Henson horse

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Other names
  • Cheval Henson
  • Cheval de Henson
Country of origin France
Henson horse in the Somme

The Henson, French: Cheval Henson or Cheval de Henson is a modern French breed of horse[1] from the area of the Baie de Somme in Picardy (now part of Hauts-de-France), in north-eastern France. It was created by the selective breeding of light saddle horses with the small, heavier horses of the Norwegian Fjord. The aim was to breed small horses suitable for equestrian tourism. A breeders' association, the Association du Cheval Henson, was formed in 1983. In 1995 the stud-book was closed to horses not born from Henson parents, and in 2003 the breed was officially recognised by the Haras Nationaux and the Ministère de l'Agriculture, de l'Agroalimentaire et de la Forêt, the French ministry of agriculture.


Hensons at Hâble-d'Ault
Typical landscape of the Marquenterre, birthplace of the breed

Unlike the majority of French horse breeds, the Henson was created in the late 20th century with the goal to obtain a hardy horse adapted to all forms of equestrian tourism, outdoor riding and leisure;[2]:67[3] it is therefore the most recent of all French horse breeds.[4]:4 The Baie de Somme, a natural area of 70 km², is the birthplace of the breed.[3][2]:68 The Henson became one of the emblems in the same way as birds,[5]:215 thanks to its mode of breeding "in the sense of a preserved area". Its economic impact remains modest but is growing from year to year with the rise of ecotourism.[6] It is considered a regional success "in the new logic of horse riding”.[4]:4

Near the end of the 1970s, horse riding oriented towards outdoor recreation for nature-loving families. This promoted pony trekking as well as driving. This trend implied the search for a leisure horse suited in regions such as the Somme, where equestrian tourism became popular in the area of the Baie de Somme.[3]

The Henson breed was originally an experimental cross between first generation horses from different breeders, between Fjords and various riding horses.[2]:68[7]:143 Bernard Bizet, Lionel and Marc Berquin are the creators, their purpose being to obtain "very good saddle horses".[5]:191, 215 In 1972, Bernard Bizet bought a Fjord stallion and four fillies to create the Henson. The idea for the breed struck him following a trip to Denmark in his youth. The qualities of the Fjord breed are ideal for activities geared towards a younger clientele. The hardiness of the breed allows for economic management; the Fjord lives outside year round. In 1973, Bizet’s Fjord stallion was too young to breed his mares, so he decided to take them to the Haras Nationaux, and present them to an Anglo-Arab.[8]

In 1974, the birth of two foals, half Fjord and half Anglo-Arab, attracted the attention of Lionel Berquin, attendant at the Centre Équestre de Morlay (Morlay Equestrian Centre). He discovered the abilities of these foals. Adopted by the Association des Cavaliers de la Baie de Somme (located in Port-le-Grand), they were named "Henson" a few years later. They combine the dun coat colour, the qualities of hardiness and the mental balance of the Fjord with the fiery temperament of the Anglo-Arab, and a body adapted to driving and recreation. This crossing brought about heterosis, which resulted in the setting of sought-after qualities, hence the good results of the experiment.[2]:68[7]:143 The experiment was deemed worth being repeated, so the Fjord was crossed with Trotters and Selle Français horses, but the Anglo-Arab proved to be the better cross.[8]

Members of the breed’s development project, including Berquin and Bizet, gathered in 1982 to become the Association des Cavaliers de la Baie de Somme.[2]:68 Lionel Berquin co-created the Association of the Henson Horse that same year with Dominique Cocquet, then leader of the “Syndicat Mixte Pour l'Aménagement de la Côte Picarde” (Mixed Union for the Development of the Picardy Coast), to "give life to this crazy bet" which was to create a new breed of horse, promote it and establish it.[9] They gathered all their Fjord cross horses, and bred their mares to the stallions.[10] The goal was to get horses with similar phenotypes, so the genotype would be stable and reproducible, but also to have sufficient first generation animals that were 50/50.[2]:68 From 1984 to 1986, 50/50 Fjord mares were covered by an Anglo stallion, the product was 25% Fjord blood. The morphology and character were interesting but the dun coat colour was lost in more than half of the cases. The same mares produced foals that were 75% Fjord, in order to better establish the coat colour for selection criteria.[8]

In 1986, the creation of the Henson horse breed was formalized by Bizet and Berquin. The little horse from the Baie de Somme had an identity, although it remained unrecognized by the Haras Nationaux. The fillies with 75% Fjord blood were bred in 1992 by Riesling Pierre and Agmar D’Oc, two Anglo-Arabs from the Boismont stud, belonging to the Haras Nationaux.[8] In 1993, the first foal with 37.5% Fjord blood was born, Fantasio de Morlay, and voted best foal of the year at the Henson Festival in Marquenterre. The goal of the breeding was to create a horse for recreation through breeding registered mares, where the reproduction of mares to their sires was forbidden, in order to avoid inbreeding.[8]

In 1989, the Association des Cavaliers de la Baie de Somme established on the Marquenterre property, land of the Jeanson family.[11] In 1995, they believed the population of first-generation horses was sufficient, the breed studbook was closed to outside horses whose parents were not of the Henson breed. Purebred breeding continued, exclusively on horses of second and following generations.[2]:68[7]:144 This is why Henson horses born after this date are no longer bred from a cross between Fjord and saddle horses, contrary to popular belief.[3]

The Henson was recognized as a breed by the Ministry of Agriculture and the Haras Nationaux in July 2003.[12]:57 Dominique Cocquet thought in 2010 that this breed had a future because 12 million French thought they would like to practice horse riding in contact with nature.[13]


The Henson must have between 25% and 50% Fjord blood, and measure between 1.50 and 1.60 metres (14.3 and 15.3 hands; 59 and 63 in)[3][14] As a result, it looks a lot like the Fjord, but slightly taller and more slender, it is well-structured but not heavy.[10] Its phenotype has well-marked features, even though the relatively recent creation of the breed led to a certain lack of homogeneity.[2]:69 It is ranked among the 23 most beautiful horse breeds in the world by the "Cheval Pratique" magazine.[15]

Henson foal in the Somme.

Popular morphological features are those of a pleasure horse, with extended gaits and a strong use of the hind limbs.[14]

The head is preferably refined, expressive and as light as possible;[2]:69 it is generally medium-sized with relatively deep jaws, and a straight or slightly concave profile. The ears are short and well-sculpted, with a darker tip than base. The eyes, sharp but with a sweet expression, are surrounded by black skin.[14] The neck is preferred sufficiently long and without heaviness,[2]:69 well oriented on a strong base,[14] but it is usually relatively short and wide. The chest is broad, the desired shoulder long and sloping.[2]:69 The body is stocky, the back often short and wide but sought-after in medium length.[14][2]:69 The hindquarters are large, the pasterns are short, legs solid and muscular with a hoof wall as strong as that of the Fjord, which should not be light coloured.[2]:69

Its coat colour is most often a "more or less dark beige" colour ranging from sand tones to brown,[3][16] this is known as dun and arises due to the presence of the dun gene seen in the Fjord, but bay is also accepted.[14] The presence of a dorsal stripe along the back is required, and a lot of horses also have zebra-like striping or barring on the legs. Furthermore, all white markings (stripe, blaze, socks, etc.) are discouraged, and even prohibited for the sires, so that they do not appear in their offspring. The mane is solid black or two-tone, black and gold or black and white.[11]:69[2] The coat still lacks a bit of stability; sometimes non-dun horses or carriers of white markings are born periodically.[7]:144

Cattle egret accompanying a Henson horse in La Bassée, Baie de Somme

The Henson is described as having a confident mannerr, sociable and friendly; it is also easily approached at the edge of the pasture.[10] It is quiet, docile, versatile and hardy.[3][11][2]:69 Undemanding in the level of care and feeding, it can live outdoors year-round thanks to its hardiness and resistance.[6][12]:57 It is often reared in a natural way outside,[3] and reproduces in freedom, which gives balance and hardiness from birth. The many swamps and other wetlands in the Baie de Somme form the main area where it is traditionally bred and lives part of the year, living off the barren pastures and sandy or marshy ground without problems. This resistance comes from its Fjord ancestors, accustomed to extreme conditions.[2]:68 The presence of horses in Marquenterre attracts cattle egrets,[17] and it complements the presence of salt-meadow sheep. A study done at the University of Lille I concluded that this horse is perfectly integrated in this ecosystem.[6]


The Henson Horse Association is the national breed association since 3 February 1983. It is intended to consolidate the breeders and owners of Henson horses, manage the studbook and orient the selection of the breed, develop it and promote it.[18] To help renew the blood in the breed, the studbook of the Henson breed has a “Henson factor” section open to horses from crosses between Fjord horses and those of Thoroughbred, Anglo-Arabian, Selle Français, French Trotter, Andalusian or American Quarter Horse breeding, always having between 25% and 50% of Fjord blood and a coat colour that meets the breed standard. There is also a limitation of the number of breedings permitted per stallion, either ten mares maximum for stallions less than six years old, or 50 maximum for those over six years. Artificial insemination and embryo transfer are not allowed, and the approval of a stallion or a mare for breeding is subject to appearance, character and gait tests.[14]

Uses and distribution[edit]

The Henson is used for all kinds of outdoor and leisure riding[3][12]:57[2]:69 and is suitable for beginners to advanced riders.[5]:215 It is widely used for this activity in Marquenterre.[5]:191 Described as an “interesting experience” in the field of leisure, according to Lætitia Bataille, the Henson does not have the qualities of horse breeds that have been selected for several centuries.[2]:68

The Henson has great endurance, it is handy and fast.[3] It can participate in competitions of polocrosse and is used for hunting. Driving, where a team of four Henson horses earned a bronze medal in the Championship of France, horse-ball, in which the women's team of Marquenterre was national champion of France in 2002,[12]:58 endurance and Le TREC, where the Henson is seen at the national level, are among its preferred disciplines.[3][2]:68, 69 Thanks to its coat colour, it is striking in the field of traditional driving.[2]:69

It is also used for the maintenance of the marshes of the Somme, in its role as a grazing animal.[12]:59

Trans’Henson 2014.

The Henson was once considered to be a local breed for which the threat level was unknown.[19] The breed is now stabilised and bred mainly for leisure,[2]:70 while some find opportunities in sport. These horses are found in all pastures of the Baie de Somme and in the Marquenterre.[10] The Baie de Somme, and in particular the Marquenterre, birthplace of the breed, is the main breeding area. Some horses are found elsewhere in France and in Belgium.[12]:58 Since 2008, this horse is found in Nord-Pas-de-Calais, the departments of Oise and Eure,[2]:70 and on a farm located in Berry.[3]

There were about 400 Hensons identified in France in 2010, including 200 in the equestrian "Henson-Marquenterre" area, in Tourmont-Saint-Quentin, and equestrian "L’Étrier" area, in the Baie d'Authie (fr).[3][5]:191 In 2011, a new equestrian area dedicated to this horse began in Rue, the "Henson Stud".[20] In 2006, the breed had 31 breeders, 9 stallions standing at stud, and 36 new births,[2]:70 these numbers were relatively stable over the following years.[3]

Year 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008
Number of births in France. 20 32 43 43 ?

Every last weekend of October, during All Saints' Day, marks the “Trans'Henson”, a gathering, by Henson horse owners, of the year’s foals, broodmares and young horses from one to three years to repatriate them in areas of winter pasture close to the centre of Saint-Quentin-en-Tourmont.[11][21] It's an opportunity to see more than 200 gathered horses. A "Ferya" is organized in mid-July, with presentations of the horses and selection of the most beautiful colt and the most beautiful filly.[22] Otherwise, these animals are present in other events such the Paris International Agricultural Show, of which they were the stars in 2003, at the time of the breed's recognition.[5]:215


  1. ^ Breed data sheet: Henson/France. Domestic Animal Diversity Information System of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Accessed February 2014.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w Lætitia Bataille (2008). Races équines de France (in French). France Agricole Éditions. ISBN 9782855571546.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Le Henson (in French). Institut français du cheval et de l’équitation. Accessed December 2016.
  4. ^ a b [s.n.] (2008). Le cheval en Picardie (in French). Conseil Inter-régional du Cheval Nord - Pas de Calais - Picardie. Archived 20 January 2015.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Dominique Auzias (2007). Le Petit Futé Amiens (in French). Petit Futé. ISBN 9782746918399.
  6. ^ a b c Bénédicte Durand (2004). Le henson, un cheval agent de développement local? (in French). Hommes et terres du Nord 2: 57-68. ISSN 0018-439X
  7. ^ a b c d Laetitia Bataille (2007). Les poneys : Races et élevage (in French). France Agricole Éditions. ISBN 9782855571409.
  8. ^ a b c d e Carole Bizet ([n.d.]). Histoire du cheval Henson (in French). Ferme Equestre de Morlay. Archived 6 March 2016.
  9. ^ (fr) Témoignages de personnalités : M. Dominique Coquet : directeur général adjoint de Disneyland Paris et directeur général de Villages Nature et co-fondateur, avec le docteur Lionel Berquin, de l'Association du Cheval Henson en 1982, Les haras nationaux (accessed 12 January 2012)
  10. ^ a b c d (fr) Jacques Béal, Guide de la baie de Somme à vélo, Renaissance Du Livre, 2006, 167 p. ISBN 9782874155901, read online), p. 54
  11. ^ a b c d (fr) Le Pays du cheval Henson en côte Picarde (Saint-Quentin-en-Tourmont) (accessed 16 July 2009)
  12. ^ a b c d e f Isabelle Leclercq (October 2003). Le Henson, désormais race officielle (in French). Cheval magazine (383): 56–59.
  13. ^ (fr) Institut français du cheval et de l'équitation, Le cheval précurseur du tourisme durable [PDF], Institut français du cheval et de l'équitation, 25 March 2010 (accessed January 20, 2015)
  14. ^ a b c d e f g (fr) Christophe Sodore, Règlement du stud-book du cheval Henson, Haras nationaux, January 2008 (accessed 9 January 2012)
  15. ^ (fr) C. Hercy, E. Feuillerac, F. Halm and N. Lazarus, Zoom sur les 23 plus belles races, Cheval pratique, no 178, January 2005, p. 42-95
  16. ^ (fr) Jacques Béal (ill. Robin), Côte picarde et baie de Somme, coll. L'esprit des lieux, Renaissance Du Livre, 2001 ISBN 9782804605049, p. 83
  17. ^ (fr) Société ornithologie de France, L'oiseau et la revue française d'ornithologie, vol. 62 to 63, Société ornithologie de France, 1992, p. 216
  18. ^ (fr) Mission, Association du Cheval Henson (accessed 17 February 2012)
  19. ^ Rupak Khadka, Global Horse Population with respect to Breeds and Risk Status, Uppsala, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and Animal Science - Department of Animal Breeding and Genetics, 2010, p. 59 ; 70.
  20. ^ (fr) Espaces équestres Henson, retrieved from henson.fr (accessed 9 January 2012)
  21. ^ (fr) Transhenson en Harmonie, retrieved from Henson.fr (accessed 8 January 2012)
  22. ^ (fr) Jean-Paul Labourdette et Dominique Auzias, 52 Week-ends en France 2010-2011, Petit Futé, 2010 ISBN 9782746927643, p. 40 read online

Further reading[edit]

  • Jacques Sevestre, Nicole Agathe Rosier (1983). Le Cheval (in French). Larousse. ISBN 9782035171184. page 105.
  • C. Lux (1991). Les Henson (in French). Cheval pratique 19: 36–39
  • Bénédicte Roche Dupas (1996). Le cheval de Henson, thèse doctorale (in French). École Nationale Vétérinaire de Toulouse.
  • C. Lux (1998). Le cheval de Henson (in French). Atout cheval 8: 47–50
  • C. Bigeon (1999) Le Henson (in French). Cheval loisirs 82: 40–43
  • C. Fauguière (2000). Le cheval de Henson entre ciel et mer (in French). Equimag 23: 12–13
  • P. Vermeulen (2000). La Transhenson 1999, une forte demande en chevaux d'extérieur (in French). Hippo news 278: 32–33
  • F. Clot (2003). Le Henson : 25 ans d'histoire pour une nouvelle race de loisir (in French). Cheval loisirs 132: 54–59
  • S. Farissier (2004). Le cheval henson (in French). Atout cheval 73
  • E. Feuillerac (2005). Le henson : né et fait pour le loisir (in French). Cheval pratique 183: 42–51
  • L. Pacaud (2008). Les correspondants de race : exemple du Boulonnais, du Trait du Nord et du Henson (in French). Equ'idée 63: 44–45
  • C. Clergeau (2009). Le henson sur les traces du camargue? (in French). Cheval magazine 453: 48–51
  • S. Rizo (2011). Dominique Coquet: si le Henson n'existait pas, il faudrait l'inventer (in French). Equ'idée 76: 56–58
  • Marie-Eve Rebts (March 2016). Le henson, petit cheval nature (in French). Cheval magazine 532: 38–41