The Clydesdale horse is an easily recognizable heavy draft horse breed. Their large size, high-stepping gait, and feathering on the legs make them easy to spot. But despite this imposing stature, Clydesdales are gentle, trainable, and easy-going horses that you can enjoy working with.
Clydesdale Origin and History
The Clydesdale breed was developed during the late 18th and early 19th century in the Lanarkshire County of Scotland. It takes its name after the River Clyde, which flows through the district. Clydesdales first reached North America when Scottish immigrants brought their horses to Canada.
The horses were later brought to the US, where they served as power machinery, pulled wagons, plowed fields, and performed several other tasks that needed their endurance and formidable strength.
As machinery started to replace horses in agriculture and industry, Clydesdales came very close to extinction. The conscription of these horses in World War One also led to a decline in their population.
In 1877, the Clydesdale Horse Society was established as a registry. Enthusiasts and breeders are consistently working towards the survival of this horse breed.
Markings and Colors
The Clydesdale breed’s coat color is mostly bay, though they can also be chestnut, black, or gray. Their coats may either be solid or have roan spots or markings. While these horses often have white stockings on their legs, solid colors also occur. They may have bald facial markings or wide white blazes, leading to flashy, attractive combinations.
Black and bay Clydesdales usually command a premium, especially if they have the common white stockings or white facial markings, while roans seem to be the least preferred. Breed associations don’t make such a distinction. They believe that no color is undesirable, and they accept horses with spots.
The Clydesdale horse is one of the tallest breeds, ranging between 64 inches (16 hands) and 72 inches (18 hands) tall. Their weight (about 1,600 pounds) matches their imposing height. Clydesdale stallions often weigh more and stand taller than the mares.
Nutrition and Diet
A matured Clydesdale consumes between two to ten pounds of grain and 25 to 50 pounds of hay daily. That’s about double what other average-sized horses consume. They also require larger amounts of water than other horse breeds. There might be changes in their feeding needs based on their activity level and age to avoid being overweight.
Uses and Breeding
Clydesdales are famous for working long and hard. They initially served as war horses, transporting heavily armed soldiers. Clydesdales have pulled milk and freight wagons, logs in forestry, agricultural implements, and performed several other hauling tasks.
But people now use them for both driving and riding and frequently cross them with thoroughbreds to improve the breed for sports. A few individuals still use them occasionally for logging and agricultural tasks, but machinery has replaced them in these areas. You may frequently see them at exhibitions and fairs.
Clydesdales are also used in parades as drum horses. Each horse carries a rider with two drums (each weighing over 120 pounds). Clydesdales used for this purpose is at least 68 inches (17 hands) high.
Furthermore, the Clydesdale breed’s strength, agility, and calm nature make them excellent trail horses and valuable therapy horses.
Unique Features of Clydesdale Horses
The most apparent feature of Clydesdale horses is their large hooves. Each hoof is the size of a frying pan, weighing about five pounds. In contrast, the hoof of an average thoroughbred horse is just a quarter of theirs. Also, Clydesdales are famous for having white legs with much feathering. They also have a high-stepping trot or walk that gives them an impressive, attractive presentation.
The Clydesdale horse breed requires extra grooming care. Due to their large size, grooming usually takes longer. Their leg feathering needs regular shampooing to remove debris and dirt, and it needs complete drying to avoid skin irritation. Their large hooves require daily cleaning and inspection, and larger horseshoes.
Common Behavior and Health Issues
Clydesdale horses are generally a healthy breed with a gentle and calm temperament. But they’re vulnerable to certain health issues. Some may develop severe progressive lymphedema, which causes swelling in their legs. These horses can also develop skin infections if their leg hairs aren’t properly maintained.
Celebrity and Champion Clydesdale Horses
Many individuals have seen Budweiser Clydesdales either in person or in commercials. To advertise and market its product after prohibition in the US, the Anheuser-Busch brand began to use horse-drawn beer wagons. Since the 1930s, the wagons have toured many states and delivered Budweiser cans along the way. Mare teams still travel around North America with appearances in several public events.
Why Should You Choose the Clydesdale Horse?
Despite the Clydesdale horse breed’s massive stature, it has an easy-going disposition. The gentle giants are ideal as family horses and for individuals with limited equine experience. Their calm demeanor and intelligence make them very easy to train, and breeders describe them as happy horses that love to play and prance. Clydesdales are also hardy, even in cold conditions.
But due to their large size, keeping and maintaining Clydesdales can be more expensive than other breeds. They consume more food, require ample space, and their shoeing can be more costly than other average-sized horses. The minimum stall size widely considered for an average-sized Clydesdale that goes out daily is 24 by 24 feet. And the ones that go to the paddock less frequently require a larger stall.
How to Purchase or Adopt a Clydesdale
You may need to spend a minimum of about $1,000 to purchase or adopt a Clydesdale horse. The average cost ranges from $2,500 to $5,000, and it may skyrocket from there. Black and bay Clydesdales with white legs and facial markings often cost more, since they’re the most in-demand.
When selecting a reputable horse breeder or rescue, ensure that the organization is transparent about the temperament, medical needs, and history of your preferred horse. Before bringing the horse home, request to spend some time with it at the facility (preferably), so you can see how they treat their animals. Also, be on the lookout for potential problems, such as labored breathing or lameness.