The Clydesdale Horse was developed in the mid-18th century when the 6th Duke of Hamilton imported six Flanders stallions ‒ almost certainly Brabant horses and Belgian Drafts ‒ to Scotland and bred them to some of the best local Galloway mares. Then in 1715, Scotsman John Paterson of Lanarkshire imported a black Flemish stallion from England. The resulting cross with heavy draft mares produced large horses, brown or black in colour, with white markings on their faces and legs. A horse foaled in 1810 called Glancer (also known as Thompson’s Black Horse), is found in the pedigree of many modern Clydesdales. The Clydesdale Horse Society was formally launched in June 1877.
At one time, Scotland had around 140,000 part- or fullbred Clydesdales working on farms and in towns and cities. Clydesdales were conscripted by the army to serve in World War I and those animals must have had a terrible time in the trenches. Their numbers further started to fall as transportation and technology changed farming. Following World War II, the number of Clydesdale breeding stallions in England plummeted from more than 200 in 1946 to 80 in 1949. In 1975, the Rare Breeds Survival Trust listed them as vulnerable to extinction, where they remain today, with just 500-900 animals in the UK. Worldwide, their numbers are slowly climbing, thanks to exports to Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and the United States, but with only about 5,000 in the entire world the breed is still considered threatened.
The Clydesdale stands on average 16.1-17.1 hands, although some are even taller*. Clydesdales hold their noble heads proudly and have well-shaped, alert ears. They have intelligent and kind eyes, and a long, well-set neck with high crests that lead to high withers. Their strong, short backs and powerful quarters are supported by long legs with silky feathers. They can have either bay, black, or brown coats (rarely chestnut) and it is not uncommon for them to have white patches up their legs and under their belly. Clydesdale’s hooves are very large and despite its overall size, the breed is noted for its energetic, high-stepping action, which makes it one of the most elegant heavy horses.
(*A woman in Tupperville, Ontario, claims to have the world’s tallest horse – a Clydesdale named Poe who stands 20.2 Hands)
Versatile Clydesdales are still used as draught horses in agriculture, and for logging as well as movie set work, showing in hand, ploughing matches, pulling wedding carriages, pleasure driving in harness, and being ridden. In the US, the Budweiser Clydesdales are famous for the TV commercials featuring them.