Campaigns Work to Keep Endangered Draft Breeds Viable

Suffering dramatic drops in numbers of registered animals, several European draft horse breed societies are coming up with targeted promotional campaigns in order to keep their breeds alive.

In England, the critically endangered Suffolk is an ideal horse for riders who require a sturdy mount, according to Amanda Hillier, spokesperson for the Suffolk Society of England. Strong, yet agile, "it has a superb temperament and is just a really good all-around horse," she said.

Meanwhile, promotion of the Shire is geared particularly towards the younger generation, as the vast majority of current breeders approach retirement, according to John Ward, field officer of the Shire Horse Society. "We're trying to find more things for the youngsters to get interested in," he said. "We've got to. In another 20 years the older generation (of breeders) won't be here anymore."

 Boulonnais horses on display

Boulonnais horses.

In Germany, the Society of Schleswiger Horse Breeders educates its members on stallion selection to prevent inbreeding, said Bernd Lühr, spokesperson for the society. With as few as 180 mares and 25 stallions registered to breed, there are only 50 Schleswigers with sufficient distance in their pedigrees to be bred. To attract new breeders, the society participates in national horse shows, hosts booths at equestrian events, and distributes flyers, jackets, and baseball caps.

New horse-powered urban transport programs and mounted draft horse competitions are offering endangered French draft breeds an opportunity to survive, said Sophie Bougel, spokesperson for the French Draft Federation. Bougel says she hopes the revival of work horses in the country and a greater appreciation for the horses' "peaceful manner" will help save the Trait du Nord, which is too heavily boned to be considered as suitable for slaughter--an industry she says is part of the reason some other European draft breeds are maintaining relatively high numbers.

What was once a necessity in war, crusades, and farming is now faced with a question of purpose in the modern world, according to Sophie Bienaimé, director of the Living Horse Museum in Chantilly, France. "People nowadays want 'normal' horses. Draft horses are huge. They're powerful. They're very impressive."

Although draft horses might appear to have outlived their usefulness in modern society, humans still have a responsibility to maintain these horses and their valuable genes, according to Marjorie Bender, research and technical program director at the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy in North Carolina. Also, she said there are advantages to conserving these breeds.

"The diverse breeds are the world's genetic resources," she said. "We don't know what genetic resources we'll need tomorrow, but if we lose them through extinction we'll have lost them forever."

About the Author

Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

Christa Lesté-Lasserre is a freelance writer based in France. A native of Dallas, Texas, Lesté-Lasserre grew up riding Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, and Shetland Ponies. She holds a master’s degree in English, specializing in creative writing, from the University of Mississippi in Oxford and earned a bachelor's in journalism and creative writing with a minor in sciences from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She currently keeps her two Trakehners at home near Paris. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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