Draft Horse & Mule FAQs

What are the benefits of joining the

Virginia Draft Horse & Mule Association?

Invitations to events such as Plow Days and Ride ‘N Drives where you can learn about harnessing, driving, hitching, riding, care, and preparation for show, of draft animals.

What are my responsibilities as a draft animal owner?

Tack or harness in good condition, safe vehicles, a well-trained draft animal, and proper driver/rider training are all necessary ingredients for successful, enjoyable driving or riding experiences. Be willing to invest your time, be properly educated, and, most importantly, don't hesitate to ask a person of experience to help you in assembling these components. Just because you rode a horse a couple of times as a kid does not qualify you as having riding experience! But enthusiasm and patience will go a long way toward a lifetime of enjoyment and reward living and working with equines!

What am I looking at as far as expenses for a draft animal compared with a regular horse?

That will depend on how you are going to use your draft. Also remember, not ALL draft animals are one-ton behemoths. There are also pony-sized drafts such as Halfingers and Norwegian Fjords, and mid-sized draft breeds as well.

TACK, CARTS/WAGONS AND HARNESS. If you want to drive, harness can cost anywhere from $250 to $3000, new or used, for show, nylon, beta or leather. A good place to get started for good, less expensive tack are tack auctions and mudsales (there is a video of an Amish country mud sale on our video page, if you are wondering what one is! VDHMA groups attend each year.)

Safe carts and wagons are not cheap; however, good deals can be found on used vehicles and at auctions. Check our classifieds regularly or post a wanted ad. Be sure to have an experienced person or professional check for rot, rust or excessive wear.

Saddles can be found for drafts at comparable prices to the regular horse. Quite often, you are going to want a wide tree.

FARRIERS AND HOOF CARE. You may expect to pay a bit more for a farrier to work on your draft if it is a large animal. Some require "stocks", which are large wooden supports in which your horse stands and rests his foot while the farrier does his job. He or she may charge a higher price than what a regular horse would cost for a trim, and larger shoes also cost more.

A network of people from which to seek or share advice on training and maintaining drafts, mules and donkeys

A bimonthly newsletter, either printed copy or electronic version.

Insurance for VDHMA-sponsored events

• Members Chat Board

Free or reduced-rate advertising in newsletter and on website for business services and classified sales

• Reduced entry fees at VDHMA-sponsored events, like the Old Dominion Show

• A membership card and a decal for your vehicle

Gracie the Mule, owned and shown by Steve Foster, is a movie star and TV celebrity. They are members of VDHMA and we are very proud of them!

How can I help draft horses and mules in Virginia?

VDHMA is the official liaison between draft and mule horse owners and the Commonwealth of Virginia. Our charter is to promote and support the animals through education and informative venues such as this website, our events, and our Old Dominion Draft Horse and Mule Show. Here's how you can participate!

Volunteer to help on our annual Show Committee for the Old Dominion Draft Horse and Mule Show. Volunteers have a lot of fun at our shows.

Help with local and regional events, like Farm and Plow Days

• Man the merchandise booth at an event.

• Serve on the Board of Officers.

• Serve on a committee. VDHMA is actively seeking committee members and chairs for Membership, Junior Members, Show Committee, and others. Please contact us to serve!

Hands-on help at shows, like ring steward, barn manager, gate keeper.

• Teach a small clinic in an area of your expertise

• Offer your farm or other suitable area for a clinic or event

Join Us! Online Membership Form is right here.

FEEDING. Though large draft horses may consume more hay than the regular horse, they may not require supplemental feeding, needing only good pasture or hay, depending on whether you work them hard daily or not. If so, clean oats are good. Avoid feeding sweet feed and high-carbohydrate feeds to your draft, as it can cause shivers and a multitude of other problems. See more about draft animal feeding on our Education page and also read shivers FAQ below.

BOARD. If you plan on boarding your draft horse or mule at a stable, check with them to ensure that they have extra-strong fencing, preferably with electric fence reinforcement. Large drafts reaching over a fence or backing up to "scratch" against one can damage it or push it over in a hurry. The same applies if you intend to keep large draft animals at home - you will find you will need to "supersize" all your fencing enclosures.

How can I learn how to drive or care for draft animals, or prepare them for show?

The Virginia Draft Horse and Mule Association holds group rides and drives throughout the year where you will find members helpful and instructive (check our calendar for event dates). We also hold educational clinics from time to time. Upon request, VDHMA will pair up a youth age 5-18 with a mentor or farm owner/draft animal breeder in their area where you can learn hands-on about these magnificent, gentle creatures.

We here at Virginia Draft Horse and Mule Association know from experience that working with and enjoying recreational use of draft animals provides some of the most satisfying and fun interactions with horses to be had. As with all horses or any potentially dangerous activity, however, appropriate safety training, gear, and vigilence/awareness are always necessary and the reponsibilty of every horseman.

Though draft horses in general are quiet, gentle creatures, as with all horses it is highly recommended that you seek a professional to help you get started and/or break your green draft to ride or drive. Do your research, check references and if possible, observe the instructor in action. Do the schooling horses look healthy? Are they bombproof for the beginning teamster? Does the equipment appear to be in good repair? VDHMA has several members who are instructors and/or trainers. You may find them in our Directory of Draft Animal Trainers and Instructors.

Where do I find a saddle to fit a draft horse?

Visit your local tack shop and see if they carry draft saddles. Some drafts may be well-fitted with a full bar Quarter horse saddle. It’s flat wide back and lack of withers is what makes fitting a bit of an ordeal. Otherwise, search the internet. There are several manufacturers that make English, western, Australian and treeless saddles for drafts. Check out auctions and mud sales, as well as our classifieds.

Can you use draft animals for other things besides driving?

Drafts are used in carriage driving, trail riding, dressage, logging, farming, vaulting (sport), pulling contests, therapy riding, and as companion animals. As a matter of fact, drafts are suitable for just about any activity as other horses - you will be pressed to find kinder, quieter, more patient, steady workers. You probably won’t see them in any event or sport that calls for speed--but there are exceptions!

What is “shivers”?

Many well intentioned but misinformed first-time draft horse owners feed their horses large levels of grain thinking that, since the horses are so large, they need large amounts of grain or sweet feed. However, this can kill a draft horse.

(Photo above is of a four-year-old Belgian with shivers. Notice the wasting away of the hindquarter muscles. He died two days later.)

As defined by Dr. A.J. Neumann, there is a characteristic hiking of the hind limbs while backing or turning in a tight circle. The lifting and fine trembling of the tail sometimes helps to distinguish shivers from stringhalt, another disorder seen in drafts. Shivers is a progressive disease and one treatment is usually a high fat, low carbohydrate diet. A farrier may notice the symptoms as the horse will have difficulty lifting the hind legs, may jerk up or the joints are difficult to bend.

We have a link to an excellent article on shivers on our education page.

What breeds of draft horses exist?

The most commonly recognized breeds in the US are:

  • Shire

  • Clydesdale

  • Belgian

  • Percheron

  • Haflinger

Less commonly seen and some of which are rare and in danger of extinction:

  • Suffolk Punch

  • Norwegian Fjord

  • American Cream Draft

  • Irish Draught

  • Spotted Draft

  • Gypsy Vanners/Cobs

  • Belgian Brabant

  • Friesian

  • Dales Ponies

  • Fell Ponies

Some very rare breeds exist outside of the US, mostly in Europe:

· Ardennais

· Comtois

· Rhineland

· Schwartzwalder Fuchs

· Boulonnais

· Oberlander

· Poitevin Mulassier

· Polish Draft

(includes the Sztum, Lowicz, Sokolka,

Garwolin and Lidzbark)

· Soviet Heavy Draft

See photos and more descriptions on some of these breeds under our link on “Educational Articles.