The Belgian, as the name implies, is native to the country of Belgium. This little country is blessed with fertile soil and abundant rainfall providing farmers with the excellent pastures and the hay and grain necessary to develop a heavy, powerful breed of horse.
Belgium lies in the very center of that area of western Europe that gave rise to the large breed referred to as the “Great Horses” by medieval writers. They are the horses that carried armored knights into battle, and provided the genetic material from which nearly all the modern draft breeds are fashioned.
Stallions from Belgium were exported to many other parts of Europe as the need to produce larger animals of draft type for industrial and farm use was recognized. Many of the breed’s first imports in America were roundly criticized for being too thick, too low headed, straight shouldered, and round boned. But even with their faults, those early Belgians made friends because they were easy keepers and willing workers with amiable disposition. The American farmer decided that the breeds’ assets far outweighed its faults and the American breeder set out to retain what was right and remedy what was wrong.
The success of that effort has been one of the great success stories in animal breeding. Today’s Belgian is a big, powerful fellow that retains the drafty middle, a deep, strong foot, a lot of bone, the heavy muscling and amiable disposition possessed by the early Belgians. His qualities as an easy keeper, a good shipper, and a willing worker are intact.
(Breed History adapted from the Belgian Draft Horse Corp of America.)