Name of breed: Irish Draught
Country of origin: Ireland
Breed origin: The history of the Irish Draught dates back many hundreds of years to a time when Ireland and Spain were regular traders, swapping goods such as wool, butter, wine, and horses. In the 16th century, the Spanish brought horses with Iberian (today’s Andalusian and Lusitano) and Barb bloodlines to Ireland. These were crossed with the now-extinct Irish Hobby breed and Norman horses to create a strong, big-boned, elegant horse. The resulting breed was used for farm work, riding, hunting and driving, and was famed for its soundness and gentle nature. Irish Draughts could work for their families every day of the year while surviving on grass, gorse, and on any turnips, oats and bran left over from the cattle feed.
As with many heavier breeds, the Irish Draught was almost lost after the advent of modern machinery rendered it unnecessary in the farming and transport industries. However, the Irish are passionate about their native breeds and in 1976, a small group of breeders established the Irish Draught Horse Society to protect and promote the breed. In the decades since, the Irish Draught has found a new talent: producing supreme sport horses. When crossed with lighter breeds, the offspring of Irish Draughts excel at jumping, dressage, cross country and eventing. They inherit the Irish Draught’s bone, substance, and sensible temperament, while remaining athletic and elegant. The Irish Sport Horse (Irish Draught x Thoroughbred or warmblood) is one of the most popular all-rounder sport horse breeds across the world.
The catch is that purebred Irish Draught is still on the Rare Breeds Survival Trust’s rare breeds list, as the popularity of the Irish Sport Horse has led to a decrease in the number of pure Irish Draughts.
Distinguishing features: The Irish Draught is a versatile, powerful and athletic horse displaying great substance and overall quality. It has a pleasant head, good bone, strong back and quarters, deep girth, well sprung ribs, short and strong shins, long, sloping croup and a proud, high-set neck. Any ‘strong whole colour’ is acceptable, including bay, grey, chestnut, black, brown and buckskin. Most Irish Draughts stand between 15.2 and 16.3 hands high. Their action is straight and free, with an active, powerful stride. The breed is known for its inherent soundness, robust constitution and gentle, willing nature.
Modern day Irish Draught: The Irish Draught is now commonly used for both pleasure riding and competition, excelling at a range of disciplines and proving an enjoyable mount for everyone from beginner riders to professional competitors. It is often used to produce Irish Sport Horses, which inherit many of the Irish Draught’s best traits and can perform at the highest level in show jumping and eventing.
Image credits: Horse Sport Ireland, Bowland Irish Draught Horses, Cappa Stud.