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A Brief History of the Ardennes Horse

by Mrs J.C. Hewitt

The Ardennes type draught horse is the basic root of all the Heavy Draught breeds that exist today. As the Arab is to the light horse, the Ardennes is to the heavy. As a direct descendent of the Solutrian horse (50,000 BC) that roamed the basins of the Rhone, Saone and Meuse in great numbers during the Palaeolithic period and soon spread to cover the whole geographical Ardennes region, it is true cold-blooded horse. There is evidence to show that the horse stood no more than 15hh at this time. They have been around relatively unchanged since the last ice-age 15,000 years ago.

The needs of successive wars oscillating across Europe have, as much as the land and the climate, conditioned the evolution of this horse. There is much documented evidence to illustrate this.

Julius Caesar (100 - 44 BC) declares in his commentaries that "the horses of the second Belgium" are "rustic, hard and tireless" and he recommended their use "in heavy cavalry work". All the Roman emperors after him used the breed to good effect.

Geoffrey of Boullion a nobleman from a town of that name in southern modern day Belgium, in the heart of the Ardennes, rode off to the Levant on crusade in 1096 on his Ardennes stallion. The return of men to Europe on Arab horses marked the introduction of Arabian blood to European horses. The knights of the Middle Ages found the sturdy, compact good tempered horses of the Ardennes, strong and tireless chargers, easily carry the weight of men in full armour into battle.


The Ardennes being strong enough to carry a man in full armour made wonderful chargers

The Ardennes are wonderfully good tempered - and gentle!!
Moving through into the 17th and 18th centuries the royal armies obtained a great number of remounts for their cavalry from the Ardennes region. These horses were small but noted for their hardiness, sobriety and endurance. The reports and memoirs of the military men of the day mention the Ardennes as being "the main artisan of rapid displacement" (such as that of the artillery, munitions and fighting corps) exacted by the strategy of the emperor. It is said that Napoleon owed his return to Niemen to his Ardennes cavalry. Having withstood the cold and privations that had destroyed over 10,00 horses, they were harnessed to the supply corps wagons to pull them through axle deep mud and snow, on his return from his Russian campaign.

Through into modern times the Ardennes was heavily involved in both world wars and the horses of the region did their bit. Many thousands were used pulling supply vehicles, harnessing their strength and docility. They could work through the deep mud unlike motor vehicles. When killed or mortally they provided much needed food for the troops, unlike the twisted remains of their metallic counterparts.

Today the Ardennes horse comes in many disguises. The basic breed has stud books in Belgium 1886, France 1908 and Luxembourg 1921. (In 1936 The National Society for Belgian Draught Horses split into two separate stud books, the Belgian Heavy Draught horse and the Ardennes). There is also a stud book in Sweden, where they have maintained pure bred Ardennes dating from 1840's imports, and a small but hopefully growing stud book here in the UK. All the above stud books register a similar type of horse and are mutually compatible and accept each others horses.

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