A powerful draft horse helped settle the Illinois prairie and provided a hobby for thousands of aristocratic gentlemen. The Percheron horse became synonymous with a powerful, living machine for millions of farmers and a dedicated hobby horse for the aristocracy to experiment in the breeding and showing of horses. Joseph Glidden would become known not just for barbed wire, but for his horses as well. Later in life he bred and showed these gentle giants. To understand Glidden’s Percherons one must understand a history of the breed.
Percheron horses, also referred to as the Percheron-Norman horse, originated in France on the ancient province of Le Perche. They were originally bred for military service but were soon adopted for draft work and cart pulling. The first Percheron horse imported into the United States was by Edward Harris of Moorestown, New Jersey in 1839. They would not arrive in Illinois until the late 1860s. According to the De Kalb Chronicle Illustrated Souvenir, Joseph Glidden would be one of the first people to bring the big draft horses into Illinois. Glidden understood how helpful the large draft horses would be in clearing the thick prairie grass.
The Percheron’s popularity soon began to take off in the old Northwest. In 1876 the Norman-Percheron Association was formed by a group of Chicago breeders and the first stud book was published the following year in 1877. That same year ‘Norman’ was dropped from the name and the horse simply became known as the Percheron. Percherons began to be bred and shown in droves by amateur and skilled horsemen. The horse’s popularity would be celebrated not just by farmers or breeders, but by delivery men who relied on the horses to pull carts full of items and circus owners who utilized the horse’s strength to move their shows. They soon surpassed all other draft horses in popularity.
During World War I, the United States Percheron breeding operation boomed. Instead of using French stock, Americans began to utilize American bred animals for breeding purposes. An embargo from France halted imports to America of the French horses but the United States’ breeding program still continued. The embargo was eventually lifted and America sent much needed war horses into France. The end of World War II saw the Percheron fading fast in the eyes of the American public and its once devoted breeders.
The Percheron nearly became extinct in America. Machine technology on farms and in cities replaced the need for a large draft horse. The breed would see a resurgence in the 1980s with a few dedicated breeders and since then the Percheron has regained popularity with both horse and draft animal enthusiasts alike.
Working Animal Researcher