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The Clydesdale Horse Breed: History, Traits, and Potential

Last updated: February 26, 2024

By: Miles HenryFact Checked

Did you know that a Clydesdale horse can weigh more than a small car? Or that they played a crucial role during wars? Beyond their fame for pulling carriages and appearing in ads, these horses have a fascinating story. I’ve delved into various horse breeds, but Clydesdales stand out for their unique historical significance.

In this article, I explore the Clydesdale breed, debunk myths, highlight their adaptability, and offer insights for prospective owners. Whether deeply involved in the equestrian world or just curious, this guide will enrich your understanding of Clydesdales, combining a personal touch with educational insights.

Picture of a Clydesdale staring at a dog.
This Clydesdale and dog seem to know each other.

Clydesdale Horses

The Clydesdale breed originated in the River Clyde valley in Scotland, becoming a pivotal asset in 18th-century agriculture and industrial sectors. These horses were primarily employed for their remarkable strength, particularly in hauling coal and executing heavy plowing tasks.

Changing Times:

  • Shift in Role: Reduced workload with the rise of machines.
  • Population Impact: Numbers dwindled as needs changed.
  • Newfound Popularity: Gained attention for their striking looks and gentle nature.

Evolution of Role:

Beyond Size:

  • Common Misbelief: Seen as too big for riding.
  • True Nature: Surprisingly smooth in movement, gentle in temperament.
  • Riding Qualities: Offer stability and comfort, redefining traditional riding horse standards.

Clydesdale Physical Traits:

  • Height: Impressively tall, ranging from 16 to 18 hands.
  • Weight: Typically between 1,800 to 2,200 pounds, showcasing their robust build.
  • Appearance: Features a broad chest and muscular body, distinguished by unique feathering around their legs.
  • Coat Colors: Predominantly bay and chestnut, often accented with striking white markings.

Clydesdale Breed Insights

LifespanTypically mid-20s, similar to lighter breeds
Historical RoleBred for farm work and heavy pulling
Breed ComparisonLarger and thicker-bodied than Shires and Percherons
PopulationApproximately 5,000 worldwide, once a threatened breed
Picture of a girl trail riding on a Clydesdale. Which answers the question, can you ride a Clydesdale.
Clydesdales make good trail riding horses.

Comprehensive Care and Management of Clydesdales

Clydesdales require specific care and management to ensure their health and happiness. By understanding their unique needs, owners can provide a fulfilling life for these gentle giants.

Essential Health and Wellness

  • Veterinary Care: Regular check-ups, vaccinations, deworming, and dental exams are crucial. Work closely with an equine veterinarian to establish a wellness program tailored to your Clydesdale’s needs.
  • Special Health Considerations: Be aware of their susceptibility to certain conditions like laminitis and lymphedema. Proper farrier care is essential due to their heavier body weight.
  • Anesthesia: There is a higher risk of recovery complications post-anesthesia due to size and muscle mass. Source

Housing and Living Environment

  • Outdoor Housing: Provides numerous health benefits. Ensure they have access to adequate shelter and feed.
  • Indoor Housing Requirements: Clydesdales need larger stalls than lighter breeds to accommodate their size comfortably.
  • Cleanliness and Space: Maintain a clean and spacious living environment, whether indoors or outdoors.

Nutrition and Feeding

  • Balanced Diet: A diet rich in quality hay or grass, supplemented with grains and minerals, supports their large size and energy needs. Monitor their intake to prevent obesity.
  • Hydration: Ensure constant access to clean, fresh water. (More details follow in the next section)

Exercise and Activity

  • Regular Exercise: Vital for their physical and mental well-being. Light exercise improves circulation and helps manage joint discomfort.
  • Exercise Precautions: Be cautious with heavy exercise in hot climates to avoid overheating.

Grooming and Skin Care

  • Regular Grooming: Essential for maintaining their coat and skin health. Pay special attention to their leg feathering to prevent conditions like mud fever.
  • Sun Protection: Provide UV protection for Clydesdales with pink skin on their face to prevent sunburn.

Handling and Behavior

  • Gentle Nature: Clydesdales are known for their docile temperament, making them suitable for various riders. However, clear and consistent communication is important due to their size and strength.

Clydesdale Care Essentials Reference Table

Care AspectDetails
DietRequires more feed and hay, varies with workload
StablingLarger stalls needed (24×24 feet recommended)
Farrier CostsHigher due to size; includes shoeing and trimming
Tack RequirementsSpecialized larger tack necessary
GroomingRegular, especially for feathers to prevent skin issues
clydesdale July4 Parade
Clydesdales pulling a wagon during a 4th of July parade. Source: Ellin Beltz, CC BY-SA 4.0

Dietary Concerns for Clydesdale Horses

Weight Maintenance

  • Efficient Metabolism:
    • Clydesdales are easy keepers, prone to obesity.
    • Obesity risks: Joint problems, hoof strain.
  • Diet Monitoring:
    • Regular body condition checks.
    • Adjust diet for healthy weight maintenance.


  • Forage-Based Diet:
    • Essential for digestive health and behavior.
    • Clydesdales need more hay due to their larger size.
  • Hay Requirements:
    • About 40 lb (18 kg) per day for a 2000 lb horse.
    • Low-starch, low-sugar hay recommended.
  • Pasture Management:
    • Use grazing muzzle to limit grass intake.
    • Consider a dry lot and slow feeder for overweight horses.

Protein & Energy

  • Forage-Only Diet:
    • Sufficient for non-working horses.
  • Additional Calories:
    • Avoid grains and high-energy concentrates.
    • Use beet pulp, bran, or fat supplements.
    • Up to 20% of energy from fat for PSSM horses.
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids:
    • Beneficial for inflammation and joint pain.

Nutritional Supplements

  • Electrolytes:
    • It is essential after work and in hot weather.
    • Support muscle function and hydration.

Special Considerations

  • Hydration:
    • Constant access to clean, fresh water.
    • Loose salt to encourage water intake.
  • Customized Diet:
    • Consult an equine nutritionist for personalized diet plans.
Picture of a Clydesdale horse with a docked tail.
Clydesdale horse with a docked tail.

Health Issues in Clydesdale Horses

Genetic Diseases

  • Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy (PSSM):
    • Most common genetic disorder in draft horses.
    • Caused by GYS1 gene mutation.
    • Symptoms: Muscle tremors, gait abnormalities, tying up post-exercise.
    • Management: Nutritional changes can alleviate symptoms.
    • Prevalence: About 62% of draft horses in North America and Europe have the GYS1 mutation. Source.

Health Problems

  • Fertility Issues:
    • Draft breeds often have lower sperm concentrations. Source
    • Mixed findings on dystocia risks in draft breed mares.
  • Developmental Orthopedic Disorders:
    • Rapid growth increases risk in young horses.
    • Example: Osteochondritis dissecans.
  • Degenerative Joint Disease:
    • Heavy weight contributes to early onset in older Clydesdales. Source
  • Chronic Progressive Lymphedema (CPL):
    • Significant risk in Clydesdales.
    • Symptoms: Lower limb swelling, worsening lesions.
    • No cure; research is ongoing.

Riding a Clydesdales

Clydesdale wins First Prize 1
Clydesdale wins First Prize. Source: Jude CC BY-SA 2.0

Riding a Clydesdale is a unique and wonderful experience. These powerful horses are not just novelties; they are excellent riding companions for various equestrian enthusiasts.

Equipping Yourself for the Clydesdale Experience

Riding a Clydesdale requires specific equipment and tack due to their impressive size and build. The goal is to ensure comfort and safety for both rider and horse.

  • Tack Adjustments: Use specially sized equipment. This includes larger saddles, wider tree sizes for their broad backs, and longer girths. Bridles should also be proportionate to their larger head size.
  • Mounting Tips: Their height makes mounting a challenge. Use a mounting block for ease and to evenly distribute the rider’s weight, reducing strain on the horse’s back.
  • Handling Considerations: Clydesdales are gentle and responsive. Clear and consistent communication is key, as their size translates to greater strength.

The Unique Gait and Comfort of Clydesdales

Riding a Clydesdale offers a distinct experience due to their unique gait and comfort.

  • Gait: They have a smooth, rhythmic gait. The gentle rocking motion at a trot is less jarring, and their steady canter provides a sense of security.
  • Comfort: Their broad back offers a comfortable seat. Steady movements make for a smoother ride, ideal for novices or those with back issues.
  • Handling: Known for their docile temperament, Clydesdales respond well to cues and are easy to manage, suitable for all rider levels.

Personal Experiences

  • “Riding my friend’s Clydesdale, Duke, feels like being on a giant. His steps are steady and assured, instilling confidence even on trickier trails.” – Junior, an avid equestrian.
  • “I was initially intimidated by their size. But riding one, I felt comfortable and secure. It’s a unique experience that every horse lover should try.” – Kevin, another rider.

Key Characteristics of Clydesdales

Trail RidingExcellent for trail riding; calm and sure-footed
RecognitionKnown for pulling Budweiser wagons in parades and commercials
TemperamentCalm, don’t spook easily, ideal for unpredictable trails
GaitSmooth and comfortable, capable of maneuvering over rough terrain
Size ConsiderationsHeight and width important for trail clearance and navigation
Picture of horse that epitomizes the Clydesdale horse breed.
Adult Clydesdale in a pasture with a halter.

Clydesdales in Different Riding Disciplines

While not the first choice for competitive riding, Clydesdales have shown their capabilities in various disciplines, adding diversity to the equestrian world.

Recreational and Trail Riding

Clydesdales excel in recreational and trail riding due to their calm and steady nature.

  • Trail Riding: Reliable and sure-footed on trails, they offer a higher vantage point and remain calm, even when encountering wildlife.
  • Leisure Riding: Their gentle temperament makes them perfect for family rides, beginners, or therapeutic riding programs.

Clydesdales in the Competitive Arena

Clydesdales have potential in various equestrian sports, challenging traditional views of sport horses.

  • Dressage: Suitable for lower levels of dressage due to their rhythmic gait and responsiveness.
  • Show Jumping: Can participate in show jumping at lower heights. Their power is an asset, though size can be a limiting factor.
  • Pulling Competitions: Clydesdales excel in pulling competitions, a testament to their incredible strength and endurance. These events showcase their ability to pull heavy weights, often several times their own body weight, making them crowd favorites in such competitions.
  • Notable Clydesdales: “Budweiser,” a Clydesdale, has competed in dressage, showcasing their versatility in competitive disciplines.
Picture of Clydesdales pulling a wagon during a parade.
New Orleans – Photo by Infrogmation,

Real Stories from Clydesdale Riders

To truly understand the experience of riding Clydesdales, hearing directly from those who have formed bonds with these gentle giants is invaluable. Below are testimonials and stories from diverse Clydesdale riders, offering a glimpse into the unique relationship between these horses and their riders.

Check out this YouTube video featuring the first riding experience of a young Clydesdale horse.

Voices from the Saddle: Personal Experiences with Clydesdales

Testimonial 1: Darren, Recreational Rider “I’ve been riding Clydesdales for over five years, primarily for trail riding. My Clydesdale, Jasper. His calm demeanor makes every ride a peaceful experience. Despite his size, he’s incredibly gentle and intuitive, always seeming to know when I need a slower pace or a comforting nudge.”

Testimonial 2: Emily, First-Time Horse Owner: “As a first-time horse owner, choosing a Clydesdale was the best decision I could have made. My horse has been incredibly patient as I learn the ropes of horse care and riding. His steady nature has given me confidence, and the bond we’ve developed is something I cherish deeply. Riding him is always the highlight of my day.”

Stories from Clydesdale riders highlight the deep connections formed and the diverse roles these horses can play. From serene trail companions to competitive partners and therapeutic allies, Clydesdales continue to touch the lives of many, proving that their size is not a limitation but a unique attribute that enhances the riding experience.

Unique Aspects of Clydesdales

Pulling CapacityCan pull over 2,000 pounds; some up to 8,000 pounds
Water ConsumptionUp to 30 gallons per day
Foal GrowthRapid, requiring careful monitoring
Color VariationsCommonly bay with white markings; also black, grey, chestnut

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Are Clydesdales suitable for beginner riders?

Yes, their calm and gentle nature makes the Clydesdale horse breed suitable for beginner riders. However, their size requires some adjustments in handling and riding.

Which is stronger, a Clydesdale or a Belgian horse?

Belgian horses are generally considered stronger than Clydesdales. Known for their muscular build and compact size, Belgians are renowned for their exceptional strength, especially in draft and pulling competitions.

What is the lifespan of a Clydesdale?

Clydesdales horses typically live between 20 to 25 years, though this can vary based on care and health conditions.

Can Clydesdales be kept with other horse breeds?

Absolutely! Clydesdales are known for their friendly nature and can coexist peacefully with other horse breeds.

Conclusion: Clydesdale Horse Breed

Clydesdales, one of the largest horse breeds in the world, are much more than the iconic parade and workhorses they are often recognized as. These horses demonstrate remarkable versatility, adapting seamlessly from traditional farm roles to various recreational and competitive activities.

Their impressive size, often perceived as daunting, belies a stable and comfortable experience for various activities beyond riding. Clydesdales excel in pulling competitions, showcasing their strength and endurance, and their calm demeanor makes them ideal for therapeutic and educational programs.

They are also capable of participating in lower-level equestrian sports, proving that their capabilities extend well beyond the heavy work they are traditionally known for. The Clydesdale’s patient and gentle temperament makes them suitable for both novice and experienced handlers, whether in riding, competitive sports, or as beloved companions.

Their ability to form deep, meaningful connections with humans adds to their appeal as a breed. In summary, the Clydesdale horse breed offers a unique blend of strength, versatility, and gentle nature, making them a valuable and rewarding choice for a wide range of equine enthusiasts.

Whether for work, sport, or companionship, the Clydesdale horse stands out as a distinguished and beloved member of the equine world.

Call to Action

We would love to hear from you! Whether you’re a seasoned Clydesdale rider or someone just starting to explore the possibility of riding these magnificent horses, your experiences and questions are valuable to our community.

Share Your Story or Ask a Question

  • Share Your Clydesdale Story: Have you had a memorable experience with a Clydesdale? Share your story in the comments section below. Your experiences can inspire and inform others!
  • Ask a Clydesdale-Related Question: Have any questions about riding or caring for Clydesdales? Feel free to ask in the comments or contact me directly at [email protected]. We’re here to help!

Thank you for reading, and I look forward to connecting with you, whether it’s through our newsletter, direct communication, or in the comments section. Here’s to the thrilling journey of racehorse ownership!

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