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The American Boulonnais Horse Association

Working to preserve this historic and endangered breed

He stands on the headland overlooking the choppy waters of the Channel, the salty sea wind tossing his heavy mane and bushy tail, otherwise still as a marble statue. His neck is proudly arched, his dark eyes surveying the water below. He is the master of green fields, equally at home bearing the weight of an armored knight or pulling a heavily-laden carriage. He is strong and gentle, swift and brave. Unusually graceful, with the elegance of a much lighter horse, he stands tall and proud, more than 16hh of muscle, heart and speed. He is a Boulonnais.

The Boulonnais of northern France is a spectacular horse. One of the most beautiful of the draft horse breeds, the White Marble Horses trace their lineage back to the crossbreeding of native mares and stallions from the Numidian army occupation of 55-54 BCE. During the Crusades, two breeders concentrated on creating a warhorse that would be fast, agile and still strong enough to carry a knight in full armor through a rigorous battle. Eustache, Comte de Boulogne, and Robert, Comte d'Artois crossed the heavy Northern stallions with German Mecklenberg mares, similar to modern Hanoverians, for the base warhorse. The Spanish occupation of nearby Flanders during the 17th Century brought in Spanish Barb, Andalusian and Arabian horses, and the distinctive Boulonnais emerged. While color was not originally a breed requisite, in the late 1800s white horses were fashionable, so most Boulonnais today are born gray and fade to white as they mature. Some 15% of Boulonnais are chestnut, black or bay.

In the 17th century, two forms of Boulonnais developed. The smaller mareyeur (horse of the tide) variety was used for the rapid transportation of heavy carts of fish from Boulogne to Paris, a distance of nearly 200 miles. The Route du Poisson was traversed in under 18 hours, allowing Parisians to have fresh fish for their dinners. Today, the annual race Route du Poisson still commemorates the mareyeur.

In the early 1900s, there were over 600,000 Boulonnais horses in France. The Boulonnais was almost destroyed during World Wars I and II. In both wars, the Boulogne-Calais region of France saw heavy combat, and the bands of brood mares were scattered. Going through such trauma once would endanger any breed; having it happen twice in 25 years almost destroyed the Boulonnais. Sadly, with the advent of road and rail transportation, the maryeur Boulonnais has been allowed to die out. The larger Boulonnais, the direct heir to the warhorse bloodlines, is still bred in small numbers. Due to the fineness of its musculature and light bone structure, the prevailing use of Boulonnais today is as a meat animal.

Currently there are an estimated 700 Boulonnais horses in France, 150 in Germany, and fewer than 75 in Belgium.

The Boulonnais has been described as a "small, wide-awake Percheron" in appearance. The head is elegant and short with a flat, wide forehead, very keen, proud eyes, well-opened nostrils, and small, mobile ears. The neck is thick and muscular with a thick double mane. The Boulonnais chest is wide, with a well-rounded rib cage and a well-set shoulder. Withers are well placed but set deep into the musculature. The back is straight and the limbs are strong and solid with clean joints. The Boulonnais is energetic, easy, active and very gentle in nature.

The American Boulonnais Horse Association is working towards developing a breeding population of Boulonnais horses in the United States. Working with brokers in France, we are importing Boulonnais mares, and then using artificial insemination techniques for impregnation. Foals are raised by various Association members as well as at our base farm in Georgia.

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For more information on the American Boulonnais Horse Association, or to purchase shares in an imported Boulonnais mare, please contact Marna Martin.