The Breton is a breed of draft horse. It developed in Brittany, a province in Northwest France, from native ancestral stock dating back thousands of years. It has been used in military, draft and agricultural capacities. There are three distinct subtypes of the Breton breed, each coming from a different section of Brittany.
There are three types of the Breton, coming from different districts of Brittany.
The Corlay Breton is derived from crossbreeding with the Arabian and Thoroughbred. It is about 14.3 hands to 15.1 hands high. The Corlay is considered the real descendant of the original Breton. It has the same general features as the draft type, but is smaller with a more dished face. It was used mainly for light draft work that required speed and under saddle, and its numbers have been decreasing in recent years.
The Postier Breton was developed as a result of crossbreeding with the Norfolk Trotter and the Hackney during the 19th century. It has a very attractive gait, and stands about 15.1 hh. It is bred mainly in central Brittany, is a good coach horse and capable of light farming work. Its name comes from the practice of using the type to pull mail coaches.
The Heavy Draft Breton is derived from an infusion of Ardennes and Percheron blood. It is very strong, relative to its size. It is bred in the northern coastal area of Brittany (Leon). It stands about 15.2 hands to 16.2 hands, and has short but muscular legs. This type has absorbed another, older type, called the Grand Breton, a heavier horse that was used to improve many other draft breeds.
In the Middle Ages, the ancestral Breton horse was sought by military leaders, partly because of its comfortable gait, which was said to be partway between a brisk trot and an amble. Due to its gaits and the fact that it only stood about 14 hands high, it was nicknamed the Bidet d'Allure or Bidet Breton. Horses of other bloodlines brought back to Europe during the Crusades had a strong influence on the Breton, and two types subsequently developed. The Sommier was a heavier type used mainly as a pack horse and the Roussin was used mainly in wars and on long journeys.
From the Middle Ages until the early 1900s, the Breton was crossed with various horses, both native and foreign, including the Boulonnais, Percheron and Ardennes breeds. In the 19th century it was crossbred with the Norfolk Trotter, which resulted in a lighter weight type of Breton, the Postier Breton.
Therefore, rather than being subject to crossbreeding itself, the Breton has instead been used to improve many other breeds. Buyers come to France from all over the world to buy Bretons for use in improving their native draft breeds. The Breton had a significant influence on the Canadian Horse, after they were sent to New France (Canada) during the 17th century. They have also been used to create the Swiss Freiberger breed, as well as other heavy draft breeds.
The Breton breed is controlled by the Syndicat des Éleveurs de Cheval Breton, and its studbook was begun in 1909. Horses are only eligible to be registered if they were born in Brittany (Bretagne Region or in the Loire-Atlantique). Registered foals are branded with a "cross surmounting a splayed, upturned V" on the left side of the neck. Despite the registration restrictions, breeding of the Breton horse has spread across France, and around the world.