The Percheron draft horse breed originated in France and was developed in a small district in the northwestern part of that country known as Perche. This district is about the size of the State of Iowa, and only Percherons born within its boundaries are eligible for registry in the Percheron Studbook of France. Percheron foals, to be accepted for registry in the French book, must be registered during the year of their birth. Prior to such registration they must be examined by an official appointed by the Percheron Horse Society of France, who takes a careful description of their color and markings, and who brands them on the neck with the letters "S.P." enlaced.
The Percheron Horse Society of France was organized in 1883, and in addition to looking after the registration of Percherons it holds an annual summer show in the Percheron district. The society also offers prizes at other shows. The improvement of the Percheron and other breeds in France is due to both public and private efforts.
The government has for a number of years maintained studs in which selected equines have been kept for horse breeding
purposes. In addition, subsidies are granted to private individuals in order to keep high-class horses in the stud. Stallions intended to stand for public service in France must be examined by officials appointed by the government and certified as being free from periodic ophthalmia, or moon blindness, and roaring (thick wind).
The introduction of Percheron horses into the United States dates back many years. One of the early stallions brought to this country which exerted considerable influence on our draft stock was Louis Napoleon, imported in 1851 by an Ohio firm. Other Percherons were imported about this time and during succeeding years. During the early 1870's these equines were imported in quite large numbers, and these importations have continued to date.
The Percheron Body Type
The head of the Percheron is clean-cut, of medium size, and more refinement is noticed about the head and neck of the Percheron than of any other draft horse breed. The neck is rather short and well crested. The chest is deep and broad, the back is short, the loins smooth and well muscled. The croup is wide and on the average is somewhat more sloping than is considered desirable, but great improvement in this respect has been made in recent years. The legs, feet and bone are on the average good. The legs are free from the long hair or feather characteristic of the Clydesdale and Shire.
In action the Percheron is good at both the trot and the walk, and the trot is characterized by a snap and boldness not ordinarily displayed by the other draft horse breeds. This equine breed may be regarded as one of the best movers and is surpassed in style of action only by the Clydesdale horse.
The Percheron is not so large a horse as either the Belgian or the Shire, but as a class will probably outweigh the Clydesdale slightly. Good, mature stallions in fair condition will usually weigh from 1,800 to 2,000 pounds, and there are many which weigh considerably over 2,000 pounds. In height good, mature stallions will measure 16 to 17 hands, with a general average of about 16 1/2 hands, but of course there are some under and a few over these heights, although tall and rangy Percheron horses are not in demand in this country.
The popular Percheron horse is rather short-legged, compact, and blocky in form, less so than the Belgian, but more so than the Clydesdale or even the Shire. The colors common to the Percheron are black and gray, although bays, browns, chestnuts, and roans are occasionally seen. It may be safely stated, however, that 90 per cent of our Percherons are either black or gray.
While occasional difficulty may be experienced in deciding whether an animal is a Percheron or a Belgian, the two types are quite distinct. The Belgian is heavier bodied, more compact, shorter legged, and his head is more square in outline; the neck is shorter, more heavily muscled, and more heavily crested. Moreover, the colors common to the Belgian namely, bay, chestnut and roan are uncommon to the Percheron, while the gray and black colors common to the latter are uncommon in the Belgian.
Some Percheron horses are criticized as having croups too sloping or steep, with tail set too low. Others are criticized as being too fine not sufficiently drafty having a lack of depth and fullness of body. Cannon bones which are rather round, lacking in breadth and flatness, lack of bone for the size of the body, and pasterns which are too short and straight, are some other issues noted in the Percheron draft horse breed.