Draught Horse Breeds
The Magnificent Clydesdale
The Clydesdale draught horse is endemic to the Lanarkshire region (previously known as Clydesdale) of Scotland. The river Clyde flows through Lanarkshire and farmers in this area were instrumental in developing the ‘gentle giant’ of the draught horse world. It is one of several draught horses native to the British Isles. The Suffolk Punch, Shire and Irish Draught are others.
The magnificent teams of Clydesdales which pull brewery drays has brought the breed into the public eye and the magnificent sight of the well-matched teams is an eye-catching spectacle.
As well as meeting the needs of farmers, there was a big demand for heavy horses to work in the coal fields and on the streets of Glasgow. The Clydesdale was quick to make an impression on the local farmers and hauliers and the horses were soon spreading throughout Scotland and northern England.
Hiring societies were operating right back to 1837. Travelling stallions would serve the mares of the farmers. This did much to standardise and fix the type. In 1877, the Clydesdale Horse Society was formed. The Society has actively promoted the breed both in Great Britain and overseas. Commonwealth countries and the United States has taken the bulk of exports. Today, the Clydesdale is practically the only draught breed found in Scotland and New Zealand. It is the most common draught breed in Australia and popular in Canada and the United States.
The Clydesdale moves with style and flair. He must have good action. For this breed, action means that the inside of each shoe should be visible to someone standing behind. The action isn’t high-stepping like a Hackney but the feet must be lifted cleanly off the ground with the hind feet at least covering the footprint of the forefeet. Movement should also be close with the forelegs planted well under the shoulders and hanging plumb from shoulder to fetlock.
The hind legs must be planted close together with the points of the hocks turned in rather than out. Sickle hocks (hocks turned out) is a very undesirable fault as it results in loss of traction. Cow hocks (hocks turned in) are not so objectionable in draught horses as the pulling power is enhanced.
The feet are extremely important and generally the first part of the horse to be judged in the show ring. The hooves should be open and round with the head of the hoof wide and springy, thus lessening the chance of developing ringbones or sidebones. The pasterns are long and set at an angle of 45 degrees from hoof head to fetlock joint. While a too long pastern is very objectionable it is very seldom seen in the breed.
A good Clydesdale is broad between the eyes with a flat or slightly convex profile, wide muzzle and large nostrils. The eye is bright and intelligent and the ears somewhat big and thin in texture. Wall eyes, where the iris has no colour, are reasonably common.
The neck is well-arched and the withers high. The shoulders are fairly wide giving a good ‘bed’ for the collar. The back is short and ribs well sprung. The croup and loin area should be short and as wide as possible sloping to the tail. The general impression should be one of power and activity.
Earlier Clydies were more compact and not so tall. Nowadays a somewhat lighter, leggier horse is being bred with most ranging from 16.2hh to 18hh and weighing between 1800 and 1800 lbs. Some of the biggest animals may reach 2200 lbs. With such a massive bodyweight, good legs and feet become increasingly important.
While bay is most common, black, brown and chestnut are also seen as is lots of roaning (white hairs dispersed through a solid body colour). It is common to see four white socks to the knees and hocks plus a wide blaze or baldy face. Sabino patterning is seen in all these colours with white past the knees and under the belly.
The mane and tail are profuse and there is extensive, silky feathering to the legs. The feather should originate from the back of the tendon and be soft and straight, rather than coarse.
In temperament, the Clydesdale is active, intelligent and amenable. Their value in manoeuvrability and their minimal impact on the environment when working in fragile areas is becoming more appreciated. The Clydesdale is often crossed with a lighter breed to produce active, reliable hunters and sports horses.
The Clydesdale is listed as ‘vulnerable’ by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust.