The Clydesdale Horse

The Horseman and his Clydesdales

As a Scottish heritage film maker one of the most interesting features I have filmed is that of the Clydesdale horse. Here is part of their interesting story.

The Clydesdale is a breed of draft horse derived from the farm horses of the Clydesdale region of Scotland now known as Lanarkshire. The breed developed as a result of breeding with Flemish stallions which were bigger and stronger than the Scottish horse. Thought to be over 200 years old and breed extensively for pulling heavy loads in rural, industrial and urban settings, The Clydesdales made an invaluable contribution to both the industrial and agricultural revolution not only in Scotland but all over the world.

At one time there were at least 140,000 Clydesdales known in Scotland by 1949 just 80 animals were licensed in England. Clydesdales have since seen resurgence in popularity and population, with an estimated global population of around 10,000 horses. Clydesdales are now most numerous in the United States where many foals are born each year.

Clydesdales are noted for grace and versatility; they stand on average between 16 – 17 hands in height and can weigh up to one ton. A Clydesdale has an elegant head, with a straight profile, 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 hindquarters are well-muscled and have a distinctively rounded silhouette. 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.

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.

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 per day; a Clydesdale mare needs to be capable of producing over 25 kilograms of milk per day in order to support this rate of development.

Here in the North East the Clydesdales were the main power source on farms, forestry and haulage for over 200 years until the power of the motorised engines replaced them from the 1920s onwards. They were also used to pull heavy loads on the roads before the invention of steam power and the railways. Breweries used them to pull their drew carts with barrels of beer and they were common sites in both rural and city settings. They were also used in the forestry when all the trees were pulled out after being cut down by hand using saw or axe. The Clydesdales were used in the First World War to pull heavy artillery. The Household Cavalry today use Clydesdales as their Drum horses and can be seen at major Royal events all over the country. Aberdeen City Council had several Clydesdales working in the parks and gardens. In America the Budweiser Brewery still have their famous Clydesdales which are used to promote their brand. The Clydesdale is also an attraction in the extravagant Disney parades for tourists. Nowadays they are one of the most popular exhibits and displays at the agricultural shows and The Royal Highland Show at Ingelstone features the Clydesdales in all their glory a site worth seeing.

Farmers used the Clydesdales to do all the tasks of agriculture. The men who worked the Clydesdales on the farms locally would have had the “Horseman’s Word” which gave them power over their horses. A strong bond between the horseman and his pair was formed and together they made a great working team for any farmer. It was said that a ploughman would walk 11 miles per day while ploughing and would start work at 7 am. Prior to that he would have fed and groomed his pair at 6 am before he got his own breakfast.