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Main Content

Endangered Equine

‘Champagne’ American Cream Draft Horse is unique to the United States

By Colleen Creamer

Photography by Jeannette Beranger

There may not be a more beautiful “cold blood” than the American Cream Draft. Draft horses are called cold bloods because of their calm, willing temperaments, and the American Cream is a sparkling champagne version of the sturdy work horse. It’s also the only draft horse developed in this country.

Draft horses were bred, of course, for farm work, so their sturdy athleticism goes unquestioned, but they can also be trusted with all riders, including first-time riders and children. They also make fantastic pets.

But rarely do drafts, or any horse breed for that matter, have shimmering coats — the color is called “Gold Champagne” — or glowing amber eyes along with those remarkable personality traits. The conformation and color make for stunning draft teams.

The breed was developed in Iowa during the early 20th century from a mare now known as “Old Granny,” a draft mare with a cream-colored coat, pink skin, and amber eyes, the three defining traits resulting from the “Champagne” gene. Those traits were then passed on to her offspring.

At birth, the eyes of the American Cream foals are blue/green though they change to amber as they age. The foal’s skin is bright pink. The Champagne gene dilutes any base coat color, and in the American Cream Draft, the underlying genetic base color is chestnut. Chestnut is the only other recognized color.

American Cream Drafts are considered a medium-sized draft generally ranging from 15 to 16 hands. Mares run from about 1,500 to 1,800 pounds, and studs can get up to about 2,000 pounds. They have wide chests, sloping shoulders, and strong backs in keeping with other draft breeds.

Listed as ‘Critical’

After the Great Depression, several breeders in the Iowa region worked to improve the mainstay characteristics of the breed. However, as farming became mechanized in the mid-20th century, the need for draft horses lessened, leading to a decrease in the breed’s population.

Subsequently, the American Cream Registry became inactive for several decades until it was reactivated in 1982.

Today, the American Cream is listed as “Critical” on The Livestock Conservancy’s Conservation Priority List, meaning that the estimated global population of the breed is less than 2,000, with less than 200 registrations annually in the United States. The conservancy uses this list to bring attention to livestock, such as the American Cream.

Numbers of the breed have slowly dwindled even with some outreach, says Jeannette Beranger, the conservancy’s research and technical programs manager.

“These guys are in real big trouble,” she says. “The market has been flooded with horses, so especially the drafts have taken a hard hit. It is expensive to keep a bigger horse like that.”

But in its 40 years, the conservancy has not lost a single breed that it has worked with, and recovery will continue for the American Cream.