by Joe Pallas
Although they were specifically bred to pull a plow or a carriage, you may be surprised to find that large draft horses can be ridden as well! Draft horses are known for their heavy build and impressive strength, but this does not work against them at all when it comes to riding for pleasure or even for competition. Many draft horses are used in trail riding and with proper training, they do very well in dressage competition as well. Despite their large size, they can move very lightly and be very responsive to signals from their rider. It is generally believed that with the right training, any draft horse may be ridden, although their larger girth can be a little uncomfortable for a rider who is not used to them.
If you own a young draft horse and are looking into training it for riding, you need to keep in mind that they do not develop like quarter horses. Their size alone makes them a lot different from the lighter breeds that were bred with riding or dressage in mind, and their bones are simply slower to mature. Remember that their spine does not close until sometime in their fifth year, and many trainers tend to stay away from riding them before that point. Before training them for the saddle however, they can still be trained for bathing, and for gentleness when their feet are handled. Just spending time with your horse in terms of leading, driving and lunging will help get them to a place where they are going to be much more prepared for the saddle.
A draft horse has many advantages when you are thinking about riding. Their large size can make their movement particularly smooth, and their gentle and docile temperament make them a real winner when it comes to how well they handle new riders. Do remember that you might need to do some leg stretches if you are planning for a long session in the saddle; their increased girth is going to take some getting used to. If you are looking to ride your draft horse, always make sure that you do a wither tracing before you purchase a saddle. Too many people end up with a saddle that pinches or is otherwise uncomfortable for both horse and rider otherwise.
When you are looking at riding draft horses, you may be wondering what breeds are available. As mentioned above, as long as they have been trained to it, draft horses can make great riding horses. Belgians are definitely a popular breed for riding, as are Percherons and Clydesdales. Gypsy Vanners are also quite popular where they can be found, as are Shire horses. These horses were all bred to pull and to drag rather than to ride, but this may not always have been the case. Percherons, for example, are thought to be the modern descendants of the destriers that carried knights to war during the Middle Ages.
What distinguishes riding a draft horse from riding a normal horse? The first thing that most draft horse riders will point you towards is the power. There is an amazing lot of muscle on the frame of a draft horse, and when they have a rider on their back, their endurance is impressive. Clydesdales especially have a reputation for being excellent to ride. They have an impressively fluid gait, and their strength serves them well without getting in the way.
While the steadiness and patience of a draft horse make it an instant favorite for trail riding, you may be a little surprised to hear that they do very well in dressage competition as well. Clydesdales and Belgians especially make an impressive showing in the dressage ring, and their owners swear that they have an heightened capacity to learn. One example of their biddable nature and rock-steady temperament is their presence in mounted police. They are also highly sought out when disabled people are interested in riding.
Take some time and consider whether you are interested in draft horse riding. This is a sport that is seeing more and more usage, and if you are interested, start searching for a venue where you can give it a shot. Draft horses are willing and loving animals, and you may find that they are a perfect match for you.