Great Britain's Indigenous Horse Breeds
The Irish Draught Horse
There is no way it could be classed in the same category as Britain’s other draught breeds viz the Suffolk, Shire and Clydesdale. Although certainly capable of doing a good day’s work in a plough, the Irish Draught also puts in a great day’s hunting on the weekend.
The original Irish Draught was heavier than today’s version although the solid frame and slightly hairy legs have remained. The feathering is light not full on like the Clydesdale or Shire. The average height of the modern Irish Draught is between 15 and 17 hands and they weigh in at around 1,150 to 1,600 pounds.
Its ancestry would seem to be a mix of Connemara pony (giving it a native sagacity), Andalusian and Spanish Barb (brought over by the Norman invaders). Later, Thoroughbred blood was introduced. In 1901, the Irish Draught became Ireland’s national horse. Numbers rose and many were utilised during World War I as cavalry horses. Once mechanisation began to take over agricultural and haulage tasks, the numbers of Irish Draughts declined dramatically. Following World War II, thousands were transported overseas to slaughter houses.
The compact body is rather cob-like with a deep chest and powerful quarters. It is deep through the girth and has exceptional bone. The cannon bones are short and the hooves strong and rounded. The head is large but in proportion to the rest of the body. The profile is straight or slightly convex. The eye is large and kind and the ears on the largish side.
The most common colours are grey and chestnut but other solid colours are also seen. The foals may be born dark only to become grey as they mature. White markings are permitted provided they are not on the belly, and don’t reach higher than the knees. Nor should the head have a baldy face. These excessive white markings are believed to be a throwback to the days when Clydesdale blood was introduced.
It is an active horse of substance and quality with a strong and sound constitution. It has a spirited yet friendly nature and is very versatile. Crossed with the thoroughbred, the result is the Irish Sport Horse, a slighter built horse that retains the wonderful bone, and kind, sensible nature of its Irish Draught parent. The thoroughbred passes on more speed and agility making for a very competitive horse capable of succeeding in any of the Olympic disciplines.