Written by: Kris Batchelor – Triple Play Farm Published: 11 November 2015
Why this breed?
At Triple Play Farm in Davidson, we have a soft spot for draft horses and the more rare, the better. So we were especially excited in 2011 during a visit to Clover Oaks Farm outside of Tampa, Florida, when we were introduced to the breathtaking Ardennes breed. Upon first glance, we were immediately struck by the massive bulk of the horses, but shortly after that, we were intrigued by their calm, gentle nature. Joyce Concklin’s herd of Ardennes, consisting of a stallion, three mares and three yearlings, were quite simply the quietest horses that we had ever met.
In 2003, Joyce visited Belgium and subsequently purchased two Ardennes horses, the first of their kind to be imported to the United States. Since then, she has created a small but successful Ardennes breeding program, due largely to her stallion Simba du Pont de Tournay [barn name Simba]. This magnificent roan stud was chosen to be the Celebration Horse at Breyerfest 2015 and created quite a stir in Lexington. He is a stunning example of the breed at 15hh and almost 1700 pounds. Simba shares bloodlines with some of the horses of Celtic Horse Logging, an environmentally-friendly timber harvesting company based in the UK that breeds horses for their strength, durability and stamina. Joyce describes Simba as “a big teddy bear.”
Ardennes horses (known as Ardennais in Europe) hail from the rugged and tough Ardennes region that borders France and Belgium. The rough terrain and harsh climates of the area have played a part in the evolution of the breed. Ardennes are known for being strong and tractable and are one of the oldest established heavy horse breeds, dating back to the Paleolithic Period. The Ardennes is thought to be a direct descendant of the Solutrian horse, which existed circa 50,000 B.C.
Throughout history, references to the Ardennes horses have been recorded by emperors, kings and knights. They were even mentioned by Julius Caesar, who stated in commentaries that “the horse of the second Belgium” is “rustic, hard and tireless.” It is said that Napoleon owed his return from the Napoleonic Wars to his Ardennes cavalry which withstood cold and privations that destroyed over 10,000 horses. Knights of the Middle Ages found the breed to be reliable and easily capable of carrying the weight of a fully armored soldier. Today across Europe, Ardennes horses are still used in commercial forestry, farming, competitive driving and as pleasure and therapy horses.
The modern Ardennes is more thickset than any other draught horse and has been described as being built like a tractor. He has a wide frame and a rather short back with very muscular loins. The legs are lightly feathered, and the feet, in comparison with the massive body, are smaller than might be expected, although they are well-made, strong, and seldom flat or brittle. The Ardennes has small, pricked ears, which is unusual in heavy breeds. Because of his exceptionally good shoulders, his action is typically free, animated, and straight. The climate in the French Ardennes is harsh, and the winters are severe. Consequently, the Ardennes horse is extraordinarily hardy, and has a very strong constitution. The breed has a reputation for extreme docility and exemplary gentleness, and can be handled easily, even by children. The preferred colors, as stipulated in the breed standard, are roan, red-roan, iron grey, dark or liver chestnut, and bay. Bay-brown, light chestnut, and palomino are admissible, while black, dapple grey, and any other coat colors are not.
Clover Oaks Farm Leo
Back in 2011, as we stood in Joyce’s pasture with three of her yearling colts, we decided that Clover Oaks Farm Leopold was destined to become a therapy horse back in North Carolina. He arrived in Davidson as a yearling in the summer of 2011 and has been raised in an environment where he lives in a herd and has had constant handling using natural horsemanship techniques. He was started slowly and correctly under harness as a two year old and under saddle as a four year old in the tradition of the more slowly maturing draft breeds. Currently, he continues to accumulate training miles under saddle, but his day job is working with behavioral health clients at Triple Play. He works with clients struggling with challenges related to depression, anxiety, marital stress, eating disorders, PTSD, ADD/ADHD, autism spectrum disorders and more. There is a special significance to his work with our veteran clients given the breed’s history of military usage, including pulling artillery in World War I. It is truly a full circle moment to have this noble breed contributing to the rehabilitation of combat warriors. Around the barn, Leo’s nickname is “Wreck It Ralph.” He often seems to prefer the company of humans to other horses and has been taught to fetch his feed pan and offer it for refills. He is unflappable and endearing and we can’t imagine the farm without him. We are hoping for many more years of his wonderful company and although he is one of fifteen total Ardennes in the United States, he is truly one in a million to us. We invite you to come meet him at one of the Triple Play Farm quarterly Open House events which are open to the public and where you can meet our herd, including Fjords, Ardennes and miniature horses and learn more about our therapeutic services.