The Oldest Draft Horses Breed in Europe or Do You Speak Luxembourgish?

Some countries are just so much easier to find a ride in, while others… Well, take Luxembourg for example. Citizens of Luxembourg are avid horse lovers. You will see a horse or few every step you take, yet finding a place to ride is mission impossible. Riding schools haven’t got websites. Those that have don’t post their email address, and those that do don’t bother to check them regularly.

Compare it to Iceland, Turkey and Spain, or even neighboring Belgium, where your requests are answered immediately and tourist info centers are unbelievably helpful.

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Yet it’s difficult only for tourists. For locals, there are plenty of opportunities. In the Nature Park, which is located in the North-East of Luxembourg and has a common border with Germany and Belgium, you can buy maps with more than 120 km of marked riding trails, and there are plenty of hotels and stables where riders and their horses can stay overnight when they are doing multi-day rides. This is absolutely cool, apart from the fact that I couldn’t pack my horse in a suitcase :-(

Anyways, here am I, in the North of one of the smallest European states waiting to visit the one and only living museum of Ardennes horses in the world.

My day started early when, equipped with a hand-drawn map, I hit a narrow road leading through the forest. I had to walk for about 5-6 kilometers to get from Clervaux to Robbesscheier. In the misty autumn morning the forest resembled scenes from Twilight or Sleepy Hallow (depending on who you like more: Robert Pattinson of Johnny Depp).

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I guess I imagined the werewolves and/or headless riders too vividly because I somehow managed to make the whole way in less than 30 minutes – meaning that I was too early at the museum.

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To keep myself busy I went to see the outside area and found this friendly group of donkeys.

Donkeys are not stubborn! You just don’t have enough carrots.

Donkeys are not stubborn! You just don’t have enough carrots.

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About one hour and 2 cups of coffee later, the info center was finally opened and I had a chance to discuss possible riding opportunities. My desperate begging for a horse to ride didn’t help as there was only one set of tack suitable only for one horse – Weisney – and unfortunately it was his turn to drag the carriage that day. I guess this is a reason to visit Luxembourg again.

Weisney is the right one

Isak and Weisney

Ardennes is one of the oldest documented European draft horse breeds. It’s believed that the history of this breed can be traced back to Ancient Rome.

Unlike for Frisians, for Ardennes horses it’s not good luck to be born black. Black horses are not allowed to be registered in the breeding books.

Unlike for Frisians, for Ardennes horses it’s not good luck to be born black. Black horses are not allowed to be registered in the breeding books.

It’s hard to imagine now, but these dog-like friendly giants were initially bred as war horses. The eventful history of these horses includes taking part in a lot of military campaigns: the Crusades (Godfrey of Bouillon was told to be entering Jerusalem on the back of an Ardennes horse), the French revolution, the Russian campaign of Napoleon (apparently Ardennes were the only Western European horse breed which was capable of surviving the grueling Russian winter of 1812), and of course World War I.

Would you believe that these giants have a bit of Arabian blood? For this we should thank Napoleon, who wanted to increase the stamina and endurance of these horses.

Would you believe that these giants have a bit of Arabian blood? For this we should thank Napoleon, who wanted to increase the stamina and endurance of these horses.

But the days of cavalry and heavy draft farm work are long gone. And I’m very sorry to break it to you, horse lovers, but due to extensive musculature of these animals, nowadays the main purpose of Ardennes breeding is meat production. :-(

But luckily that’s not the case in the museum. They have 14 Ardennes horses here, with Flicker being the oldest and most respected one by people and other horses alike. This adorable queen bee mare even has a retainer, whose main task is to make sure that The Queen and himself will be the first ones to receive treats and hugs.

Flicker is 32 y.o, which is very unusual for this breed as on average they live 24-26 years.

Flicker (left) is 32 y.o, which is very unusual for this breed as on average they live 24-26 years.

Should someone try to jump the queue, he will be greeted by the Retainer’s flattened ears and sharp teeth. Other horses know that this is the signal to immediately withdraw to a safe distance, even if it means galloping… Seeing a galloping group of 900-kilo horses is a special experience. It is hilarious. They try their best to beat gravity but gravitation always wins :-)

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Apart from meeting the group of friendly Ardennes, here you can ride in a carriage or enjoy a donkey ride, visit a small farm animal zoo, learn to bake apple pie, try wool spinning and weaving, stroll in a small garden, learn more about honey bees and make a candle from natural bee wax.

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Overall, this is an amazing place for kids to spend a weekend in summer, but probably not so much for horse enthusiasts. On the positive side, the excursion was held in German, which (surprise!) I was able to understand about 50% of. Not bad at all.

Useful links: http://www.destination-clervaux.lu/robbesscheier-offer/ardennes-horses/

2 thoughts on “The Oldest Draft Horses Breed in Europe or Do You Speak Luxembourgish?

  1. I moved to Luxembourg as a kid and have been here on and off for over 20 years yet knew nothing of this place!
    If you’re ever in this neck of the woods again come stay with me & I’ll take you on a trek in the woods and/or let you loose in one of the yards arenas!

    Like

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