The Norman Horse

The Norman horse Diligence created considerable interest after his arrival in the United States in the mid-1800's. What follows is a sketch of this equine's history.

A few years ago, A. Harris, of Moorstown, NJ, a gentleman of fortune, while travelling by public conveyance in France, was often surprised with the great power and endurance of their horses, as used before their heavy and cumbersome diligences (public stagecoaches). It was not uncommon for four of them to perform seven miles within an hour, with from twelve to fourteen passengers.

Mr. H. was so well convinced from what fell under his observation, of their great superiority over the horses of this country, and that the cross of this breed on our mares, was best calculated to produce the "horses of all work"; uniting great strength with sufficient activity for the road, the plow, etc., that he determined to import some, and make the attempt, and with this view, he accordingly purchased two stud horses and three mares. One of the horses died on the passage, and one of the mares had her leg broken on one of the cars at Jersey City. Not daunted by these misfortunes, he sailed again for France in the same vessel, and returned with Diligence.

An equine specialist in an able article on the Norman horse, in the British Quarterly Journal of Agriculture, says: "Diligence is of a handsome dapple-grey color, and measures fifteen hands under the standard; he was purchased at the Fair of Guibry, a small village near Falaise. This fair lasts fifteen days; and being held in a district the most notorious in France for the breeding of horses, and the first three days of the fair being devoted to their sale, it is resorted to by dealers from all parts of the country, particularly from Paris, for the supply of the diligences, and for post and carriage horses.

"The fair is largely supplied with the English breed raised in Normandy (Anglo Norman horses), and with its crosses upon the French stock, as well as with their peculiar race, (of which Diligence is a true type) called the Percheron, so universally used in the northern half of France, to draw diligences and for post horses.

"The origin of this horse breed, according to the French authorities, dates from the occupation of the Netherlands by the Spaniards, who introduced the Andalusian horse, which soon became the favorite horse all over the continent.

"The Spanish horse is known to spring from the barb or Arabian, introduced by the Moors, on their conquest of that country. All who are conversant with the horse, know that the Andalusian has always been celebrated for his beauty, and for his great spirit, combined with extraordinary powers of endurance. The French horse upon which he was crossed, was the old Norman draft horse, which still exists in the country in all its purity, and is perhaps the best of all horses for slow draft.

“The average height of Norman horses is 16 hands, and they may be described as follows: head, short, wide, and hollow between the eyes; jaws, heavy; ears, small and well pointed forward; neck, very short and thick; mane, heavy; shoulder, well inclined backwards; back, extremely short; rump, steep; quarters, very broad; chest, deep and wide; legs, very short, particularly from the knee and hock to the fetlock, and thence to the coronet, which is covered with long hair, hiding half the hoof; much hair on the legs; tendons, large; and muscles excessively develop­ed. Notwithstanding the great size and weight of the old draft horses, they are active.

"If this account of the origin of the Percheron horse be correct, it would appear that the crossings with the Spanish horse was con­tinued long enough to reduce, very considerably, the size of the old Norman horse; and that when the supply of the Andalusian hor­ses was cut off by the expulsion of the Spaniards from the Low Countries, breeding their progeny with one another has produced a distinct face, as well marked by character and qualities peculiar to itself, as any breed of horses in Europe.

"Diligence was chosen as a full sized speci­men of the breed, possessing all the quick ac­tion of the smaller horses, in order that his immediate progeny from our light mares might approach nearer to the true type of the breed. It must be observed, however, that it is more in breadth and size of bone and muscle that he exceeds the standard, than in his height, which is very little above the average.

"The portrait, or still better, an inspection of the horse, will convince anyone that this horse breed is the origin of the Canadian pony, about whose valuable properties little need be said, as they are well known and highly prized in this country, and still more to the north, where they have, undoubtedly, given that sta­mina and character to the horses of Vermont, New Hampshire, and the northern section of New York, which makes them so highly valued all over the United States as road horses; while it is a remarkable fact, that in those States where the attention of horse breeders has been exclusively devoted to the English racehorse, the carriage and the stage horse is almost universally supplied from the north.

"It remains, therefore, for breeders of horses to determine whether it is not better to resort to the full sized Percheron to cross upon our light and already too highly bred mares, than to use the degenerated Canadian, (degenerate in size only, through the rigor of the climate - for it must be admitted that the little animal retains all the spirit and nerve of his ancestors, and lacks strength only in proportion to its size).

"The horses of Normandy are a capital race for hard work and scanty fare. I have never seen such horses at the collar, under the heavy voiture or cabriolet for one or two horses, or the farm cart. They are enduring and energetic beyond description; with their necks cut to the bone, they flinch not; they put forth all their efforts at the voice of the brutal driver, or at the dreaded sound of his unceasing whip they keep their condition when other horses would die of neglect or hard treatment.

"They are very gentle and docile; a kicking or vicious horse is almost unknown there; any person may pass in security at a fair at the heels of a Norman horse."