The Percheron breed derives its name from Le Perche, an old province about 53 by 66 miles located some 50 miles southwest of Paris. From the earliest known times, the people of Le Perche have been breeders of horses. Traditionally, it has been a breed with a preponderance of greys, who were initially cultivated as warhorses.
When the day of the warhorse was over, horses from Le Perche were used to pull heavy stagecoaches. The light-colored greys and whites were preferred because of their visibility at night. As trade and commerce grew, so did the need for horses of heavy draft to move large loads from docks and railheads. They needed an even larger horse than did the farmer. Again, the breeders of Le Perche complied.
The decades of the 1870s and 80s were years of massive Percheron imports to America. In the winter of 1875-76, the National Association of Importers & Breeders of Norman Horses was launched. By the time the second volume of the stud book was published, the name was altered to Percheron-Norman. In a matter of just a few years, the hyphenated version became simply “Percheron.”
The low point in Percheron registrations came in 1954 when just 85 head were recorded. Thanks to a handful of dedicated breeders, Percherons made a comeback in the 1970s and 1980s, and are prized today as show horses and work horses alike.
(Breed History adapted from the Percheron Association of America.)