The national horse breed of Ireland is the Irish Draught Horse, which was developed mainly for farm use, but it also needed to be suitable for riding, foxhunting, and carriage driving.
The breed originally stemmed from the Irish Hobby, a small horse resembling the primitive Garrano and Sorraia horses of Portugal and Spain. Heavy war horses arrived in Ireland during the Anglo-Norman invasions that began in 1169 and were bred with this sturdy local stock. Over the years, Iberian blood was introduced as shipwrecked horses from the Spanish Armada made their way ashore. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Clydesdale, Thoroughbred, and native Connemara pony sires were bred to the draught mares, creating the Irish Draught.
In a drive to encourage breeders to produce better horses, at the start of the 20th century the Irish government offered subsidies and began inspecting and registering stallions and mares. The stud book was opened in 1917 and the breed flourished for many years, until their numbers suffered during the world wars and as tractors began to replace them on the farm. In 1976, the Irish Draught Horse Society was formed to promote and preserve the breed. The Irish Horse Board now administers the Irish Draught Horse Studbook for the Department of Agriculture.
Irish Draught horses are athletic, powerful horses with substance, quality, and a proud demeanor. At 15.1-16.3 hands they have a sound constitution and stand over a lot of ground, with well-defined withers, a deep girth, strong back and quarters, and clean, hard legs with muscular forearms and thighs.
Any solid colour, including grey, is acceptable, although any white above the knees/hocks is undesireable. The Irish Draught is intelligent, gentle, and docile, known for its common sense.
The Irish Draught is a perfect companion mount for riders of all ages for jumping, eventing, dressage, hunting and driving. They are especially popular when crossed with Thoroughbreds and warmbloods, producing the highly-successful Irish Sport Horse (a crossbred with a minimum of 1/8 Irish Draught blood). These animals can be found excelling at the highest levels of international show jumping and eventing.