The Clydesdale gets its name from the breed's birthplace: River Clyde, Scotland. The early stock was the result of crosses between local mares and a Flemish stallion. The addition of Shire blood further refined the breed. The Clydesdale made its way to the U.S. in the early 1840s. The breed played a significant role in World War I, then decreased again in popularity as other forms of transportation and machinery were developed. Today, there are estimated to be fewer than 10,000 Clydesdales worldwide, but that doesn't make them any less beautiful or special.
The Clydesdale reaches between 17 and 18 hands (68 to 72 inches) and weighs around 2,000 pounds. Their coat patterns can be a variety of colors, including chestnut, grey, black, and roan, but bay is most common. Clydesdales often exhibit flashy white markings on their faces and legs. They're known for their high head carriage and snappy leg action and, of course, the long hair or "feathers" that fall around their lower legs and hooves.
All horses benefit from grooming. Whether they spend most of their time in stalls or outside, regular grooming sessions keep their skin and coat in good condition. The Clydesdales heavily feathered legs require additional care. That striking hair can hide swelling and other early symptoms of injury. It can also trap moisture against the skin, leading to a painful condition known as scratches. Use a mane comb to work through the feathers, starting at the bottom and moving up. Spraying a little coat conditioner or tangle spray beforehand can make the job go faster.
Clydesdales have evolved from their early days working on farms and hauling coal. Today, these attractive horses are a popular choice to pull carriages and perform in parades. Although they are a draft breed, their athleticism and willingness make them a suitable choice for riding, as well. Clydesdales are also popular show-ring animals, exhibited both in-hand and in harness.
The Clydesdale is considered a cold-blooded breed. Hot-blooded breeds, such as thoroughbreds, are sensitive and can be temperamental, while cold-blooded horses are calmer and have a steadier disposition. These are only guidelines, of course, as each horse has a unique personality. Clydesdales are generally calm, inquisitive, and steady. They typically respond well to new and different circumstances and enjoy being around people.
The Clydesdale's long history of working with people has created a breed that is easy to train and willing to work. Their calm disposition and unflappable attitude make working around these large horses easier than some might expect. Such draft breeds mature more slowly than light horse breeds, however. Training may begin around age two, but they should not do much heavy work until they are at least four.
The Clydesdale is a generally healthy breed, although there are a few things to watch for. Scratches is the common name for pastern dermatitis that develops when the skin on the legs is exposed to damp, muddy, or dirty conditions. The long hair on their legs can trap dirt and moisture, enabling bacteria and fungus to enter cracks in the skin. Clydesdales are also prone to chronic progressive lymphedema or swelling in the lower legs. There is no cure for the disease. Keeping the skin clean and dry helps prevent infection. Massage, light exercise, and compression bandages can slow its progress.
Because of the Clydesdale's calm demeanor, it is easy to forget that they need regular exercise. While 24-hour turnout is ideal, it is not always possible. Even a few hours of free ranging time outside is beneficial to both mental and physical health. If the horse is stall-bound, make it a priority to get them out of the stall for riding, driving, or hand-walking each day.
Draft horses such as the Clydesdale may be large, but they have an efficient metabolism. This means they do well on less feed than smaller but higher-strung species. The basis of their diet should be forage, through the pasture, hay, or a combination of both. Add as little grain as possible to maintain weight and energy levels. The high starch and sugar levels in commercial grain formulations can cause health problems for the Clydesdale. As with any horse, provide unlimited access to freshwater and free-choice salt.
The standard 12-foot by 12-foot stall is intended for smaller breeds. Clydesdales need more room to stay safe and healthy — a horse kept in a too-small stall is more likely to get cast or lie down too close to the wall to stand up again. You may be limited in ways to increase the size of existing stalls, but removing the partition between two stalls to create a 12 by 24-foot space is a good compromise. Additionally, the smaller your Clydesdale's inside accommodations, the more time they should spend outdoors.
Crossing the Clydesdale with a lighter breed like the thoroughbred produces quality riding and performance horses. The offspring are slighter-boned and a bit smaller than the Clydesdale, but still heavier than the thoroughbred. Their temperament is often closer to that of the Clydesdale, and they maintain much of the athleticism of the thoroughbred. You can find Clydesdale crosses in dressage, eventing, and other performance arenas. They can be a smart, affordable choice for amateurs who want a capable, willing partner with a calm disposition.
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