TABLE OF CONTENTS
ANNIVERSARY EDITION: The Great Horse: A History of the Brabant
AROUND THE WATER TROUGH
HEALTH & WELLNESS SECTION
"THE GREAT HORSE: A HISTORY OF THE BRABANT"
Written by Stacy Pearsall
Fact Checked by Breed Subject Matter Expert Ton van der Weerden
Edited by Dr. Caroline Sawyer
Part 1: THE LOW COUNTRIES
“Breakfast!” I call to my herd of European Brabant draft horses clustered at the far east end of the pasture. I can just make out their forms in the fog, silhouetted by the rising sun. One head pops up from grazing and nickers an acknowledgment. The ground rumbles when they turn and break into a trot in my direction. Rays of light fan skyward through the swirling mist creating translucent fingers of red, orange, and yellow behind them. It’s as if God’s outstretched hand is passing me His most prized possession.
You may think I’m being hyperbolic, but I personally think the European Brabant really is God’s gift to mankind. They are the original heavy horse from which nearly every draft horse breed was developed. Without them, we would not have heavy horses to plow fields, carry goods, and pull wagons. Imagine how different human civilization would be if the European Brabant never existed.
Hi, I’m Stacy Pearsall – journalist, equestrian, and current President of the European Brabant Registry of America (EBRA). I own a small farm, LowCountry Acres, named after the coastal region in South Carolina, where I live. Coincidentally, the lowland marshes of the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg, where the European Brabant breed originates, are also called “The Low Countries.”
On my farm, we have five European Brabants – four mares and one stallion. Aside from being harness and saddle horses, they are ambassadors and play a critical role in breed conservation through our breeding program. Though a formal census of the breed has not been conducted in recent years, according to Trekpaard.net a survey of the studbook in Belgium reveals just 5,000 purebreds living there today, and there are less than 50 purebred European Brabants (>93.75% traceable and verifiable bloodlines) registered with the EBRA in North America. To better understand and appreciate the need to preserve this rare draft horse, I want to share their story with you.
"One website indicates there are 3,000 Belgian (Brabant) Draft Horses in The Netherlands today," explains Ton van der Weerden, author of 'A Life with Draft Horses' and coauthor of 'Het Trekpaard.' "That seems really high to me. The same site claims there are 7,000 in Belgium. I believe the numbers are much less due to several influences. I think the number is closer to 5,000 Belgian (Brabant) Draft Horses in The Netherlands and Belgium combine. The Royal Belgian Draft Horse Society (KMBT) says there are 7,405 Belgian (Brabant) Draft Horses worldwide, who are alive and included in the studbook."
The European Brabant Registry of America recognizes the Belgisch Trekpaard, Nederlandse Trekpaard, Trait Ardennes, Trait Auxois, Trait Luxembourgeois and Trait Nord as "European Brabants" collectively.
The modern-day European Brabant (pronounced BRAH+BAHNT) in America is a heavy horse with ancient origins that’s believed to be one of the oldest draft horse breeds in the world (particularly the Trait Ardennes lines). Its evolution in origin, phenotype and name, is long and multilayered. Author G. Skinner noted, “The history of the Brabant breed is fascinating in itself and requires a Ph.D. in genealogy to understand.”
Part 2: WAY, WAY BACK
In this account, I’ve done my best to simplify this breed’s extraordinarily long, fascinating history without diluting it. I first encountered the Brabant in 2000 while living abroad and was captivated. Inspired to know more, I dove into historical documents, books, articles, and registry archives. Given most were in Latin, Dutch, French, and Old English, I relied on academic translations where possible and resorted to using Google translate when those weren’t available. Please remember as you read this account that I’m no doctor or historian; I’m just a journalist with a tiny, or in this case draft-size, horse obsession.
I feel it’s important to apologize up front to the incredible people of Northwest Europe whose stories are so closely intertwined with this horse. The myriad of early settlements and tribes from Germanic to Celtic were vast and nuanced and some, mainly the Romans (yeah, I’m looking at you Julius Caesar), lumped them together when these communities couldn’t be more different. It’s kind of like the thousands of culturally distinct indigenous peoples first encountered by Europeans, who wrongly labeled them all “Indians.” Alas, I will be referencing some archaic terms and hope you won’t judge me too harshly.
Like all horses found in Europe, the European Brabant’s ancestors migrated from North America, across the Eurasian Steppe and eventually found their way to Northwest Europe. It’s said their progenitors grazed in the hilly Ardennes Forest that stretched 4,300 square miles from France to Germany before they made their way to the alluvial plains of the Rhine River Delta in what’s today the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg.
FUN FACT – Historians maintain the proto-heavy horse evolved from the Solutrian horse circa 50,000 BC. Remains of a Paleolithic 17,000-year-old Solutré horse were found in modern-day Burgundy, France, in the 1800’s. Though extinct today, the Solutré horse lives on as the progenitor to the Ardennes, Brabant, Boulonnais, Breton, and Percheron heavy horses.
These ancient horses developed distinct characteristics to survive the region's climate and terrain. They became sturdy little horses, ponies by today’s standards standing between 13 and 14 hands tall, with broad hooves, thick bones, compact bodies, short-wide backs, short legs, and heavy, double-muscled croups. Their dense coats, double manes and thick tails protected against extreme weather and their ability to sustain on little food made them hardy survivors.
As these stout, formidable horses continued to evolve, so too did human civilizations of the region. People communalized, developed languages, began farming, discovered the wheel, built houses, and made pottery. Yes, this is the abridged version of human history for the sake of expediency because, let’s face it, we’re here for the horse stories!
Though there is well-dated remains of human habitation from the Paleolithic Era, according to Professor C. van de Kieft, evidence of early farm settlements in the Rhine River delta, also commonly referred to as the lowlands, developed around 4500 BC. From that time through the 1st millennium BCE, the people and horses of the region mingled, and the horses went from being a food source to being domesticated partners. Horses were used for farming, packing, riding, and warring. Grave goods unearthed by archeologists from an Iron Age chieftain's burial contained snaffle bits and axle caps from war chariots, which are currently on display at the Dutch Museum Het Valkhof in Nijmegen.
Since people love names and labels, I must address both head-on as they correlate with the European Brabant’s history. Tribes of Celtic peoples, known for their agricultural prowess, dotted across modern-day France, through the Rhine River delta into parts of Germany. They were collectively referred to as Gauls, but each tribe had its own unique origins, cultures, chieftains, and horses.
The Belgae (pronounced BELL+GEE by some and BELL+GAY by others) were a conglomerate of tribes, among them were very accomplished horsemen, who resided in the lowlands, says historian Dr. John Koch. They were formidable fighters whose Proto-Celic name roughly translated to “The people who swell with anger.” Now here’s where one outsider’s perspective, for better or worse, forever shaped modern-day terminology. Upon the Roman conquest of Northern Gaul in 57 BC, Julius Caesar divided the region into three parts: Celtica, Belgica, and Germania. Yup, you guessed it - Belgae, Belgica, Belgian…. The Belgian draft horse. Eureka, we’re done! Just kidding.
Julius Caesar wrote extensively about the Belgae and their amazing horses after the conquest, noting their horses as, “Most willing and untiring workers,” and he recommended their acquisition to the heavy cavalry. By some accounts it is said the Roman cavalry, fastidious horse breeders, indeed took some of the stout, powerful horses from the now-latinized Gallia Belgica to breed strength into their stock and to pull supply carts for the roving legions. Likewise, it’s purported the Belgians used some of the Roman legion’s taller Italian stallions to increase the height of their own mounts. Through the intervention of man’s selective breeding, the horses of the 'Braec Bant,' or marshy region, began to take shape.
FUN FACT – Brabant is derived from the old high German words brahha and bant. The word brahha, and the past tense verb braec, means newly broken land and the word bant means region.
Between continuous trade and migration, other horses were brought into the mix and influenced the regions’s work horse stock. Vice versa too. These hardworking, cold-blooded horses made their way into Scandinavia, Britain and other, more far afield, parts of the world.
FUN FACT – A historic site dating from the mid-second century BC excavated in southeast United Kingdom demonstrates evidence of the horse-worshiping Belgic culture in the area. Whether through migration, conquest or trade, they left their mark both figuratively and literally. A 374’ by 130’ horse illustration carved into the Oxfordshire hillside dates back to as early as 50 BC. One might theorize the Belgae people brought their beloved horses with them, thereby influencing the horses of the British Isles.
After the Roman Empire fell in 476 AD, the geographical home of the heavy horse did not change, but the area's man-made borders morphed into ever-changing dynasties, kingdoms and empires over the next 1,000 years. Boundary lines were drawn and redrawn, and countries, counties, and duchies were established. While horses of that era were not known as “breeds” so much as “types,” the proto-draft horse of the lowlands adopted informal breed names based on the areas from which they resided. For instance, the establishment of the Holy Roman Empire in 800 AD gave rise to the County of Flanders in 862 and the Duchy of Brabant in 1183 AD.
"Crossbreeding took place extensively without a clear purpose," explains Paul De Brauwer. "There were regional differences, so horses were also named according to their geographical origin."
Thereafter, the horses were referred to as the Flanders (or Flemish) horse and Brabant horse respectively. At the same time, there was the Ardennes horse, so named for the Ardennes region, the Comtois for the Franche-Comte region, and the Trait du Nord for the County of Hainaut (pronounced HAH+NO). Regardless of the names humans labeled them, they were all derived from the same ancestral proto-heavy horse. Each region continued to selectively breed their horses to best suit their purposes and needs. With the introduction of the heavy pulling collar in the 9th century, and the subsequent innovations in plows, harnesses, and horseshoes, these now-draft-horses were bred heavier for maximum pulling power.
FUN FACT – Draft is derived from the Old English word dragan meaning to drag or haul. Dragan is also very similar to the Dutch word dragen, which is the same definition. So you can see how the term "Draft Horse" or "Drag Horse" came about.
Part 3: KNIGHTS IN SHINING ARMOR
"Despite the fact that horses were indiscriminately crossed with each other until the eighteenth century, Flanders was always historically known for its [heavy] horses," explains Paul De Brauwer. "Charlemagne once sent a pair of 'Belgian' draft horses to the Caliph of Baghdad in 807 AD."
The Flanders horse of the lowlands gained much notoriety during the early Medieval period - a time best known for chivalry and knighthood. The Flanders horse, sometimes called the Flemish horse, stood between 14.2 and 15 hands and was a stoutly built, strong-backed horse that was coveted by knights throughout Christendom for their ability to carry heavy loads over great distances. It’s believed the Flanders horse was crossed with hot-blooded Spanish horses to create the ideal war horse referred to as a destrier. These warmbloods had the spirit and stamina of their hot-blooded progenitors and the level-headedness and strength of the cold-blooded ones. They could easily convey man and armor weighing an excess of 400 pounds, and the fact that they stood around 15 hands at this time made them easily mountable from the ground - a necessity for any knight who found themselves unseated on the battlefield.
"The 'Flanders' draft horse was so successful that the government imposed an export ban to prevent all good genes from being withdrawn from the native pool and also because they did not want the enemy to have their good horses," explains Paul De Brauwer.
The term “breed” is a relatively modern concept, says Katrin Boniface, author of Horse Power: Social Evolution in Medieval Europe. So just to reiterate, during this period horses were mainly referred to by their working purpose and not necessarily by distinct breeds per se. There were the destriers, as well as chargers, hackneys, sumpters, palfreys, rouncys, and coursers. Think of these classifications of horses the same way we classify our cars today. You’ve got the truck, meant for hauling heavy loads and pulling. You’ve got the sedan, which is great for economical everyday driving. Then there’s the sports car that gets you anywhere fast.
FUN FACT – Breed is derived from the Old English word bredan meaning to bring to birth or procreate. By the 1550s, the word breed became synonymous with animals’ lineage, stock and, parentage.
Written accounts of breeds and cross breeds used for each purpose are somewhat limited to law codes, receipts, letters, and breeding records of the time, according to historian R.H.C. Davis. During this period, the Flanders horse was essentially a medieval truck that was mainly used as a pack and draft animal. There are historical references that show the “Great Horse of Flanders” and Brabants were imported to England for breeding purposes, as noted in Sir Walter Gilbey’s “The Great Horse,” published in 1899. He writes that somewhere between 1199 and 1216 AD, England’s King John imported 100 Brabant stallions, which were then crossed with English lowland mares, the SUV of the day, to develop what was to become the renowned Shire draft horse, or semi-equivalent. Consequently, these horses were used to breed destrier warhorses and were known by the English as their own “Great Horse,” as Sir Gilbey’s book implies.
SIDE NOTE – An engineer from Brabant was appointed by King Henri IV of France in 1599 to work on a land reclamation project in Marais Poitevin, the marshlands of Poitou in France. The job required a lot of specialized labor, so the engineer, Humphrey Bradley, recruited skilled workers from the Low Countries, who brought their working horses with them. Their heavy horses were crossed with local stock to create the Poitevin Horse. Later, these draft horses were crossed with large Baudet du Poitou donkeys to create some of the most sought-after mules in the world.
SIDE NOTE – In the 1700s, Brabant broodmares were imported once again to England and bred back to Shire stallions to improve the bloodlines. Also, of note in the 1700’s, John Paterson the 6th Duke of Hamilton and Marquess of Clydesdale, imported Flemish stallions to Scotland and bred native Lanarkshire mares to establish the famed Clydesdale draft horse - the very same ones made famous by the beer company, Budweiser.
Coincidentally, Clydesdale is also the name that every non-horse person refers to any draft-type horse. [Insert forehead slap here]
Part 4: STUDDING OUT
As widely used for breeding as they were in the Medieval period, and the progenitor of so many draft-type breeds, it’s easy to see how the Flemish (Brabant) horse earned the moniker, “Father of all draft horses.”
As time ushered on, horses became emblematic of status, wealth, and refinement. Not to belabor my car analogy, but just as cars reflect one’s personality, so were the horses a reflection of their nation. Royal and State-run stud farms cropped up across Europe and “breeds” as we know them today began to take shape. The main purpose of such farms was to accelerate and improve the evolution of local horses while also offering discounted or free stud services for their citizens. All governments love records and red tape, so the establishment of such institutions ushered in the era of studbooks, and thus pedigrees began. Before you historian-types get excited, I openly acknowledge that many cultures such as the Romans, Assyrians, and Sumerians kept breeding records, as did clerical monks with breeding programs.
As long as a horse has not been fully bred, it was called a 'variant' or 'type' rather than a 'breed,' explains saul De Brauwer. "In the 1880s, the Flemish horse, the Ardennes and the Brabander (Brabant) were considered the same breed."
By the 1800s, the Flemish (Flanders) Horse, Brabant Horse, Ardennes Horse, and other heavy horses of the region had diverged ever-so-slightly from one another in phenotype due to the introduction of foreign stock and the establishment of formal breed standards. Some, like the 14 hand Ardennes horse, had introduced Arabian bloodlines to improve endurance, while the Flemish Horse was selectively bred to increase height, according to Maurizio Bongianni, author of Guide to Horses and Ponies of the World. Each region's heavy horse had their unique attributes.
They all did a myriad of jobs ranging from forestry to farm work, and other more unique occupations. For instance, the Trait du Nord worked in the mines, while the Brabants dragged shrimp nets through the North Sea and barges along the canals. The Comtois hauled pine trees and plowed vineyards. The Auxios worked in teams on the farm and the Ardennes pulled artillery for the Army. Despite their minor phenotypic differences, they all had the same endearing qualities as their ancestors being calm, tolerant, flexible, and active. In the early 1800's, enterprising draft horse breeders recognized that combining these subtly divergent qualities would innovate and reinvigorate the regions' heavy horses.
In 1821, the provincial Agricultural Society of East Flanders was the first to take the initiative to scientifically study the improvement of native horse breeds. Shortly afterwards, the other provinces followed with similar regulations for "horses of the heavy native breed." After Belgium gained its independence in 1830, the government incentivized the breeding of Brabant draft horse and prize camps with cash prizes were organized all over the Low Countries.
The horses produced during this time created the lines we know today. For instance, in 1838, the "Oude Dikke van Wijnhuyze" was born and it's from his line we got the famed Orange I, Brillant, Jupiter, Brin d'Or, Indigène du Fosteau and Albion d'Hor stallions. These are some of the primary progenitors of the entire breed of Belgian "Brabant" drafts.
FUN FACT - In 1866, Auguste Oreins bought a stallion, nicknamed Gugusse, which he rode from farm to farm for stud service. At the age of 14, Gugusse was purchased by Jules Hazard, who ultimately registered him as Orange I. Gugusse, aka Orange I, died at the age of twenty-one, but left behind quiet a legacy as nearly all modern-day Brabants are descended from him. Orange I had two best-known sons, Brillant (see picture below) and Jupiter. Born in 1868, the golden chestnut stud colt Brillant (son of Orange I) developed into a fine stallion and at aged nine, he was purchased by Remi Vander Schueren. Remi was a recognized heavy horse breeder from Flemish Brabant in Vollezele, Belgium, who made waves alongside Brillant after he was crowned champion at draft horse competitions in Brussels, Amsterdam, London, Paris, and Hanover.
By 1879, the Belgian Department of Horses was established followed by the Société Nationale du Cheval de trait Belge, in 1886. This studbook had three categories: Flemish, Brabant, and Ardennes. By 1888, the Flemish horse, or at least the name, fell out of fashion due to political and national identity issues. References to the Flemish (Flanders) horse thereafter were scarce. Just the Brabant and Ardennes horses in name remained.
Five people took the initiative to establish a national studbook. This unity brought Brussels, Liège, and East Flanders’ studbooks together. In 1890, the merged studbook was recognized. After 1919, the Association became Koninklijke Maatschappij Het Belgisch Draft Horse (KMBT). Over time, “daughter studbooks” such as the Vlaamse Fokkers van het Belgisch Trekpaard, Association Wallonne du Cheval de Trait Belge, and Eleveurs Wallons du Cheval de Trait Belge were recognized by the mother studbook, KMBT.
Suddenly global demand was resurgent, reminiscent of the Medieval period, for powerful Brabant draft horses, referred to then as Brabants and Belgians interchangeably. By 1891, breeders from Brabant had exported Belgian stallions to the governments of Russia, Italy, Germany, France, and the former Austria-Hungary Empire. Just as in centuries past, the heavy stallions were crossed with native horses from each country to create brand new, or to enhance existing, draft breeds. From those new breeds, other heavy horse breeds were developed and so on. The late 19th and early 20th centuries were truly a renaissance for draft horses.
SIDE NOTE – The Brabant was used to establish draft breeds throughout the world. Take the Soviet Heavy Draft as a case in point. There were no indigenous heavy horses in Russia, so in 1885, three Belgian stallions were imported into Oblast, eastern Russia, according to historian A.N. Kosharov. Over the subsequent ten years, another 54 studs were added. They were crossed with native light harness and saddle horses such as the Orlov Trotter and other imported heavy breeds such as the Breton from France, the Suffolk Punch from England, and the Jutland from Denmark. All three breeds are ancient in their own right but are genetically linked to those hearty, proto-heavy horse progenitors of the Brabant.
The Breton is from the region of modern-day Brittany in northwest France. They’re believed to be descended from the same strain of horses used by Celtic Belgae peoples. “The [Breton] breed comes from smaller horses that were bred and improved by the Celtic warriors on their conquest of what is now Great Britain,” explains Bonnie L. Hendricks.
It’s essentially the same story for the Jutland of Denmark. While the breed's written history is not fully documented, it’s said the same heavy horse progenitor of the Brabant was used by Vikings raiders throughout Britain, according to Johannes Erich Flade, author of The Compleat Horse. Some were left behind in Britain and it was purported that those horses were the foundation of the Suffolk Punch. Don’t forget when I mentioned before that migrating Belgae Celts also brought their horses to Britain centuries earlier. So you see, all of these heavy breeds in some distant way can be traced back to the ancient horse of the Low Countries.
But I digress. The Brabant created the Soviet Heavy Draft, which in turn contributed to the development of the Lithuanian Heavy, Estonian Heavy, and Bulgarian Heavy Draft. Each of these newly formed studbooks also directly imported Brabants and Ardennes of their own to improve their stock.
In the 1800s, Ardennes, Brabant, and Breton heavy horses were imported to Poland and were crossed with the native Mirezyn to develop the Stzumski Heavy horse. Later in 1860, the Italians imported Brabants to cross with the heavy native horses, thus creating the Italian Heavy Draft, also known as the Cavallo Agrico Itialiano da Tiro Pesante Rapido.
In 1876, Brabants were imported into Prussia leading to the development of the “Belgian type” Rhenish German Coldblood (aka Rheinisch-Deutsche Kaltblut) and the establishment of the subsequent Rhinelander Studbook in 1892. Ever popular, Rhenish draft numbers made up 50% of the horse populations in Germany by the 1940’s. From the Rhenish German Coldblood sprung the Pfalz Ardenner, which also boasted Comtois, Ardennes, and Brabant bloodlines. Sweden got in the game too, importing Ardennes in 1872 to cross with their North Swedish Horse to form the Swedish Ardennes breed.
Documents show that AG Van Hoorebeke of Monmouth, Illinois, was the first to import Brabants to the USA in 1866. From there, the floodgates were opened. The influx of Ardennes, Brabants and their close draft cousins, the Boulannais and Percheron, were so prevalent that breeders in the USA formed the Anglo-Norman Horse Association (later renamed, and now defunct, National French Draft Horse Association) in 1876 and the tongue twister, The American Association of Importers and Breeders of Belgian Draft Horses, which thankfully was renamed the Belgian Draft Horse Corporation of America, in 1887.
“During WWI, occupied Belgium made many sacrifices including the loss of many Belgian (Brabant) Draft Horses, who were taken by the German Army,” explains Ton van der Weerden. ”The Dutch studbook was founded in 1914, and some forward thinking Belgian (Brabant) breeders smuggled their best horses across the border from Belgium to Zeeuws-Vlaanderen in The Netherlands, thus saving what viable breeding stock was left. After the war ended, breeding of the Belgian (Brabant) Draft Horse resumed in earnest in Belgium and The Netherlands. Thereafter, it was common to hear them referred to as the farm horse, the Belgian, the Brabant, the Brabander, the Dutch Draft and the Zealand Draft Horse - all different names for the same breed.”
Part 5: DIFFERENT DIRECTIONS IN AMERICA
Importations of Brabants continued steadily all the way up to the onset of WWI. While imports resumed after the war’s conclusion, it was more of a trickle than a firehose. The American Belgian and the European Brabant remained relatively similar in type until World War I, when American breeders began selectively breeding for taller, lighter horses with more sloping shoulders. Just look at the American Belgian stallion, Brooklyn Supreme, as an example. He stood 19.2 and held the record for being the heaviest and tallest horse in the world, according to Stanley Jepsen, author of The Gentle Giants: The Story of Draft Horses. Indeed, by the 1920’s the American Belgian became a breed, independent of the Brabant, with unique phenotype and standards.
In the United States, during the late 1960's, Albert Stankiewicz imported stallions from Belgium because he was disturbed by the changes in the American Belgian [draft] horse in the USA, according to the American Brabant Association. Stankiewicz used his imported stallions on old-style domestic American Belgian mares in an effort to preserve the old pre-war work type draft horse. From there, others followed suit. By 1999, the modern American Belgian was decidedly different from the modern European Brabant, and the American Brabant was very different from both - a new breed all its own. In 2016, the Belgian Draft Horse Corporation of America officially closed its books to European Brabants and in 2018, the American Brabant Association launched a registry to recognize their own new breed of work horse. That left European Brabant owners and breeders with an opportunity to establish a dedicated registry of their own. In October 2021, the European Brabant Registry of America was founded with the mission to preserve and promote the purebred European Brabant in the Americas.
Part 6: BREED PRESERVATION EFFORTS
The 1920s was the heyday of draft horses, with some 95,000 registered in the USA alone, but that wasn’t to last. They were replaced by stronger, time-efficient, modern tools and just like Henrys Ford’s Model T, their services were no longer required. After WWII, US draft horse populations plummeted. Likewise in Germany, their once-booming herd of 26,990 Rhenish German Coldblood mares had plummeted to just eleven by 1972. In France, the nearly 600,000 Boulonnais were diminished to just around 1,000 head, according to Jean-Paul Labourdette, author of Le Petite Fute Cote d’Opale. The famed herd of 50,000 Poitevin draft mares decreased to 300. As for ancient Brabant, who fought through two world wars on their home soil, they went from 278,000 head of horses to just a few thousand at most.
The Brabant, along with their progeny of other breeds, were on the verge of a global extinction event. Thanks to dedicated breeders, studbooks, and associations who’ve invested manpower and resources in the genetic preservation of the breed, there will be Brabants for future generations. However, the Brabant is not “out of the woods” yet. As I mentioned at the beginning, Trekpaard.net estimates just 5,000 purebred European Brabants are in Belgium today and they are producing less than roughly 550 foals annually. Compare that to the 80,000 Quarter Horse foals born in the USA alone each year for context and you can see how dire the situation is for the European Brabant breed.
The European Brabant Registry of America was founded with the mission to preserve and promote the purebred European Brabant in the Americas. While the EBRA has less than 50 registered purebred Brabants in the premier studbook, there are just as many >50% Brabants who are registered in the European Brabant Stock studbook. These horses of mixed heavy horse lineage are vital to the propagation and preservation of the European Brabant draft horse in North America.
To avoid inbreeding and to broaden the gene pool, the European Brabant Registry of America (EBRA) developed the “Breed Up” program where breeders can selectively cover outside phenotypic draft breeds with purebred Brabants and “Breed Up” to the purebred threshold of 15/16, or 93.75% European Brabant bloodlines. These qualifying “Breed Up” Brabants are then evaluated and scored against breed standards by a panel of independent judges trained by our counterparts in Belgium. Those who pass inspection are included in the EBRA’s premier purebred European Brabant Studbook. This program allows us to preserve the heritage of the Brabant breed, while also introducing fresh, outside blood to the genetic mix. This conservation approach is widely used by other heritage livestock breed associations across many animal species.
SIDE NOTE – According to the Livestock Conservancy, there are five categories in which heritage breeds are classified: Critical, Threatened, Watch, Recovering, and Study.
Critical are fewer than 200 annual registrations in the USA and an estimated global population of less than 2,000.
Threatened are fewer than 1,000 annual registrations in the USA and an estimated global population of less than 5,000.
Watch has fewer than 2,500 annual registrations in the USA and an estimated global population of less than 10,000.
Recovering are breeds that were once listed but have exceeded the Watch guidelines.
Studies are breeds of genetic interest that lack definition or historical documentation.
Part 7: EUROPEAN BRABANTS ON THE JOB
Today, the European Brabant can be found doing a myriad of jobs in North America. There is a sizable movement underway toward environmentally sound forest management practices called restorative forestry. European Brabants have been working in forests for hundreds of years and their skills are still used today. Likewise, the 21st century finds more farmers turning to regenerative farming that includes organics, crop rotations, small-scale farming, and the use of horsepower. European Brabants have been tilling land for well over a thousand years and they are still the best choice for any-scale farm.
In addition to their conventional work, European Brabants are making waves in the dressage arena as well as single, team, and four-in-hand driving competitions. They’re used in circus acts and vaulting programs as well as riding school and therapy programs. While they’ll likely never become a top-class jumper, the European Brabant is an outstanding pleasure riding horse. Their large stride, ambling gate, and round build are extremely comfortable. They have great stamina for long treks too. Don’t forget that while plowing fields, they are known to cover over 40 miles while pulling heavy farm equipment. A long ride on the beach, in the mountains or around the farm is considered light work for these easy keepers.
As for my European Brabants at LowCountry Acres, they compete at local and regional open shows and are handled by neighborhood kids with an interest in equine activities. My Brabants help teach youth responsibility, build their confidence, and encourage bonding between horse and human. My horses’ roles as breed ambassadors cannot be understated. Through their community involvement, they bring much needed attention to the breed and provide an opportunity to educate the public about this very rare, yet all too important heritage breed and the EBRA’s preservation efforts.
To learn more about the European Brabant, please visit www.EuropeanBrabant.com. Join our community by becoming a member and join us in our mission to preserve and promote the European Brabant – The Father of all Draft Horses.
I strive for accuracy, but again I'm no historian. If you see something that doesn't look right, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you, Stacy
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"State Studs of Germany" by Bernd Eylers
Schurink A, Shrestha M, Eriksson S, Bosse M, Bovenhuis H, Back W, Johansson AM, Ducro BJ. The Genomic Makeup of Nine Horse Populations Sampled in the Netherlands. Genes. 2019; 10(6):480, citing Van de Goor, L.H.P.; van Haeringen, W.A.; Lenstra, J.A. Population studies of 17 equine STR for forensic and phylogenetic analysis. Anim. Genet. 2011
The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Horse in America, by John Gilmer Speed
Project Gutenberg's The Story of Don John of Austria, by Luis Coloma
HORSE POWER: SOCIAL EVOLUTION IN MEDIEVAL EUROPE by Katrin Boniface, May 2015
The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Great Horse, by Walter Gilbey
ONLINE PSSM CLINIC
with Dr. Beth Valentine
The EBRA has invited Dr. Beth Valentine to discuss PSSM/EPSM, its symptoms, and best known treatment practices and to chat about conflicting EPSM opinions, share her research findings, and answer all our burning questions throughout the program. Join us November 18th at 1:00 pm EST for a special presentation on Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy (PSSM) and Equine Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy (EPSM) with Dr. Beth Valentine. Everyone is welcome!
About Dr. Beth Valentine: International Equine Veterinarians’ Hall of Fame member, Dr. Beth Valentine earned her doctorate in veterinary medicine from the Veterinary College at Cornell University and later studied Veterinary Pathology at the Comparative Medicine Division of the Johns Hopkins Medical College. During her storied carrier, she practiced privately then shifted to academia so she could study the diseases she was treating in the field. As a faculty pathologist at Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine, and then at the Carlson College of Veterniary Medicine at Oregon State University, she conducted landmark research on Equine Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy (EPSM) in heavy horses, which is widely regarded by the equine community and the foundation for current treatments of EPSM positive horses. Dr. Valentine is not just a subject matter expert in diseases of muscles and neuromuscular diseases within draft horses, she is a draft horse expert in general. Check out her 5-star rated book, "Draft Horses: An Owner's Manual."
EBRA Members attend free.
All Non-Member individuals are asked to donate $10.
Organizations/Associations may donate $150, which will cover their groups' Member-attendance.
EBRA VIRTUAL HORSE SHOW SERIES
Our FREE online show was created for our valued EBRA Members from around the world. While you must be an EBRA Member in good standing to participate, your horse does not need to be registered with the EBRA to partake. If you are not a Member yet, the half-year rate is just $25 and you can quickly join our community by clicking HERE.
We are offering Halter Classes, Showmanship In-Hand Classes, and Fun Classes too! There will be 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Place prizes and ribbons. To top it off, we're awarding the first-ever "GRAND CHAMPION" title to one exemplary EBRA registered mare and stallion.
Registration and Submissions: The EBRA will be accepting Registrations and Submissions from now until November 14th at 5 pm EST.
WATCH PARTY: An EBRA Virtual Horse Show watch party will take place on Saturday, December 9th at 12 pm EST over Zoom.
ONE DIRECTORSHIP SEAT, TWO GREAT CANDIDATES
We're pleased to announce that Olga Pushkareva and Melissa Brown have submitted their notices of intention to run during the November 7, 2023, EBRA Class II Director election. Both candidates are experienced in equine and farm management and both have participated in horse breeding and showing. They're both passionate about the preservation and promotion of the purebred European Brabant as well as the use of EB and EBS horses to create warmblood Appendix Brabant crosses.
Olga Pushkareva (V0007) of OT Farms in Missouri presently serves on the EBRA Advisory Committee and Ambassador Committee. She currently works as an Engineer and Project Manager for a government contractor. She actively participates in the Gateway Harness Club, USEF and Missouri Farm Bureau. Her skills are equine management and horse training. She is passionate about European Brabant breed preservation and owns two purebred studs. As a Director, Olga wants to help further develop the Registry and promote the breed in the US.
Melissa Brown (V0038) of Limestone Farms in South Carolina breeds purebred European Brabant draft horses as well as Appendix Brabant warmbloods and mules. She is currently a formulation technician at Ritedose Pharmaceutical and has a background in accounting and business management. As a Director, Melissa would like to connect with people who don't know about the breed while also fostering and growing relationships with current EBRA Members. She's eager to share her lifetime of horse knowledge and is ready to leverage her experience to help grow the organization.
EBRA BREED GUIDE AVAILABLE
The EBRA has created this fun and informative poster about the European Brabant. Please feel free to download and print this handy flier and/or share it digitally via email and social media too! Be sure to tag us on Facebook European Brabant Registry of America and Instagram at @EuropeanBrabantRegistry.
Download the FREE PDF here:
You also have the option of purchasing the poster here:
Or the vinyl outdoor banner here:
UNDERSTANDING PSSM IN BRABANTS
By Stacy Pearsall with Rebecca Courtney, Dehan Courtney, Tim Gunter, Will Beattie and Dr. Hernando Plata, DVM
PSSM has been a hot button topic in the horse community lately, and given the prominence of the condition within draft horse breeds, Brabants included, we thought it was worth investigating the implications of PSSM on European Brabants while also outlining the European Brabant Registry of America's views on the issue. Unlike other draft horse registries, we require PSSM testing for all breeding stallions and encourage all European Brabant owners to test their horses, so they may make informed decisions about health, exercise, diet and breeding. That said, as a Registry we do not prohibit the breeding of European Brabants who carry the gene, and we hope this article clarifies our reasoning and stance on the matter.
It's important to consider that most medical journals and literature available on PSSM skews toward PSSM's impact on light horse breeds, rather than draft horses. Given draft horses respond to PSSM significantly differently from their light horse cousins, we researched and condensed draft horse specific studies and articles into this succinct overview for our European Brabant owners and breeders.
“PSSM is estimated to have emerged as far back as 1,600 years ago, when the great horse was being developed from European draft and light horse breeds to carry knights with heavy armor into battle,” says Stephanie Valberg, D.V.M., Ph.D. "There is a 90% prevalence of PSSM in Trekpaards, with 40% of tested Belgian Trekpaards being homozygous for the trait. Many with PSSM are asymptomatic."
Initial examination of pedigrees from registered Belgians with PSSM suggested that most Belgians, at least in North America, trace back to a small number of foundation lines from mainland Europe. This is not surprising, given the relatively few purebred Draft horses left for breeding following the Great Depression and the Industrial Revolution. If the data regarding incidence of PSSM in Draft-related breeds are even close to accurate (45-86%), it would appear that trying to breed away from this trait in these breeds would be extremely difficult. In fact, there is some suggestion that horses with PSSM, when they are able to deal with the condition, are superior in temperament, conformation, and even more importantly, performance. (citation: Susan A. Mende, DVM, Dipl ACVP)
"This trait is what allowed the draft horse to survive long hours of field work on poor feed," says Hernando Plata-Madrid, DVM and Founding Member of the EBRA.
But I'm getting ahead of myself here. Let's start by defining PSSM. It is the excessive and abnormal storage of sugar (polysaccharide) in muscle cells. There are two types of PSSM, type 1 PSSM (PSSM1) and type 2 PSSM (PSSM2). PSSM1 is the form of PSSM caused by the genetic mutation and PSSM2 represents one or more forms of muscle disease found in biopsied tissue that are characterized by abnormal staining for muscle glycogen under a microscope exam. (citation: Michigan State University).
Polysaccharide storage myopathy (PSSM1) is characterized by the abnormal accumulation of the normal form of sugar stored in muscle (glycogen) as well as an abnormal form of sugar (amylase-resistant polysaccharide) in muscle tissue. By definition, horses with PSSM1 have a distinctive genetic mutation in the gene.
PSSM affects virtually every draft horse breed, including Belgian, Percheron, Clydesdale, Shire, Haflinger, Norwegian Fjord, Irish Draught, Friesian, Gypsy Vanner, draft cross, and draft mules. As previously stated, approximately two-thirds of all draft related horses show evidence of PSSM and it has likely been around for hundreds of years. (citation: Dr Beth Valentine DVM Ph.D, who studies focused primarily on PSSM/EPSM in draft horses). Since all draft horses are insulin sensitive, draft horse owners have already adapted their feed and exercise regimes. So in many ways, they are ahead of the game when it comes to caring for horses who are diagnosed or undiagnosed for PSSM. (citation: Dr Eleanor Kellon, DVM Ph.D)
In some breeds, horses with the genetic mutation for PSSM1 are asymptomatic - ie: most draft breeds. This may relate to differences in diet, exercise and impact of different genotypes in different breeds. For instance, carbohydrates that are high in starch, such as sweet feed, corn, wheat, oats, barley, and molasses, appear to exacerbate PSSM1. The majority of draft horse owners, including Brabant owners, don't feed their horses starchy foods. Instead, they seek feeds that provide extra calories in the form of fat. Again, for hundreds of years, draft owners have developed food and exercise regimes to best suit the draft horse's slow metabolism functions, says Michael R. Stone, DVM. It just so happens that this regime is the remedy to managing horses with PSSM.
NOTE: Tying up, muscle spasms, and elevated muscle enzymes are most common in Quarter Horses and other light breeds. Draft horses, Warm Bloods and other Draft Crosses may show only muscle tenderness or reluctance to engage the hindquarters. (citation: Dr Eleanor Kellon, DVM Ph.D)
An important part of the management of PSSM1 horses is daily exercise. This enhances glucose utilization, and improves energy metabolism in skeletal muscle. If only the diet is changed, we found that approximately 50% of horses improve. If both diet and exercise are altered, then 90% of horses have had no or few episodes of tying-up.
NOTE: Tying up is a symptom rather than a specific disorder. There are two categories with tying up, horses that have sporadic/isolated episodes and those that have repeated episodes. Isolated episodes are more likely to be due to management/dietary factors. Common causes include electrolyte imbalances to plain overworking of a horse to heat stroke. (citation: Dr Beth Valentine DVM Ph.D).
Not all cases of tying up are caused by the PSSM1 mutation. If a horse is N/N but is showing signs of tying-up or muscle pain, it is possible that the horse has another muscle disorder which must be diagnosed by muscle biopsy. (citation: Stephanie Valberg, DVM, PhD, DACVIM)
By now you're probably asking yourself, "Does my horse have PSSM?" Great question! The European Brabant Registry of America offers a PSSM test through UC Davis and encourages all owners and breeders to test their Brabants. There is a caveat when it comes to DNA testing. While the PSSM test exists, a negative result can occur in horses with a somewhat milder form and therefore, a negative test does not entirely rule it out in a horse. Also, a n/P1 (heterozygous) or even a P1/P1 (homozygous) result does not mean your horse will be sympathetic. However, knowing the genetic makeup of your horses can be useful when planning breeding and management though, advises Dr. Beth Valentine, DVM.
So the ultimate question is to breed, or not to breed. Dr. Susan Menda says that owners of horses with PSSM should seriously consider whether homozygous horses should be used as breeding animals. But she goes on to say that, "Given the high incidence of PSSM within certain breeds and the apparent performance capabilities of PSSM horses, it may not be feasible or even appropriate to try to breed away from this condition."
"'The mission of the European Brabant Registry of America is to preserve and maintain purebred European Brabants,' and given the critically low numbers of such horses globally at this time we are presented with a unique set of challenges," says Stacy Pearsall, President of the EBRA. "But I believe the Registry has established thoughtful programs to both grow the purebred numbers while maintaining and improving the overall health of the breed."
The ERBA understands just how difficult it can be to find viable mates within a breed that has such critical numbers - That's why we also established the "Breed Up Program" to help increase our purebred herds in America, while also widening our gene pool. We offer Stallion Listings online, where EBRA Members and mare owners can view genetic testing results of each candidate. Then they can use the Grassroots "Test a Mating" system to ensure optimal genetic pairings for stallions and mares.
We know the challenges are real, but with the aforementioned programs, we hope to make breeding choices easier. No matter what, the EBRA encourages you to test your horses for PSSM and to avoid breeding homozygous horses to other PSSM carriers when possible. For example, a mare who is P1/P1 (homozygous) should ideally be bred to a stallion who is n/n. The resulting offspring from such a pairing will then be n/P1 (heterozygous). Ideally, that offspring should then be bred to another n/n. Alternatively, the n/P1 may be bred to another n/P1 which will result in a n/P1 foal 50% of the time, 25% n/n and 25% P1/P1. (citation: Stephanie Valberg, D.V.M., Ph.D.)
Dr. Beth Valentine does not advise trying to breed away from this trait. She believes that working horses may actually benefit from it and that may be why it is so common in so many breeds. The key to managing these horses is to feed the right diet and provide enough exercise.
To that end, let's talk about how best to maintain our Brabants. Successful PSSM diets can include either grass or alfalfa hay. Many higher fat and fiber feeds are being developed for horses, but to date all still require some additional vegetable oil or additional 100% fat source to achieve the proper ratio of calories. For many horses, addition of about 480 ml of vegetable-based oil to a forage-based feed has proven to be the most economical, feasible, and effective type of diet. Regular exercise, even if it is just turnout, is also important. It takes about four months for full fat adaptation in these horses, according to Susan A. Mende, DVM, Dipl ACVP.
"The ability to control signs of muscle dysfunction with diet change and exercise suggests that PSSM may best be considered a problem with a genetic component that can often be controlled effectively with proper management," says Dr. Susan Menda.
To summarize, the EBRA believes that it's important to understand PSSM and how it impacts the European Brabant specifically. We require PSSM tests on all breeding stallions and require stallion owners to release the results to mare owners upon request. We believe that honesty and openness about PSSM is the best policy. After all, it's here. It's been here. We provide a number of great medical journals, which guide owners toward best feeding and exercise practices for European Brabants. These can be found on the Members Portal. We also encourage owners to engage each other on the Forum about this topic! In the end, this breed has thrived for hundreds of years and we believe it will continue to do so. To that end, we will leave it up to the horse owner whether to the breed or not to breed.