American Cream Draft

  • HEIGHT: Mature mares, 15–16 hands; mature males, 16–16.3 hands
  • PLACE OF ORIGIN: Iowa
  • SPECIAL QUALITIES: Unusual cream color, with amber or hazel eyes and full white mane and tail
  • BEST SUITED FOR: Commercial carriage driving, parade hitches, farm work, riding, and pleasure driving

The strikingly colored American Cream Draft is the only recognized breed of draft horse still surviving that originated in the United States. The breed descended from a cream-colored draft-type mare of unknown ancestry purchased in central Iowa in 1911. Old Granny, as she was called, belonged to a well-known stock dealer. Her foals attracted attention because of their unusual color, and they sold for well above average prices.

Granny herself was eventually sold to the Nelson Brothers Farm, where she remained for the rest of her very productive life. By 1946, she was credited as the foundation dam of 98 percent of the horses registered in the recently formed breed association.

In 1920, Eric Christian, a veterinarian, was so impressed with a colt of Granny’s that he implored the Nelson brothers not to geld the animal, intending to create a new breed. This colt, known as Nelson’s Buck No. 2, is considered the progenitor of the breed, though he remained a stallion only one year and sired only one registered cream-colored colt, Yancy No. 3, out of a black Percheron mare.

One of the most influential stallions in the history of the breed was Silver Lace No. 9, a great-great-grandson of Nelson’s Buck that was foaled in 1931. His mature weight of 2,230 pounds, considerably heavier than most Creams to that point, was credited to his light sorrel Belgian dam. His owner, G. A. Lenning, promoted him around the state, and he quickly became the most popular stallion in the area. At the time, however, Iowa law required all stallions standing for public stud service to have a certificate of soundness and a permit issued by the state department of agriculture. The permit was issued only to stallions of recognized breeds. Because Silver Lace did not belong to a recognized breed, the only way around the law was to create a breeding syndicate. Only people who owned shares in the Silver Lace Horse Company could breed their mares to Silver Lace.

A DISTINCT BREED

In 1990, genetic testing based on gene marker data established that the American Cream comprises a distinct group within draft horses. They are not any more similar to Belgians than they are to Percherons, Suffolks, or Haflingers. Prior to this scientific evidence, many thought Creams to be merely a collection of similarly colored individuals.

Silver Lace’s breeding career unfortunately coincided with the Great Depression, a very difficult time for farmers. At one point, Lenning saved Silver Lace from the auction block by hiding him in a neighbor’s barn. Despite the economic hardships, several breeders made serious efforts during those years to improve both color and type of Cream Drafts by linebreeding and inbreeding. Outcrosses between quality Cream horses and top individuals of other draft breeds brought greater quality and size to the emerging breed.

The American Cream Draft is one of only a few draft breeds that were developed entirely in the United States. Many of these horses are used for pleasure driving and riding, and at least one shows in dressage.

Beginning in about 1935, the horseman C. T. Rierson bought all the good Cream mares sired by Silver Lace that he could find. He used these mares to finally develop the new breed of draft horses that Dr. Christian had envisioned. In 1944, twenty owners and breeders formed a new breed association. In 1948, the National Stallion Enrollment Board recommended that the organization be recognized, and in 1950 the Iowa Department of Agriculture gave the American Cream Draft privileges equal to all other recognized draft horse breeds.

Breed Characteristics

Its striking cream color distinguishes the American Cream from all other draft breeds. Among draft breeds, the movement of American Creams is particularly smooth and easy; they pick their feet up and set them squarely back on the ground. Today the American Cream Draft is used to pull newlyweds at weddings and for parade hitches.

American Cream Draft Horses can be used for pleasure riding, even dressage, as this photograph proves.

BREED ASSOCIATION FACTS AND FIGURES

According to the American Cream Draft Horse Association (established in 1944):

  • There were 350 American Cream Draft Horses registered in 2004, up from 222 in 2000.
  • The association also lists 40 “tracking horses,” which may be either horses with Cream characteristics that are by pedigree Cream Draft crossed on another draft breed or purebred Cream Drafts that don’t meet the color requirements. Within guidelines, tracking horses may be used as breeding stock to produce purebred Cream Draft foals.
  • About 30 new purebred foals are added to the registry each year.
  • Although quite rare, these horses may be found in many parts of the United States.

Conformation

The American Cream Draft is a medium draft horse. Mature mares, five years and older, stand 15 to 16 hands and weigh between 1,500 and 1,600 pounds. Mature males measure 16 to 16.3 hands and weigh 1,800 pounds and up.

The head is refined and well proportioned to the body, with large, wide-set eyes; small expressive ears; and a flat profile. Interestingly, foals’ eyes are almost white during their first year and acquire color as the individuals mature. These horses are short-coupled, with round, muscular hindquarters, a wide chest, and good sloping shoulders. They are deep through the heart girth, with well-sprung ribs; solid, strong legs set wide apart; and strong, sure feet.

Color

The coat must be light, medium, or dark cream. All horses have a white mane and tail and amber or hazel eyes. Pink skin is required for registration. The mane and tail are long and full. Though docking the tail of draft horses is an ancient tradition, in this breed the tail is not docked. A blaze and socks or stockings are desirable.

On the advice of Dr. Phillip Sponenberg, DVM, PhD, of the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy and the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, foals with Cream breeding that are too dark to be accepted for registry can be appendixed to the registry. These animals may be crossed on cream-colored individuals, which should strengthen rather than dilute the Cream genes and enable breed numbers to increase more rapidly. Until such time as the books are closed to outside breeding, a Cream mare with dark skin and light mane and tail will be accepted as foundation stock. All stallions, however, must have pink skin and a white mane and tail to be accepted for registration.