You don’t have to drive far through the Lower Normandy countryside before you realise that two large animals rule – cows and horses. Well, lets face it, you’ve got to do something with all that grass.
The Percheron, a famous horse breed local to where we now live, originated in the middle ages in the heavily forested countryside of the Perche region, east of Alençon and south west of Paris in Lower Normandy. Its ancestors are thought to have been Arabs brought to Europe by the Moors and crossed with the local forest horses. As an aside, Arabs are also commonly kept and bred in this area – in fact, our neighbour is a breeder of Arabs and rides them in Endurance races. But that’s a story for another day!
In appearance the Percheron is normally a grey or black, although chestnut and bay are not unknown. In size it is generally between 16 and 17 hands, with a long arched neck, a full mane, powerful chest and hindquarters.
The Percheron is a gentle natured and docile horse, but its strength and implacable character made it a perfect mount for heavily armoured knights in the middle ages. In domestic use it was used for centuries as an outstanding general farm worker, and Percherons have been exported all over the world. In the USA the Percheron was first used for draught work and transportation in the French colonies of Florida and the Louisiana Territory, including pulling stagecoaches. These days it is often still used as a logging horse and it is popular for carriage driving. It has also been crossed with thoroughbreds to produce a quality heavyweight hunter.
Despite its size it can also be ridden and is easy to handle – I’ve seen both large men and small children riding enormous Percherons at fairs, such as the annual Medieval Fair at Bourg-le-Roi. The only problem the children seem to have is making a Percheron feel anything when they kick its flanks!
Each year in August there is a Percheron Horse Fair at the Manoir de Courboyer in the Perche, a short way down the road to the east of us, while November sees the annual “Percheron Foals and Fillies Fair” at le Mêle-sur-Sarthe, just north of us and a few miles east of Alençon.
Percherons also feature regularly at displays held each week at the Haras du Pin, the wonderful national stud farm to the north of Alençon, and at the Manoir du Courboyer in the Perche, where you can see them all year round and take carriage rides in summer.
Some links to sites devoted to Percheron Horses:
- Australia: http://www.percheron.com.au/
- Canada: http://www.canadianpercherons.com/
- UK: http://www.percheron.org.uk/
- USA: http://www.percheronhorse.org/
More links to Percheron sites:
And another horse breed from this region, of which more on another occasion:
- The Normandy Cob: http://www.cobnormand.com/