The Percheron is a breed of draft horse that originated in the Huisne river valley in western France, part of the former Perche province from which the breed takes its name. Usually gray or black in color, Percherons are well-muscled, and known for their intelligence and willingness to work. Although their exact origins are unknown, the ancestors of the breed were present in the valley by the 17th century. They were originally bred for use as war horses. Over time, they began to be used for pulling stage coaches and later for agriculture and hauling heavy goods. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Arabian blood was added to the breed. Exports of Percherons from France to the United States and other countries rose exponentially in the late 19th century, and the first purely Percheron stud book was created in France in 1883.
The Percheron is known for its strength, intelligence, and work ethic, which makes it a historically popular breed. Percherons are bred primarily in the United States, France and Great Britain for the purposes of draft work and as show horses, and are bred for food in France. Like many draft horses, Percherons suffered a steep population decline after WWII, but have since rebounded. In fact, more than 2,500 were registered just in the United States as recently as 2009.
Percheron is still used extensively for draft work and, like other draft breeds, it is also used in France for meat production. Around the world, Percherons are used for parades, sleigh rides and hayrides, as well as being used to pull carriages in large cities. The largest team of working Percherons in Europe is found at Disneyland Paris, where the breed makes up 30 percent of the horses in the park and the horses work to pull trams on the main park street. One of the most famous horse teams in the United States is the Heinz hitch of Percherons, having appeared multiple times at the Tournament of Roses Parade.
The Percheron has a very pleasing disposition. He is proud, alert, intelligent and willing worker. Percherons are usually black or grey, but there are also sorrels, bays, roans, etc. Many Percherons have white markings on the head and feet, but excessive white is undesirable. Percherons range in height from 15 to 19 hands high, most are between 16-2 and 17-3 hands high. They can weigh up to 2600 pounds with the average around 1900. Percherons are noted for heavy muscling in the lower thighs and for an aspect of unusual ruggedness and power.The Percheron is very versatile. They are readily adapted to varying climates and conditions. They have the strength to pull heavy loads and the graceful style to pull a fine carriage. Percherons can be ridden and some have been known to make fine jumpers.