These horses are the famous protagonists of the Budweiser Clydesdale commercials, especially popular during the Super Bowl. But there is more about and around the Clydesdale horse breed than meets the eye.
The Clydesdale Horse Breed
The Clydesdale is one of the biggest draft horse breeds. Bred in the region of Clydesdale, Scotland (today’s Lanarkshire), the Clydesdale horse breed came from imported Flemish stallions bred to local mares.
The breedings that would become the Clydesdale started around the mid-18th century. One man, Paterson of Lochlyoch, began breeding horses very much like the modern breed.
A mare, known as the “Lampits mare”, is a likely descended from the Lochlyoch horses and the ancestor of all modern Clydesdale horses. Her son, Glancer, was a prominent stud at the time.
Important for the development of the breed was the Shire horse infusion. This similarly large breed made the horses taller and helped in developing their characteristic feathers.
The name ‘Clydesdale’ was first used in 1826, during a horse fair in Glasgow. It would be a while until the first breed registry appeared, in 1877, and with it the first studbook. This was the Clydesdale Horse Society of Scotland, which still exists.
But this breed didn’t limit itself to Scotland. As it began solidifying itself, there was significant interbreeding between Clydesdale stallions and other horses through Scotland and northern England, influencing the local stocks.
Exports also began and the breed became especially popular in Australia, to the point many considered it the “horses that built Australia”.
North American registries also appeared, in the United States and Canada. The American registry appeared in 1879, two years after the Scottish one. Australia’s Commonwealth Clydesdale Horse Society began in 1918. Today, Australia counts with around 19,000 Clydesdale mares and 9,000 stallions and geldings.
In spite of its popularity, the Clydesdale horse breed almost went extinct after World War I. This is because war drafts and the mechanization of agriculture made the breed less important and useful. Up to the 1970s, the Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST) listed the breed as at risk of extinction.
Currently, the RBST lists it as vulnerable, meaning it has between 500 and 900 horses. The numbers have improved, but not enough.
In this video, we can see Clydesdales employing their significant strength by pulling a train carriage. These horses can pull around 4,000 pounds individually — though of course, an individual horse’s strength may vary.
At average, around 1 to 2 tonnes, depending on ground conditions and the method used to harness the horse to the weight.
Height: Clydesdales are typically 16-18hh in height, although some stallions might get even taller.
Colour: Usually bay, but other colors exist, including pinto patterns. They tend to have significant white markings due to the sabino gene.
Conformation: The Clydesdale horse has a strong, intelligent head with a convex or flat profile. It has a broad forehead, wide muzzle, large nostrils, a deep, wide chest, and a long, arched neck.
The limbs should be straight with long pasterns. The feet are open and broad. They have long, thick feathers on their legs. They are leggier than most heavy horse breeds and have a smooth, energetic motion, unlike most draft breeds.
Uses: Driving and draught work, but can also work under saddle. In the past, Clydesdale horses served for logging, hauling coal, heavy farm work, even as war horses for heavily armored troops.
Today, they are more present in driving competitions and festivals. They may also work as drum horses, a tradition started in England as part of the Royal Sovereign’s regiment and replicated in other countries in parades and other such occasions.
Cost: The average cost of a Clydesdale horse is between $2000 – $10000, depending on a variety of factors such as breeding, age, markings, and height.