Clydesdale Horse: Breed Profile

Training, Grooming, and Care Tips

Clydesdale horses in full harnesses

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If you've ever seen a horse-drawn Budweiser parade, you've probably marveled at the majestic steeds. These are mighty Clydesdale horses, one of the most recognizable heavy horse breeds. Clydesdales are easy to spot, thanks to their large stature, trademark feathering around their legs, and high-stepping gait. But despite their imposing size, they’re typically very gentle, easygoing, and trainable horses that can be a joy to work with.

Breed Overview

Weight: 1,600 to 2,400 pounds

Height: 16 hands (64 inches) to 18 hands (72 inches)

Body Type: Long, silky feathering on legs; round feet; broad forehead; arched, long neck

Best For: Owners and riders of all levels

Life Expectancy: 20 to 25 years

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Click Play to Learn More About the Powerful and Majestic Clydesdale

Clydesdale History and Origins

The Clydesdale was developed in Scotland during the late 18th and early 19th centuries in what is now known as the Lanarkshire district. The River Clyde flows through the area and gave the Clydesdale its name. The breed first arrived in North America when Scottish settlers brought horses to Canada. In the late 1880s, the regal horses were introduced in the United States, where they were used to plow fields, power machinery, pull wagons, and perform other tasks that required their formidable strength and endurance.

As machinery began to replace heavy horses in industry and agriculture—rendering true horsepower needless—Clydesdales came very near to extinction. Their conscription in World War I also contributed to the population's decline.

The Clydesdale Horse Society formed in 1877 as a breed registry. Nowadays, breeders and enthusiasts work to ensure the survival of the Clydesdale. The largest numbers of Clydesdales are found in the U.S., where around 600 additional horses are registered each year. The United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia follow the U.S. in the breed's population.

Clydesdale Size

Clydesdales are among the tallest horse breeds, standing between 16 hands (64 inches) and 18 hands (72 inches) on average. Their imposing height is matched by their weight, which tops 1,600 pounds. The stallions often stand taller and weigh more than the mares.

Clydesdale Breeding and Uses

Clydesdales were developed to work hard and long. In their early history, they were used as war horses, carrying heavily armed soldiers. They have pulled agricultural implements, hauled logs in forestry, pulled freight and milk wagons, and performed other general hauling tasks.

Today, they are used for both riding and driving, and they are frequently crossed with thoroughbreds to develop strong, level-headed sport horses. They are still occasionally used in agricultural work and logging, but they largely have been replaced by machinery. They're frequently seen at fairs and exhibitions.

Clydesdales also frequently serve as drum horses in parades. Each horse carries two drums that weigh more than 120 pounds apiece, along with an officer who rides. Clydesdales selected for this purpose must be at least 17 hands high (68 inches).

Furthermore, with their calmness, agility, and strength, they make excellent trail horses. Those same traits also make them valuable therapy horses.

Colors and Markings

Clydesdales are most often bay in color, though they also can be black, gray, or chestnut. Their coats can be solid or have some roan markings or spots. White stockings on the legs are common, but solid colors occur, as well. They often have wide white blazes or bald facial markings, resulting in flashy, eye-catching combinations.

Bay and black Clydesdales frequently command a premium, particularly when they sport white facial markings and the familiar white stockings. Roans tend to be least preferred, but breed associations make no such distinction. No colors are undesirable in their view, and they readily accept horses with body spots.

Unique Characteristics of the Clydesdale

The most obvious defining characteristic of a Clydesdale is its large hooves. They're typically the size of frying pans, weighing around 5 pounds each. In contrast, an average thoroughbred racing horse has a hoof about a quarter of that size. Besides the hooves, Clydesdales also are known for their four white legs with lots of feathering. They have a high-stepping walk and trot, giving them a proud, impressive presentation.

Diet and Nutrition

A grown Clydesdale eats between 25 and 50 pounds of hay and 2 to 10 pounds of grain or feed every day. That's about twice as much as average-sized horse breeds. Likewise, they require more water than an average-sized horse. To maintain a healthy weight, their feeding needs might change based on their age and activity level.

Common Health and Behavior Problems

Clydesdales are generally healthy horses with a calm and gentle temperament. But they are prone to certain health problems. Some develop chronic progressive lymphedema, a disease that causes swelling in the legs. Clydesdales also can develop skin infections under their thick leg hair if it’s not properly maintained. 

Grooming

Clydesdales require some extra grooming care. For one, grooming takes longer just because of their size. Also, the feathering on their legs must be shampooed regularly to remove dirt and debris, and it needs to be dried completely to prevent skin irritation. Clydesdales also need their large hooves inspected and cleaned daily, and they require horseshoes that are much larger than the norm.

Pros

  • Intelligent

  • Calm disposition

  • Easy to train

Cons

  • Requires extra grooming

  • Is often more expensive to keep than an average-sized horse

Champion and Celebrity Clydesdale Horses

Many people have seen the Budweiser Clydesdales in commercials or even in person. These horses have been a part of Anheuser-Busch since the 1930s. After Prohibition, the company used a horse-drawn beer wagon to market its products. The wagon toured several states, delivering cases of Budweiser along the way. Today, several teams still tour throughout North America and make appearances at many public events.

Is the Clydesdale Horse Right for You?

The stature of the Clydesdale is topped only by its easygoing disposition. These gentle giants make very good family horses, even for people with limited horse experience. Their intelligence and calm demeanor make them quite easy to train, and they're often described as happy horses who prance and play. They're also fairly hardy horses, even in cold weather.

But Clydesdales are more expensive to keep than most other horse breeds due to their size. They eat more food, shoeing can cost more than an average-sized horse, and they require ample space. A 24-by-24-foot stall is widely considered the minimum size for a Clydesdale that is turned out daily; a larger stall is required for one that makes less frequent trips to the paddock.

How to Adopt or Buy a Clydesdale

You can expect to pay an absolute minimum of around $1,000 to adopt or buy a Clydesdale. The average cost falls between $2,500 and $5,000. And the price can skyrocket from there. Because bay or black Clydesdales with white facial markings and legs are highly sought after, they often cost much more.

When choosing a reputable horse rescue or breeder, look for an organization that is transparent about its horses’ history, medical needs, and temperament. Ask to spend time with a horse before you bring it home, preferably at the facility where you can see how the organization treats its animals. And keep an eye out for any potential issues, such as lameness or labored breathing. 

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