How Big Should a Draft Horse Be
How Big Should a Draft Horse Be

How Big Should A Draft Horse Be?

As evidenced by our letters and the frequent comments of contributors to this magazine, the question of size in draft horses is a hot issue. I suppose we’d all like to think that it’s a contemporary subject, one which did not trouble people back when horses were the norm. The BREEDER’S GAZETTE gathered the opinions of the most respected Draft horsemen of the 1910’s on the subject of how big a draft horse should be and we’ve reprinted them here. As you can see the subject has provided controversy for a long time and I’m sure it will continue. We hope to be lost some where in the thick of it all. LRM

by Harry McNair

We are facing a shortage of heavy draft horses; the other kinds, like the poor, are always numerous. Buyers at the market were never so insistent on weight as at present, and, in my opinion, champions of the lighter work horse have no ground to stand on. For farm purposes they may possess merit, but if destined for commercial channels the more weight a horse can carry to market, in combination with quality, the more readily will he sell, and the more money will he realize. I am not talking of the ungainly, rough and generally undesirable big horse, but the drafter. Weight and quality are a requisite combination.

At present nine out of every ten commercial buyers at the market insist on weights of 1,700 pounds and up, refusing to consider horses weighing 1,500 to 1,600 pounds, which ·are relatively numerous. There is a reason for everything; the insistent demand for weight is based on traffic necessity. The lighter horse may be more nimble and better able to extricate himself from disadvantageous positions, but he lacks the power that is essential to starting a load.

This may be comprehended by mentally visualizing a traffic congestion in the Chicago Loop, along the New York dock frontage or any other similar sphere. Huge truck loads must be stopped and started frequently as the traffic moves, and weight, which in this case is synonymous with power, is essential to the task. The lighter horse would be able to move such loads with reasonable celerity, once a start had been made, but with the necessity for fresh starts at frequent intervals the job is not one to which he is adapted. This is the cogent reason why the big drafter with quality is in demand.

At the Ohio State Fair last season I made awards in the Percheron stallion class, and gave the blue ribbon to an animal weighing considerably over a ton. The decision was criticized by a prominent Percheron breeder, whose judgment is excellent, but when he contended for the lighter horse on the theory that 90 percent of our work horses were used on the farm, I was forced to differ with him. The logical destiny of the draft horse is the market, provided that he has weight and quality.

Farmer-breeders will consult their own interest by breeding for maximum quality and weight. We shall always have plenty of light, mediocre and common horses, but the good ones are in a class by themselves. When we talk of a 1,700-pound horse at the market we mean 1,800 to 1,850 pounds in the country. It will therefore be realized how scarce the popular drafter is.

For years we have been engaged in a discussion of the relative merits of the motor and the horse, from the standpoint of economics. Obviously that method of transportation which is capable of demonstrating economy will prevail. Farmers have been diverted from the bit-type of drafter by the assertion that the sphere of trucks would be monopolized by machinery, but recent developments demonstrate the fallacy of this.

At this moment competition is between the truck and the railroad for short-haul rail traffic, while short-haul business in the cities is reverting to horse power solely for economic reasons. Clearly the method capable of moving a ton of freight with maximum celerity at minimum cost will be adopted, and while the motor truck is creating a new sphere of usefulness in competition with railroads for short-haul business, horse power is being permanently established on an economic basis wherever it can do the job cheaper than the truck, especially within the short-haul radius of urban traffic congestion.

In order to compete with the truck in this sphere the horse must have a motor truck load. In order to accomplish this truck capacity is being increased, emphasizing the necessity for big horses. This fact may not be generally known, but more weight is required to move every type of city vehicle than was required ten years ago. All this development is the result of comprehensive tests and close figuring. Teaming interests have kept books until they have determined costs down to fractions, and wherever an opportunity to cut costs has been detected, the leak remedy has been applied. Advancing labor expense has emphasized the necessity for moving larger unit loads and in order to accomplish this vehicles have been enlarged, thereby creating necessity for heavier horses. This tendency was never so pronounced as at this moment. The light vehicle has gone forever; with it went the usefulness of the light horse.

This logic applies not only to drafters but expressers and delivery stock, such as milk, newspaper and department store horses. A few years ago a teamster handling 1,500-pound horses considered his team heavy; nowadays 1,700 pounds is not uncommon, and buyers are always clamorous for more weight. Nor is this mutation limited to teaming, as loggers are buying on the same lines. A recent order for loggers put a limit of 1,600 pounds, and called for as many 1,800-pound horses as were available.

That we are at the inception of a scarcity period of good drafters cannot be disputed. Already values are advancing, in response to this condition. My opinion is that acute scarcity is not far off. For years the tendency has been to make lighter horses. A good mare could always be sold, farmers retaining scrub stock, and breeding to cheap stallions for economy purposes. The wonder is that we are getting so many decent colts.

This condition ensures a reasonable abundance of lighter horses, even the 1,500 to 1,600-pound types, but drafters weighing 1,700 pounds or more are to be scarce. A horse all top and no bottom will not do, in any class. We have a demand for good 1,500 to 1,600-pound horses for special service, provided that they have quality. Take expressing, for example; before the parcel post era, expressing was to a large extent a matter of picking up small packages with single horses, but now express service requires stout teams to handle heavier business.

The problem is one of handling increasing tonnage at advancing costs with maximum economy. Teaming interests do not want blemished or mediocre horses, even when they have weight. A plain or common big horse deficient in quality is and will be penalized.

I would stress the fact that horses must not only be raised but fed. Many mature at weights 200 pounds or more below maximum, simply because the principle of nutrition is ignored during colthood. Letting colts “just grow” accounts for a large percentage of the underweight stock that comes to market, and would have had an outcome if properly nurtured when young. Young horses cannot make bone and scale unless they are liberally grain-rationed. A top horse is always easier sold at a top price than a plain horse at a low price.

In my own farming operations light horses have no place. We buy thin, rugged, growthy horses in the spring, feed them generously all through the work season, always keeping an extra team to avoid killing them, and in the fall send them to market in good condition, as that is the season when city teamsters want big horses fit to go to work. This system enables us to get our farm work done for nothing, also getting a price for our feed, and I believe that any farmer could follow this system. Buying scrub horses in the spring involves less investment, but they must be sacrificed in the fall. I am a firm believer in the superior efficiency of the big horse on the farm as well as in the city, as the bigger load is economic there also. A scrub will eat as much as a good horse, does less work, and has no redemption value.

Not in many years has the draft horse prospect been so bright as it is now. Since the coal strike was settled, prices have advanced substantially, and orders have accumulated. Many horses have been bought recently to replace trucks in short-distance, heavy-load areas, and a large volume of that kind of business is in sight. Where the tide of traffic moves slowly, involving frequent stops, the horse has no competitor, and the type eligible to this service must have ample weight to start a heavy load without effort; otherwise he will not last, and replacement is costly. No other type than the big drafter can compete_ with the truck.

While on the subject of horses it may not be inopportune to indulge in a forecast concerning saddle horse prospects. Our supply of saddle stallions has been so depleted that scarcity of this type of horse is inevitable. Equestrianism is on a rising tide. Not only in the big cities but in small urban communities that recreation is becoming popular, and, in my opinion, it is no more a fad than golf. More people are riding or want to ride if they can get horses, than ever before; consequently there will be a market for every decent saddle horse available.

by George E. Mason

All horse users require heavier stock than they needed a few years ago. They also demand quality. The market is not and probably will not be a proper place for light, blemished or outclassed stock. Weight and what the trade knows as “class” are the marks for breeders to shoot at. Nobody wants unbroken or green horses, and when they reach the market a penalization of one-quarter to one-third is exacted. Especially on bad markets, weight and class are at a premium. This leaves the farmer no alternative but breed for maximum weight and quality, but size will do a horse no good if he is shambling, overgrown or rough; in other. words, outclassed.

Recent advances of $25 to $50 per head on all kinds and weights of desirable stock tell their own story. Desirable horses are pulling the others up in sympathy. There is already a marked shortage of drafters with sufficient size and quality to command $300 to $325, and in every instance the specialties are difficult to buy without marking prices up.

There is a healthy demand from bakery and milk people for 1,400-pound stock to work single, and 1,200 to 1,250-pound horses to work double, but the 1 specifications are exacting, and merely any kind of horse will not do. Department stores want 1,350 to 1,400-pound horses, but will not take them if too chunky. Newspaper deliveries require 1,200 to 1,400-pound, up-headed horses, capable of trotting off with a quick start, but balk at cold-blooded, logy ones. The demand is most assertive for big drafters with quality, and that is the type which farmers should breed for.

The most profitable side-line on the farm is a draft mare. By breaking his colt young, a farmer can get his work done during its youth, fitting and sending it to market between the ages of 5 and 7 years, which is the best market age. Raising colts in this manner is profitable, and should be stimulated, as the work they do before going to market pays the cost of raising. At 5 to 7 years old a horse without splints, sidebones or spavins can strike the hard city pavements with certainty of standing up; hence buyers are willing to pay a premium for that type.

So much propaganda concerning the future of the horse has been put out in recent years that breeding has been discouraged. The logical result is that we are at the gateway to a lengthy period of scarcity. Horses did not depreciate in value as much as other commodities, and now that the turn of the lane has been reached they are going higher.

It is an opportune moment to resume breeding, as the further we go along the more acute will scarcity become. Avoid breeding outclassed mares; use a round-hipped, short-backed animal, weighing 1,400 to 1,450 pounds, and use the biggest stallion possible, providing that he has quality. Even with this practice there will be a generous percentage of 1,500 to 1,600-pound horses among the progeny.

The present problem is what to do with work horses weighing less than 1,600 pounds. In this emergency they should be utilized for teaming purposes, and probably will be as scarcity of the big type develops. In one respect they are more economical than the near-a-ton type as the initial cost is less, and the existing class of teamsters is incapable of handling big horses. Before the truck era we had a generation of competent teamsters, who took pride in their charges, but they have disappeared, the more intelligent of them going to more lucrative truck driving.

A careless teamster will materially shorten the period of usefulness of a heavy horse. One pernicious practice is trotting or loping them to and from work, often distances of a mile or more. A horse weighing 1,600 pounds or more is not built for speed, and should never be taken off a walk. A few minutes’ trotting or running to and from the barn will do such horses more harm than eight hours’ steady work. This practice accounts for the short period of usefulness of many horses falling into the hands of city teamsters.

I believe that the pending scarcity of drafters weighing 1,700 pounds and up will necessitate the more extensive use of even the 1,300 to 1,400-pound type, and that they will be found useful, their principal handicap being their inability to start the same load as a bigger horse. From the standpoint of handling they are better.

But for future production the fact should not be lost sight of that the demand is for horses weighing 1,600 pounds and up. Heavier loads mean heavier vehicles, and ever the effort is being made to reduce the cost of moving a ton per mile. If the horse is to compete with the truck — and it is doing it over the short haul — it must show less expense and greater efficiency.

Wherever many stops are to be made, the horse is capable of beating the machine, which explains why the horse is regaining possession of its proper sphere of usefulness, and will retain it. The machine is creating a broader sphere of usefulness, peculiarly its own; a long-haul with comparatively few stops.

Wherever it is able to demonstrate economy, the horse is coming back in a convincing manner. It will play a permanent engagement, but it will be a bigger horse, regardless of the service. In fact, the time is here when an animal weighing less than 1,600 pounds will have a doubtful market footing. In order to get the money, breed and feed for size, but do not overlook the necessity for making a good horse, as size is not the only qualification.

by R.B. Ogilvie

How heavy should draft horses be? This depends on the kind of service required of them. With our coal and iron firms, street traffic is principally done on short hauls, handling loads running from 7 to 8 tons. This trade is on the market constantly for drafters weighing a ton each and over, and finds it difficult to supply its wants. In other lines of service in which hauls are longer, and loads run from 4 to 6 tons, drafters weighing 1,600 to 1,700 pounds ordinarily meet the requirements of this trade. There is still another class known as single-wagon horses, standing from 15.2 to 16 hands and weighing 1,450 to 1,600 pounds, whose routes are from 10 to 12 miles, with loads that will run from 2,000 to 3,000 pounds.

The heavy drafter finds ready buyers at $300 to $500. Light drafters are in demand at $225 to $275. The active and showy wagon horse is promptly taken at $175 to $275. These prices call for true action, willing workers, strictly sound, and pleasing in their conformation. Only a moderate percentage of receipts at the Chicago yards command the better prices named.

by Harry Stamp

A draft stallion should weigh a ton or more in show condition. He should be active, with the right conformation, and show lots of quality.

Some farmers prefer a work horse weighing around 1,400 pounds, but my experience has been that in crossing the heavier stallions with average grade mares, the colts being raised under ordinary farm conditions, plenty of them never exceed that weight. Those that are well fed from weanlings on will mature with weights of 1,600 to 1,800 pounds, which are better weights for operating the heavy machinery now used on cornbelt farms. They will also bring much higher prices than lighter horses when put on the market.

As to the size of purebred mares, I have had the best results from what we call average-sized mares; that is, mares weighing 1,800 to 2,000 pounds in show condition. I believe that they raise a more uniform type of colt than the extremely large mares, especially if they are masculine-looking.

by J. L. Singmaster

My idea of a good draft horse is one that will weigh 1,800 to 1,900 pounds, with a lot of quality. When you get one of that weight with quality, you have one that can get up and go, and go all day long, is easier kept up and will stay sound longer than the big ones. I think that the French people have the right idea. I prefer a draft stallion to weigh 2,000 to 2,100 pounds, because the majority of our grade mares weigh 1,250 to 1,500 pounds.

by John G. Truman

How big should a draft horse be? My ideal of a draft horse is a horse that will stand fully 17 hands on short legs. He must have plenty of depth, both in front and behind, and be as close to the ground as possible, at the same time not sacrificing his height. If this kind of gelding stands on good feet, with broad hoof-heads and reasonably lengthy pasterns, not too long a cannon bone, with good-sized knees; has clean, wide hocks, an intelligent, medium-sized head, and a neck well-set into oblique shoulders, plenty of length, with a short back and long croup; tail well-set, and good depth of rib; is not too wide in front and has plenty of width behind, especially in the stifle; has a good straight, bouncing walk, showing his iron every time he picks his feet up, he will weigh, in good working condition, 1,700 to 1,900 pounds, and, when in show condition, weigh 1,950 to 2,200 pounds.

My observation has been that, with the present-day machinery and implements required on cornbelt farms, together with the modern ideas of farming, horses of this weight are required to move at a 1 strong, steady walk the machinery on our farms, and fewer horses consequently are required.

I had occasion recently to notice two teams that were harrowing in the same field. One was a team of four horses weighing perhaps 1,250 pounds each; the other was a pair of registered Shire mares that would weigh about 1,800 pounds each. Both teams were hitched to the same size of harrow. The Shire mares seemed to walk away if anything easier, and certainly got over the ground faster than the four-horse team.

So far as the demand in our cities is concerned, I occasionally attend the Galesburg, Ill., horse market, and, invariably, when a good, big, well-made, upstanding draft gelding comes into the ring, he tops the market; which indicates to me that the kind of draft horse that I have described in the foregoing is the kind in greatest demand in cities, and is in the minority on our farms.

The tendency of the horse is to deteriorate in size. In the selection of a stallion to cross on the average grade mare of the country, he should be rugged in his construction, with plenty of weight and substance, and, at maturity, stand 17 to 17 .2 hands. From this kind of stallion we may expect to produce, when bred to good mares, the kind of gelding that I have described.

The custom to judge a draft horse, especially a stallion, by what he weighs, has done more than perhaps any other one thing to deteriorate the breeding of good draft horses in this country.

If the stallion buyer would decide whether the stallion is big enough and not require a horse to weigh a certain number of pounds, it would be of much greater value to the draft horse breeding industry. We find that one of the first things a prospective stallion buyer asks is, “How much will he weigh?” He may be an 1,800-pound stallion with 250 pounds of surplus meat, but so long as he weighs a ton or over, apparently the buyer is satisfied, and for this reason the scale works in many instances to a disadvantage. While the horse may weigh a ton when hog-fat, after he is reduced to a normal condition the buyer finds that he has but an 1,800-pound horse.

One of the most successful farmers in this (McDonough) county, farming some 500 acres of rich, black soil, has bred none but heavy draft horses. His grade mares weigh from 1,600 to 1,800 pounds. I have never known him to complain about the horse business being bad, even through all the depressions. He has always used a good, big, rugged imported stallion, and never was afraid to spend his money for one of the right kind. Consequently he has realized considerably more money for his geldings than any other farmer I know in the county, and has never found it necessary to use a tractor. The fact that he began in business [ri-a small way, renting 80 acres of land, and has made this 500 acres, and has considerable money loaned out, is evidence to one that the heavy horse is a success on the farm. If heavy draft horses were not in demand in our cities, they certainly would not pay a premium on the markets to get them.

Please remember that I believe in quality, and am not advocating the breeding of big horses regardless of their conformation and soundness but I feel sure that if our farmers will keep in view the big draft geldings, and breed to that ideal they will still produce enough small ones.

by C.G. Good

I believe that every breeder should know what constitutes a real draft horse and how big he should be.

A draft horse should weigh 1,700 pounds, and the heavier the better, provided that he has the essentials to go with it. We have never heard of one being too large if he had plenty of bone, quality and snap.

With farm machinery becoming heavier each year, and with the tendency to heavier work, we require heavier draft horses. The horse now that does not weigh 1,700 pounds in his every-day “clothes” is too light to be considered a draft horse. The breeder or farmer who owns animals of this class need not worry about farm power. Moreover, animals with that weight are just like the cash, because buyers are standing ready to take them as soon as prices are named, to be used in all lines of business in our cities.

As we all know, the cry has been for the good, heavy kind, with quality. Price is a secondary matter if one has the right kind of horse with weight. There is a reason for this, if one stops to consider. How many of the kind described do we find? Why will a breeder go to the trouble to breed his mares — and many of which should not be bred at all — and start with a colt that could no be made into a draft horse with the best of care? Some breeders will start with the right kind of mare, breed her to the right kind of sire, and then neglect the colt, and absolutely spoil all chances of making the draft horse that they started out to grow. This failure is due to the want of feed and care. What next do you hear? It is always the same story: “You can’t give a horse away.” No, you can’t if it is the kind that such a nondescript would be.

The fact of the matter is, the man who sets out to breed the right kind of draft horse, and does it, never has and never will have reason to doubt that his draft horses are making him a profit. How many of the very best draft horses go through the auction ring? The truth is that such horses are sold direct to the customer who uses them; in other words, they are bought on order at attractive figures.

I want to picture the kind of draft horse that should be bred today. First, he should weight 1,700 pounds — and as much more as possible. He should possess good feet, which should be large and well-shaped; he should have large, clean, flat bone, with the joints clean, strong and well-set; his stride should be strong and long, and his action regular at the walk and trot; he should possess a short, strong back, with a long croup, both powerfully-muscled, and show good feeding qualities, always evidenced by a good middle; then, too, the head should be of correct shape, and the neck well set on sloping shoulders. His eye and ear should give expression that denotes the right disposition, which can always be read at a glance.

All these points go to make a true draft horse, of which kind the world has never seen too many. It is the kind that can easily be bred if the farmer-breeder goes about it in a business-like way.

by R.P. Stericker

A draft horse should be as heavy as the work required of him demands. There does not seem to be any unanimity of opinion on this point. One man calls a 1,200 or 1,300-pound horse a draft horse. To me these are, more correctly speaking, general-purpose horses, and should not be classed as draft horses. Another man wants 1,400 to 1,500-pound horses; another would not call draft horses worthy of the name unless they weighed 1,700 pounds or over.

My opinion is that draft horses should be divided into at least two classes: the first to be classed as light drafters or farm horses. These should weigh around 1,500 pounds. This weight, with the activity that usually goes with it, should be able to take care of all the varieties of work coming up from day to day on the farm. One day it may be plowing, harrowing, harvesting or feeding cattle, and on other days it may be a trip to town with a load of hay or grain. Whatever the work may be, a 1,500-pound horse will be able to take care of each and every job, and in. the case of the town trip would have enough “get-there” qualities to get home in time to do the feeding or any odd jobs around the place.

On some farms the soil is light, and in this case our 1,500-pound horse is all right. On other farms, where the soil is of a heavier and more clayey nature, a heavier horse can sometimes be used to better advantage, but as a rule the 1,500-pound active horse will be found the most useful on the average farm.

The Ideal Size for a Farm Workhorse

The following piece goes with the former as it also appeared in the 1919 BREEDER’S GAZETTE holiday edition. We set it apart to make an editorial comment of sorts. The question of what size draft horses ought to be really SHOULD depend on the purpose to which they are put. And even then, care should be taken not to set the constraints to narrow. My own experience has been just barely extensive enough to convince me that conformation means little if you haven’t got an animal with an intelligent, willing disposition working with a teamster who believes in their relationship. I have worked good horses of every size and vice versa. I just throw that in to play the devil’s advocate. LRM

In a further consideration of utility type in draft horses it is of value to note carefully what Wayne Dinsmore, Past Secretary of The Horse and Mule Association of America, found concerning type in the farm horse. This discussion is the result of a carefully conducted and extensive survey among farmers of twelve midwestern states, in which their choice is expressed with respect to the qualities that should prevail in the ideal farm work horse. The following is a news release relative to this survey:

The majority of farmers appear to prefer work horses and mules that are of medium size, thick-made, with good underpinning. Animals that are from 15 hands ( 60 inches) to 16 hands ( 64 inches) and that measure from 78 to 83 inches in heart girth were preferred.

To get these facts and other information about horse and mule breeding, a trained horseman was sent on a trip which took him into Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin.

Travel was at the rate of only 100 miles per day, stops were made every 10 miles (sometimes at intermediate points), the route traversed was usually a mile or more away from paved highways, and the farmers interviewed were not selected, but ‘run of mine’ farmers, taken as they came.

The questions asked related to horse and mule breeding in the locality, increased if any, stallions available, and then the farmer was asked: “Have you a horse (or mule) that just suits you?”

Where the answer was in the affirmative the horse or mule was led out and the height, heart girth, length of body and distance from ground to floor of chest was accurately measured, and notes made, regarding the set of legs and the feet. In a few cases-only a few-two animals were measured for one owner, who said he liked both equally well.

Total of 243 work horses and 53 work mules were thus measured and checked. The horses averaged 62.65 inches in height, which is 15 hands 2½ inches (a hand is 4 inches), girth 80.04 inches, and floor of chest was 33.09 inches from ground. Of the 243 horses measured, 64 were, in height at withers, over 63 and under 64 inches; 59 were over 62 and under 63 inches; 30 were over 61 and under 62 inches, and 17 were over 60 and under 61 inches.

No less than 70 per cent of the 243 horses selected by the farmers themselves, as just what they wanted, were between 60 and 64 inches in height-that is, from 15 to 16 hands in height.

In mules, 53 were selected by farmers as just what they wanted and measured. They averaged 62.8 inches in height at withers, girthed 78.06 inches, had body length of 40.44 inches and were 33.99 inches from ground to floor of chest. It will be noted that their average height and length of body was almost the same as with the horses, but heart girth was about 2 inches less and the distance from ground to floor of chest was . 9 of an inch more. In other words, they were almost an inch longer in leg, but no higher at top of withers; but the percentage of mules that were between 15 and 16 hands high was less than in horses, only 47 .17 per cent of the mules falling within these limits.

The set of legs was generally very good on horses and mules preferred by farmers, and a great many said they preferred a certain animal because it walked faster, turned quicker or stood hot weather better. In other words, a fast walk, alertness and ability to endure hard work in the heat were clearly recognized by farmers as assets in their work animals.

As to the second class, for city use, where roads and pavements are good and loads heavy, a weightier horse than first mentioned can be used to advantage, for it takes weight to start a heavy load and keep it moving. For city hauling in heavy trucks a horse weighing 1,600 to 1,800 pounds would seem to me to be the most useful and appropriate weight.

The farm horse should be short-legged, deep-bodied and closely-ribbed; intelligent and of good disposition; a quick walker. and prompt in making turns and starting; he should of course have good underpinning, sound open feet and plenty of bone to carry his weight, and no side-bones or other hereditary blemishes. The city horse should be built on the same lines and have the same general characteristics, but he can be a little more “upstanding” or higher on the leg.

In selecting any draft horse, and particularly a city horse, great care should be exercised in getting only sound animals, with a spring to their pasterns. Such horses last the longest on hard pavements, and are not so subject to navicular disease. An excellent rule in selecting a horse is to start at the ground and work upwards. You can build a body, but you can never build good, sound legs and feet.