What to Know About the American Cream Draft Horse

Medically Reviewed by Vanesa Farmer, DVM on January 07, 2023
5 min read

The majestic American Cream draft horse is an endangered breed. Originally developed in Iowa, the American Cream is the only draft horse created in the United States. This horse is known for its distinctive cream coat and friendly temperament. 

Breed enthusiasts are working diligently to preserve the American Cream and increase its numbers. Discover this uniquely American draft horse’s traits, history, and potential health issues.

A cream coat and a white mane and tail are the American Cream’s most unique characteristics. Unlike some draft horse breeds, the American Cream never has a docked tail. 

The American Cream breed standard calls for a refined head with big, wide-set eyes and a flat nose. The horse should have a muscular chest and a compact body suited for pulling heavy loads. It also gains strength from its short back, powerful hindquarters, and well-sprung ribs. Both the head and the legs should be proportionate to the body. 

The surefooted horse picks up its hoof and places it squarely on the ground with each step. This trait gives it an effortless and smooth movement.

The American Cream is a calm and people-oriented horse. It has a docile, laid-back, and trustworthy temperament. These traits make the breed a suitable family companion and a great choice for novice to intermediate draft horse handlers. 

American Cream breeders aim to produce horses with medium cream-colored coats and white manes and tails. The ideal American Cream has pink skin, giving it a vibrant cream coat. White markings are also a desirable trait. 

Some American Creams have dark skin. However, these horses generally don’t have the preferred shade of cream. They also tend to produce foals with overly light cream or nearly white coats. The American Cream Draft Horse Association (ACDHA) has an appendix registry for dark-skinned foals and half-breed offspring created by crossing the American Cream with other registered draft horse breeds.  

The ACDHA currently accepts cream-colored mares with dark skin and light manes and tails. The organization requires all registered stallions to have the preferred pink skin and white mane and tail. 

This breed’s cream coat is distinct from cremello and palomino, two cream-like shades found in other horse breeds. Unlike most cremello horses, the American Cream doesn’t have blue eyes. American Cream foals are born with almost white eyes. After a year, the eyes darken to amber or hazel.

Draft horses are physically imposing animals built to carry and pull immense weights. The average American Cream mare weighs 1,600 to 1,800 pounds. A stallion can weigh 1,800 to 2,000 pounds. An adult American Cream stands 15 to 16.3 hands tall. 

All American Cream draft horses descend from a cream–colored mare named Old Granny. The horse dealer Harry Lakin purchased this horse at an Iowa farm auction in 1911. Lakin bred Old Granny with Belgians, Dunns, Percherons, and other draft horse breeds. The mare consistently produced unique offspring with cream coats and amber eyes. One of her foals, a stallion named Nelson’s Buck, became the breed’s founding sire. 

Knox, an Old Granny great-grandson, produced Silver Lace, an influential stallion who sired many cream-colored foals in the 1930s. The developing breed attracted the attention of Iowa horse breeder C. T. Rierson. He purchased numerous Silver Lace colts and began recording the horses’ bloodlines. In 1944, the Webster City Fair showcased the cream-colored horses, and Rierson officially named the breed. 

In 1944, Rierson and a group of breeders created the American Cream Horse Association of America. In 1950, the Iowa Department of Agriculture recognized the American Cream as an official draft breed. The breed’s numbers grew slowly but surely during this period. By 1957, the association had 41 members and registered almost 200 American Cream draft horses.

However, Rierson’s death in 1957 and the increasing mechanization of agriculture caused the American Cream to decline significantly. The association became inactive until the late 1970s when a few remaining American Cream enthusiasts rallied together to save the breed. The organization reopened the studbooks in 1982 to accept mares with dark skin to boost the breeding population. 

In 1994, the association changed its name to the ACDHA. Since 1982, the organization has registered over 500 American Creams, but the breed remains very rare.

The adaptable and easy-to-train American Cream has many purposes. Historically, breweries, circuses, and milk distributors used this breed because of its striking appearance and willingness to work. 

Today, the breed’s strength and uniform cream color make it a popular choice for people who drive horses in teams. For example, American Cream draft horses can pull parade wagons, plows, and carriages.

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, a living museum in Virginia, is home to several American Creams. The horses participate in historical demonstrations and pull plows and wagons.

Other modern uses of the American Cream include:

  • Dressage
  • Driving 
  • Jousting 
  • Pleasure riding
  • Trail riding

The American Cream can inherit Junctional Epidermolysis Bullosa (JEB). This genetic skin disorder is also known as hairless foal syndrome and red foot disease. JEB is an autosomal recessive disease. Both parents must carry the gene mutation to pass it to the offspring. A foal born to two carrier parents has a 50% chance of inheriting this condition. 

Symptoms of JEB appear at or shortly following birth. Foals with JEB may have these symptoms:

  • Blisters and skin lesions at pressure points
  • Premature eruption of front teeth 
  • Oral ulcers
  • Sloughing of the hoof

JEB has no treatment. Affected foals are generally humanely euthanized or die from infection within ten days. American Cream breeders can test for the JEB gene to ensure they don’t breed two carrier parents.

The American Cream is a unique draft horse slowly recovering from near-extinction. This breed’s gentleness and trainability make it an excellent choice for beginning draft horse owners. However, the breed remains rare, especially in countries outside the United States. Finding a suitable American Cream may require more time and patience than buying another horse breed. If you’re interested in helping preserve this unusual breed, you can start by researching American Cream draft horse facts and contacting breeders.