The Clydesdale Heavy Horse

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The Clydesdale horse is a native breed from Lanarkshire in Scotland. The name, Clydesdale, was the name of the area before boundary changes took place and the county became known as Lanarkshire.

A Brief History

The origins of this horse breed can be traced back to the middle of the 18th Century when the native horses in Scotland were bred with Flemish stallions in order to up the weight and size. The average weight of a Clydesdale can exceed three quarters of a ton, and some can even weigh just over a ton.

It was the then Duke of Hamilton who imported the first Flemish stallion, which was a dark brown and kept for use primarily by the Duke's tenants. The tenants were allowed to use these horses free of charge for all their needs - farming, transporting of goods, and riding. This was unusual in those days.

At around the same time a local man called John Paterson of Lochlyloch bought a Flemish stallion in England. It was black with a white face and some white patches on its legs. It was bred with a Clydesdale and proved to be a very successful venture as the Lochlyloch blood became famous, and was sought after by many horse owners.

Another horse that was bred at around the same time also made its mark. It was called 'Blaze', an all black stallion with a white patch on its face. It belonged to a Mr Scott of Carstairs and in 1872 Blaze won first prize at the Edinburgh Show. Nothing was really known about the horses antecedents, but his shape and action showed he was of good stock.

Pedigree classification and record keeping started in 1808 and the Clydesdale could then have its ancestry traced. At its peak there were approximately 140,000 farm horses as well as an unknown quantity in towns and cities, the bulk of these numbers being the Clydesdale - either full bred or part bred. The best year for the commercial sale of Clydesdales was in 1911 when 1,617 stallions were exported, mainly to Australia and New Zealand. Added to this during the period 1850 to 1945, there were 20,183 horses exported to all corners of the globe. North America, South America, Russia, Italy and Austria being just some of the places that imported the breed.

The horses were literally conscripted into the British Army in 1914 and served in the First World War, pulling large wheeled guns and essential supplies. As with most heavy horse breeds their usefulness became limited with the advent of mechanisation. Farms quickly began using tractors and lorries to do the work of the heavy horse.

Clydesdale Trivia

It was in the 1960s that Clydesdale numbers really went down and in 1975 the Clydesdale was put on the Rare Breeds Survival Trust list as being vulnerable and in danger of possible extinction if action was not taken. As a result private breeders and owners started to breed them again and in 2008 their status is classed as 'at risk' - but the numbers are improving.

During the 1990s the popularity of the Clydesdale grew and although there are only 700 registered mares and around 100 stallions in the UK, they are being used more, not just for showing, they are also being used again on farms and in some forests for logging.

The most common colours for the Clydesdale are bay and brown with white markings, however, blacks, greys, roans and chestnuts are also seen. The white marks are a character trait and very few Clydesdales are seen without a white face and quite a lot of white on their feet and legs. Like most heavy horse breeds it's well worth going to see them either at country fairs where they are shown or in a working environment such as on a farm or in the forests.

The popularity of the Clydesdale is such that at Grant's Farm in St Louis, Missouri, USA, they have a stable with breeding facilities operated by the brewery.1 there. As of 2002 they had 35 of the breed producing 15 foals per year.

Other Heavy Horses

Below is a list of Heavy Horse Breeds, the Shire at the top of the list, being the most popular and best known.

The numbers for each of the above breeds varies (as of 2008) but overall, they are historically very low. There are renewed efforts underway to preserve the various breeds via an assorted array of clubs, societies and individuals.

1The horse is also used extensively in advertising campaigns for the Anheuser-Busch Brewery.

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