strength, intelligence and aptitude for hard work has made her ‘top mare’ in the fields. She is a very sturdy, well-balanced workhorse that is highly versatile. She has good common sense, patience and reliability.

DIAMOND

Grey Percheron mare
17.2 hands
Age: 14 years
Weight: 850 kg
French import from Le Perche, Normandy.

With her long legs and powerful stature, this strong muscular draft horse has a docile but stubborn personality. As a seasoned performer, the trot around the parade pulling the 18-pounder carriage is a breeze for this gentle giant.

EDITH

Grey Percheron mare
Age: 13 years old
16.2 hands
Weight: 850 kg

On a good day, she is very good and very reliable. Edith is very intelligent and loves being the centre of attention. Edith is a French import from Le Perche, Normandy and known as the ‘Docile gentle giant’.

GALLEY

Grey Percheron mare
17.2 hands
Age: 11 years
Weight: 830 kg

Standing tall at 17.2 hands Galley is a magnificent beast with an amenable, laid back, placid even temperament. She is known on the farm for her intelligence and willingness to work.

Find out more about the Percheron horses and be sure to purchase tickets for ‘Artillery on Parade’ via the Royal Armouries website.