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Irish Draught Horse Breed Origins, Characteristics and Uses

Irish Draught Horse Breed Origins, Characteristics and Uses

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Now known as the national horse breed of Ireland, the Irish Draught encompasses the Irish Sport Horse and Irish Hunter as well. Pronounced like, “draft” in American English, this breed isn’t what you typically think of as a draft horse.

This breed is much more athletic and competitive than those big, furry legged horses that pull heavy loads. In fact, they are more of a sport horse.

Breed Stats

Height and Weight

The Irish Draught horse stands at anywhere between 15.1-16.3 hands, with mares typically being nearer the bottom of this range. They typically weigh between 1300 to 1500 pounds.

Color and Markings

The Irish Draught can be found in practically every whole color, including grays. Some variations found in Irish Sport horses include such a wide array of colors as: white, black, gray, buckskin, brown, cremello, champagne, palomino, perlino, dun, chesnut, grullo, and roan. However, white legs above the knees or hocks is not considered desirable.


Irish Draught horses should have good strong, clean bones possessing a bold head with wide spaced eyes, wide forehead, and well-set long ears. It may be slightly Roman nosed, with a roomy jawline for ease of breathing. The body should be well-proportioned and strong, muscular but not coarse in any way. The chest should not be too broad, but the withers well-defined. Legs should be long and proportionate, with knees set near the ground and little hair on the fetlocks. The back, hindquarters, and hind legs should be powerful and proportionate. Hooves should be generous and sound with plenty of room at the heel.

Characteristics and Temperament

Known for being intelligent, energetic, and powerful, this breed is usually active, short-shinned, and of impressive quality. The Irish Draught is proud of bearing, deep of girth, and strong of back and quarters. They have remarkable strength and a very sound constitution, as well as being very gentle of nature, docile, and possess an amazing amount of common sense.


Historically, they were used as a versatile family farm horse, doing everything that needed to be done, including pulling the family carriage, plowing the field, and carrying its master on the hunt. But today they are used to breed the finest Irish Sport Horses, which are highly successful in upper lever Jumping and Eventing competitions.

History and Origins.

The exact origins of the Irish Draught horse are unknown, but researchers suspect the bloodlines include some European warmblood or draft breeds crossed with lighter Spanish horses. Some say Andalusians were bred to horses of France and Flanders, introduced during the Anglo-Norman invasion of 1172, but the breed was never identified that early on.

There is some mention of the breed on record as early as the late 1700s, but the breed was not formally recognized until the late 19th century. The crossing of native Connemaras and other native mares with thoroughbred stallions resulted in the recognition of the specific type.

The breed that became known as the Irish Draught Horse resulted in useful, all-around horses capable of performing farm work, carrying owners out on the hunt field, and pulling a family wagon to town for market or church.

Though created to do the same work as typical draft breeds, the Irish Draught is smaller and lighter, more versatile and pretty to look at, as well as better at surviving Ireland’s rough, wet terrain full of burrs and stickers, which become a problem with heavy feathering on the legs of draft horses. They were soon recognized for their superior jumping ability, they have become very popular in show jumping and eventing.

Interesting Facts

  • The Irish Famine of 1847 nearly wiped out the breed, sorely depleting the bloodline as many were sold to the slaughter house. The breed is still considered rare today, despite efforts to build it back up.
  • They are still included in the World Horse Welfare rescuing project.
  • They have a unique ability to jump massive heights, making it an obvious choice for breeding superior jumping horses.


What are Irish Draught Horses used for?

Irish Draught Horses compete in nearly every aspect of equestrian sport worldwide:  show jumping, eventing, dressage, driving, Le Trek, and endurance riding. Some are even used as police horses in certain countries.

How long do Irish Draught Horses live?

Like most mid-sized horses, the Irish Draught Horse usually lives well into its twenties, and often up into their thirties.

What does Draught Horse mean?

The term refers to horses that have been bred and adapted to pulling heavy loads and performing farm and heavy labor.

Is an Irish Sport Horse a Warmblood?

Yes, the Irish Sport Horse, used for dressage, eventing, and show jumping, has been produced since 1923 by crossing Irish Draught Horses and Thoroughbreds.

Are horses native to Ireland?

The Connemara Pony is native to the west coast of Ireland, and often crossed with Thoroughbreds to produce exceptional and versatile sport horses.

Are Irish Sport Horses good for beginners?

Yes, because this breed has a wonderful personality suitable to all levels for horse owners, trainers, and riders. Though they are known to be lively, bold, and intelligent, they are also calm and very even tempered.