Until quite recently, France has furnished to America only one breed of horses, the heavy Percheron,1 which has been imported very largely during the last third of the nineteenth century. Percherons have been most popular in the west, while in the east the Clydesdales remain as popular as they were before the introduction of other draft-breeds.
The Percheron2 horse has a most interesting history, since he is a marked illustration of the successful mingling of the hot blood of the Orient with the cold-blood draft types. The blending of types so markedly dissimilar in nearly all characteristics, into a harmonious, prepotent breed, is not only difficult, but quite unusual.
1 Known by several names; see Chapter VIII (The Hackney).
2 For a full history of the early Percheron horse, see "Percheron Horse," translated from the French of Charles Du Huys (1868), Orange Judd Co., New York.
Little is known of the character of the horses of France prior to admixture with foreign blood. A marked change in them began to appear soon after the battle of Tours (732 A. D.), in which Charles Martel defeated the famous Saracen chief, Abdurame, and killed the infidels to the number of three hundred thousand. The horses of the Saracens, like themselves, came from the East. Upon a division of the spoils, a large number of the horses were assigned to the men of LaPerche, Orleanais and Normandy, who composed the bulk of the French forces. The custom then, as now, was to leave most of the horses entire; therefore the magnificent cavalry-horses of Abdurame must have had marked beneficial effects on the native horses of France. These three provinces still constitute the central breeding districts of the Percheron.
Du Huys says, "The Percheron race comes from Arabia," but he adds that "the Percheron must have been especially modified by contact with the horses of Britanny." The present form and appearance of this breed give unmistakable evidence that great modifications and changes have taken place in recent years, and such changes can be ascribed only to an infusion of cold blood through some well-defined breed or variety of draft animals.