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Clydesdale (horse)

Clydesdale draft horse at the Maryland State Fair
Distinguishing features: Draft horse breed noted for striking appearance and docile disposition. Mostly bay, chestnut, or black with white stockings and distinct feathering.
Country of origin: Scotland
Common nicknames: Clydes (USA)
Breed standards
Clydesdale Breeders of the USA: Breed standards
Clydesdale Horse Society: Breed standards
Horse (Equus ferus caballus)

The Clydesdale is a breed of draft horse derived from the farm horses of Clydesdale, Scotland, and named after that region. Thought to be over 300 years old, the breed was extensively used for pulling heavy loads in rural, industrial and urban settings, their common use extending into the 1960s when they were still a familiar sight pulling the carts of milk and vegetable vendors.

They have been exported in the Commonwealth and United States where they are famous for their use as the mascot of various beer brands, including Anheuser-Busch's Budweiser brand, Carlton & United Beverages and several others.

At one time there were at least 140,000 Clydesdales known in Scotland; by 1949 just 80 animals were licensed in the UK and by 1975 the Rare Breeds Survival Trust had listed the breed as "vulnerable". Clydesdales have since seen resurgence in popularity and population, resulting in the breed's status being reclassified favorably as "at risk" with an estimated global population of just 5,000 individuals. Clydesdales are now most numerous in the United States where recently over 600 foals are reportedly born each year.

Today, the Clydesdale's most significant presence is in exhibition and parades.




Clydesdales are noted for grace and versatility; they stand on average between 16 - 17 hands (the current world-record holding Clydesdale is 20 hands) in height and can weigh upwards of one short ton (2,000 pounds). A Clydesdale has an elegant head, with a straight profile, a convex profile is frowned upon, small ears, large, dark eyes and a heavy forelock. The neck is long and slightly arched, the chest deep, the shoulders are well sloped and muscular. The action is energetic and ground covering. The Clydesdale tends to exhibit a longer coupling than its cousin, the Shire and the withers are clearly defined. The hindquarters are well-muscled and have a distinctively rounded silhouette. The legs should be long and strong with characteristically large hoof size, typically being at least twice the diameter of those of a light riding horse, such as a Thoroughbred. The pasterns are longer and sloping than those of a stock-type horse. Perhaps the most widely recognised feature of the Clydesdale's appearance is the abundance of feather, the long hairs that fall from just below the knees and hocks to cover the hooves.

The characteristic action of a Clydesdale is demonstrated at a trot; an animated gait with high hoof action in both the front and rear. Despite its large size, the Clydesdale presents with an energetic quality described by the Clydesdale Horse Society as "gaiety of carriage and outlook."[1]


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A young Clydesdale in Australia. The need for body cooling in warmer climates leads over time to a slightly leaner-built animal.

Clydesdales may be of several possible colors, including various shades of bay (sometimes called brown), chestnut (sometimes called sorrel) or black. Clydesdales have a range of characteristic white markings which are generally present regardless of body colour. The most distinctive are four white feet and a blaze, most often a full blaze or large, white "bald face" marking which extends to the lips and chin and may also extend to the eye region. White on the legs sometimes does not extend much above the feather, but in many cases, when a horse carries the sabino colouring pattern, it can extend up the greater part of the leg and even merge with a white underbelly. The sabino gene can also be expressed more dramatically, spreading white hairs from the belly up the horse's sides creating an effect that is referred to in the draft breeds as roan. A chestnut or bay horse with this sabino expression is typically referred to as a "strawberry roan" and a black horse with the same pattern is called a "blue roan" by many Clydesdale enthusiasts. In North America, "high white" markings are favoured, and bay predominates. In Scotland, a large number of roan horses are exhibited.

With the widespread inheritance of the sabino pattern, the feather tends to be white, but can be black or chestnut, depending on the color of the leg markings and the presence of markings. This trait developed as a result of native stock and breeding with Flemish horses.

File:Drum horse 2007.jpg
Drum horse of the Household Cavalry

On the other hand, Clydesdales can also have one or more dark legs, either mixed with white hairs, or a solid shade of black or brownish-red. Hooves will match the corresponding leg color, dark or light, at the point where the skin of the leg meets the hoof wall, sometimes resulting in a striped or two-toned hoof. Horses with white muzzles often have distinctive black spots around the lips and chin.

Drum horses or Coloured Cobs

When Clydesdales were widely prevalent in Scotland, horses of skewbald and piebald patterning were relatively common. Pinto coloured draught animals, of both Clydesdale and other ancestry, had traditionally been used by the Household Cavalry (the mounted guard of the reigning monarch of the United Kingdom), as drum horses to carry the 90 pound silver kettle drums which accompany the band. A modern drum horse is typically a piebald or skewbald horse with similar conformational characteristics to a Clydesdale or a Shire horse.

In the United States and Ireland such brightly coloured horses are popular, and the drum horse represents a scaled-up version of the "coloured cob."


Clydesdale foals, like all horses, are born after an 11-month pregnancy. At birth, they weigh up to 82 kilograms (180 pounds). They are fast growers and for the first few months gain up to 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) per day; a Clydesdale mare needs to be capable of producing over 25 kilograms (55 pounds) of milk per day in order to support this rate of development. Clydesdales have been identified to be at risk for chronic progressive lymphedema, a chronic progressive disease that includes symptoms of progressive swelling, hyperkeratosis and fibrosis of distal limbs. The disease is similar to chronic lymphedema in humans.[2]


The Clydesdale is thought to have arisen from the mid-18th century cross breeding of local mares with larger English and Flemish stock for use pulling farm equipment and carriages. They were further developed to meet the practical needs of early 19th century Scotland, where the robust constitution, somewhat shaggy coat, thick mane and feathered legs were suited to the climate.

The breed was well received owing to its agile strength and docility, soon spreading to northern England where it was used extensively to tow coal skips. In the 19th century Clydesdales were exported to Australia, and New Zealand. In Australia, with British Longhorn Cattle, they were an important draft animal. The Longhorn is forgotten in Australia, but the Clydesdales have survived a period of mid-twentieth century neglect to become regarded with the Merino sheep as an icon of Australian rural industry. The Clydesdale is celebrated in one of the most popular images of rural life, G.W.Lambert's painting "Across the Black Soil Plains" which shows a team straining to pull a wagon loaded with the wool clip which is "up to its axle-trees" in mud.[3] Nowadays they are one of the most popular exhibits at the agricultural shows and the Carlton and United Brewery Clydesdales, which are stabled at the Sydney Showground are visited by many thousands of people in conjunction with the Royal Easter Show each year. In New Zealand, apart from general rural work, the Clydesdale was used extensively in the timber industry, to pull from the forest the valuable logs of kauri pine, highly prized for cabinet making.

File:Budweiser Clydesdales Boston.jpg
Anheuser-Busch Clydesdales taking part in a parade

Clydesdales were first shipped to North America in 1840, and later to South America, Russia, Austria and Italy. Exports peaked in 1911 with a recorded 1,617 stallions trading hands. According to the Clydesdale Horse Society (formally founded 1887), between 1884 and 1945 20,183 animals were exported. Two stallions are recognized as the foundation of the breed: Lord Darney and Prince of Wales. All Clydesdales horses today can be traced back to these two sires. The development of the breed has come a long way from these two foundation sires. There was a lot of focus on developing the hind leg and quality of hair.

As a beast of labor, Clydesdales had been largely replaced by tractors and other heavy machinery by the end of World War II. Through the determination of many small breeders the breed continued through the lean post World War II era. However, the horses are still used in situations where machines are unwanted or inferior, such as "eco-friendly" farming and logging operations. Clydesdales are now most often seen in competitive agricultural exhibitions such as state, county and national fairs.

The Clydesdale became a symbol of the Anheuser-Busch beer company (makers of Budweiser) when August A. Busch II (Gussie Busch) told his father (then current President of Anheuser Busch) that he needed to come see the new Lincoln car he had purchased. After admonishing "Gussie" that purchasing a new luxury vehicle during the depression was unwise, he came out of the brewery in St. Louis and discovered to his delight a new Studebaker Beer Wagon and a perfectly conformed Six Horse Hitch of Clydesdales. Since that time, the Budweiser Clydesdales have appeared in many of their television commercials. Clydesdale hitches have had a long history as advertising and promotion tools of companies. The Wilson Packing Company and Hawthorn Melody Dairy are examples of companies in the past who actively campaigned Clydesdale hitches. The rise of company hitches helped to fuel the Clydesdale market during the post World War II era. Thus, color became a factor for breeders. The preference for the bay with four whites comes from this. The Budweiser Clydesdales make an annual appearance in the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California by pulling the St. Louis, Missouri float.

In show and private use

Draft horse showing is a form of competition in which Clydesdales and other draft horse breeds are judged in performance when driving in harness and in halter.

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Extracting logs with a Clydesdale at Eglinton Country Park in Scotland.

In the Halter competition, horses are judged according to the ideal standard held by judges. This is subjective, so each judge may have different values in what they consider ideal. Importance is given to the legs and overall presence of the horse, as well as its movement. The ideal Clydesdale hind leg varies greatly from that of light horse breeds. A good angulation is required, with the gaskin at about a 45-degree angle, and well-muscled. The hock is broad and square and free from any blemish and fluid. The hind cannon is long, 'flat and square'. The set of the hind legs is very close, ideally touching with long pasterns at a 45-degree angle. On the move, the horse must exhibit a fluid wheeling gait in which much ground is taken. Hind legs should move very close together without interfering, with a good lift to the hoof. In the front, the horse should exhibit a natural high action. The horse should have a good depth of body both in heart girth and in kidney girth. The horse should also exhibit a nicely sloped croup with a high tail set. The neck should be long and slightly arched, connecting well into the shoulders. The forehead should be broad and flat; the head should be held high. The feather or leg hair should be long and silky so as to emphasize this gait.

Size is also a factor, but more important is the build of the animal; its appearance should be that of a strong, healthy and weighty beast without excess bulk. Color and pattern are generally not considered, although coloration should be vivid, and white markings ought to be a bright white. Much care is given by exhibitors to carefully turn out their animals for the show ring.

In performance classes, the animal's behavior in harness is considered. Ideal cart horses move around the ring with a very high, effortless gait, taking a lot of ground with each step. The head is held high and the ears erect. Horses should be responsive to the driver and make transitions easily. In teams and multiple hitches, the way in which the horses work together and the hitch as a whole are judged. Quality of horse and equipment are also a factor.

Aside from their use in traditional agriculture and in the show ring, Clydesdales are also ridden under saddle. It is becoming increasingly popular to ride Clydesdales in English disciplines, and a very popular cross-breed on the Hunt is the Clydesdale-Thoroughbred.

See also


External links


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