Horse Breed: Clydesdale

Horse Breed: Clydesdale

Horse Cultures of the World

Horse Breed: Clydesdale - photo by Jessica Rockeman on Pixabay - Globetrotting horse riding holidays

Name of breed: Clydesdale

Country of origin: Scotland

Breed origin: The Clydesdale was developed by Scottish farmers in a region known as Lanarkshire, which was previously called Clydesdale. To produce a versatile draught horse for farm work, coal mining and heavy haulage, Flemish stallions were imported and bred with local mares. The first recorded use of the name ‘Clydesdale’ for the breed was in 1826, and by 1837 a system of hiring stallions had begun that resulted in the spread of Clydesdale horses throughout Scotland and into northern England. The first breed registry was formed in 1877. Some Shire bloodlines were introduced not long after, increasing the Clydesdale’s height and bulk.

Between 1884 and 1945, no fewer than 20,183 Clydesdales were exported from Scotland! They were sent to Europe, Russia, North and South America and throughout the British Empire, including Australia, where they became known as ‘the breed that built Australia’. However, during World War I, population numbers began to decline due to the conscription of draught horses for the war. The decline continued even after the war ended as machines replaced horses in agriculture, forestry and haulage. By the 1970s, the Rare Breeds Survival Trust considered the Clydesdale vulnerable to extinction. However, over the next few decades, the breed’s popularity gradually increased and in 2010 the worldwide population was estimated to be around 5,000.

Clydesdales have been used to develop and improve many other breeds over the years, including the South German Coldblood, the Australian Draught Horse, the Campolina, the Shire, the Dales Pony and the Gypsy Horse. They are also frequently crossed with warmbloods and Thoroughbreds to produce strong, sensible sport horses.

Distinguishing features: Clydesdales are one of the most recognisable draught horse breeds with their typically bold white markings and profusely feathered lower legs. They can be bay, black, brown or chestnut, and roaning and sabino-like flecks of white on the body are both common traits. Clydesdales have become taller in the last half century and they now stand between 16 to 18 hands high, weighing anywhere from 820 kilograms to a tonne (1,800 to 2,200 pounds). Contrary to popular belief, Clydesdales are quite energetic in nature. Well muscled and strong yet not excessively bulky, they have active gaits and give an overall impression of power and quality. Their head has a straight profile, a wide muzzle, large nostrils, a broad forehead and bright, intelligent eyes. Clydesdales’ hooves and legs are considered the most important aspect of their conformation: round, open hooves, long pasterns, forelegs hanging straight down from the shoulder to the fetlock, and the hind hocks turned inwards.

Modern day Clydesdale: Some Clydesdales are still used for draught work today, including agriculture, logging and driving. More often, they are kept for pleasure, as show horses, and as harness horses. They are often seen pulling carriages and historical horse-drawn vehicles in parades, the most famous example being the Budweiser Clydesdales. In the United Kingdom, the British Household Cavalry often uses Clydesdales as drum horses, whose role is to carry the ‘Musical Ride Officer’ and his two drums, each weighing 57 kilograms!


References: International Museum of the Horse, Oklahoma State University, Wikipedia.

Image credits: feature image by Jessica Rockeman on Pixabay, preview image by Bernard Spragg on Flickr (public domain).

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