The Clydesdale Horse, a Majestic Scottish Breed


The Clydesdale horse is probably best known as the breed used to pull beer wagons in the Budweiser commercials. They are famous for their striking appearance, particularly their size and white feathered feet. While that size can make the horse look imposing, the Clydesdale is an intelligent and docile animal that is easily trained and can be safely ridden even by an inexperienced rider.

History and Origins

The Clydesdale was originally bred as a heavy draft horse in Lanarkshire, Scotland during the 18th century. Lanarkshire was originally called Clydesdale, and the horse was accordingly named after the district. People originally bred the Clydesdale for heavy farm work, and they also used it to transport goods. As more people discovered its usefulness, the breed eventually spread throughout Scotland and northern England.

The Scottish districts developed a system of hiring stallions for breeding purposes. The various hiring societies kept records about where and how the stallions were bred, and some of these records date back to 1837. The hiring societies used these records to standardize the traits of the Clydesdale breed. They also began selling Clydesdales to other countries within the Commonwealth; there are records of horses being sent to Australia and New Zealand every year from 1850 to 1880.

In 1877, the Clydesdale Horse Society was formed to promote the horse all over the world. The Clydesdale was first exported to the United States around 1880, where it was chiefly used to haul merchants’ goods in cities. It was less popular on US farms, for the feathered feet were hard to keep clean. Clydesdales were also exported to other countries within North and South America, Russia, Italy and Austria between 1884 and 1945. Clydesdales were used by the various armies during World War I.

The Clydesdale’s fortunes declined after World War I, as it was supplanted by tractors and other motor vehicles. Its numbers dwindled, and the Rare Breed Survival Trust listed it as “vulnerable” in 1975. While its numbers have increased since then, the Trust still considers the Clydesdale to be “at risk.”

Breed Particularities

A Clydesdale horse should look both powerful and elegant with a high-stepping and showy gait. It is strong yet docile with a distinctive appearance. Its attributes make it a popular horse in parades and other shows, and it is gentle enough so that even a child may safely ride it.

Physical Characteristics of the Clydesdale Horse

The Clydesdale is a large and powerful horse with the following traits:

  • Height – averages 16.2 hands or 5 feet and 6 inches;
  • Weight – averages between 1600 and 1800 pounds;
  • Life Expectancy – between 20 and 25 years;
  • Color Bay is the most common color.

Some very large animals can be over 18 hands or six feet tall and weigh over 2200 pounds. While most Clydesdales are bay, they can also be brown, black, chestnut or roan. Clydesdales always have a white blaze or broad stripe down their face. Their feet are always white, and the white usually extends at least partway up their legs. Their most famous feature is probably the white feathered hair that adorns their feet.

Clydesdale Horse Temperament

Clydesdales are extremely docile and calm to the point that they are sometimes called “gentle giants.” Despite their intimidating size, they are good horses for pleasure riding. Even children and inexperienced riders may safely ride a Clydesdale. They are also intelligent and learn commands quite readily – attributes that make them good show horses.

Clydesdales display a lot of “action” when they move. They have long straight strides and a high-stepping gait that lets people see the underside of the hoof as the horse goes by. That gait makes them popular with carriage drivers.

Having a Clydesdale Horse X

Clydesdales are big horses and thus need a lot of room. They should be kept in a stall that is at least 24’ by 24’. They should also be let out into a paddock every day.

Because of their size, Clydesdales eat more than most other horses. Their nutritional requirements will vary, however, depending on their age and activity level. An adult Clydesdale can eat anywhere between 25 and 50 pounds of hay plus two to ten pounds of feed.

A Clydesdale’s size will make it more expensive than most horses simply because a lot of the equipment needed to care for and ride it will need to be scaled up accordingly. The reins will have to be longer, the saddle will have to be wider, and so on.

Clydesdales also have bigger feet than most other horses, so shoeing them will be more expensive. Like other horses, their hooves grow constantly, so they will need a farrier to either trim their hooves or put new shoes on them every six to ten weeks.

People who buy a Clydesdale can expect to pay roughly the following:

  • A trailer – anywhere from $1,000 to $100,000.
  • Tack – from $600 to $6000.
  • Pre-purchase vet check – $550 at most.
  • Annual vaccines — $50 to $75.
  • Grooming equipment – $100 on the high end.

Farrier — $50 to $150

Common Uses for Clydesdale Horses

Because of their strength and docility, Clydesdales were used to pull carts in both the US and UK up until the 1960s. Those attributes, plus their striking appearance, now make them a popular horse to use in parades, exhibitions and horse shows. Clydesdales also have a smooth trot that makes them good for pleasure riding.

They are probably now best known as the horses in the Budweiser advertisements. Anheiser Busch first used the horses and their beer wagon to celebrate the repeal of Prohibition in 1933. They began appearing in Super Bowl commercials over 50 years later. The most famous television spot featuring the Budweiser Clydesdales is probably the 9/11 tribute that depicts the horses bowing in the direction of New York City.

Clydesdales are also used to breed other horses. They can be crossed with smaller horses to produce medium-sized draft horses. Similarly, they have been used in the creation of other horse breeds like the Gypsy Vanner horse.

Images from depositphotos.com.

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