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The Clydesdale Horse Breed, Are They Too Big To Ride?

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Every Mardi Gras, we watch the Clydesdale horses pull wagons through the streets of New Orleans. Seeing the horses up close made me wonder if they’re too big for a person to ride, so I researched the Clydesdale breed to find out.

Clydesdale horses aren’t too big to ride. Although Clydesdales are huge horses primarily bred to pull, they make excellent riding horses. They are comfortable, have an easy-going temperament, and are willing to work.

Clydesdale owners often ride their horses, but before you decide to purchase one as your next riding horse, there is some information you need to know.

Clydesdales are good trail-riding horses.

Clydesdale horses are easy to recognize; they’re the big horses pulling Budweiser wagons in parades and on television commercials.

Picture of a Clydesdale staring at a dog.

Like many other draft horse breeds, Clydesdales are calm and don’t spook easily. When riding trails prone to the presence of dogs or wild animals around, you will appreciate sitting on a quiet draft horse while other animals are darting about. Skittish horses can ruin the enjoyment of trail riding.

These big horses are sure-footed and provide a smooth, comfortable ride. Their size allows them to maneuver easily over logs and debris without losing stride.

Clydesdales have a smooth gait.

The Clydesdale has a smooth ride in a walk, trot, or canter and covers ground quickly. They also seek to please and are easy to steer, and they can usually be coaxed along with gentle leg pressure; spurs are not needed.

It’s not likely that you and your horse will be fighting on the trail because these animals are great horses and are even used for therapeutic purposes by disabled persons, large people, beginners, and any level of rider.

Clydesdales provide a comfortable and high seat to enjoy your ride. There are many advantages to riding a big draft horse on a trail ride but also some negatives.

You’re sitting high when on the back of a Clydesdale.

The horses’ height and width can lead to problems on trail rides, such as an unplanned dismount, and it can be challenging to get back in the saddle.

The stirrups on a Clydesdale are high, and you need a step up to get your foot in the stirrup and re-mount. Depending on the area, you may have difficulty getting back on an extremely tall horse.

Another problem is head clearance. Sitting high on the back of a massive horse exposes you to branches you might avoid on shorter horses. The width of a draft horse also makes it challenging to navigate a thin trail and pass between trees.

Overall, Clydesdale horses are very dependable trail-riding horses; just be aware of head clearance when traveling in the woods.

Clydesdale can perform dressage.

If you want a horse that you can enjoy riding in dressage, then a Clydesdale may be the horse for you, but if you intend to compete in high-level dressage, don’t buy a draft horse.

Dressage means training in French. It is a training method that helps develop a horse and rider. Draft breeds like to please their rider and most enjoy learning, they have the right attitude, but physically they can’t compete against warmbloods.

Clydesdales aren’t competitive in dressage.

Draft horses were bred to pull heavy loads. Their bodies are too thick and muscled to perform all the intricate maneuvers required at levels needed to be competitive in higher-level dressage classes.

Through dressage, a horse increases his mental focus, balance, and agility — the rider and horse work through steps in a progression. Clydesdale horses enjoy the training required in dressage.

Clydesdale horses are true “gentle giants.”

Clydesdales are large draft horses, classified as “cold-blooded.” Cold blood horses came from the northern regions of Europe and were bred for pulling. Later they were ridden in battle by knights who needed larger horses to carry them in their heavy armor.

Cold-blooded horses transitioned well into battle horses because they didn’t spook easily during combat. Cold-blooded horses are known for being docile animals, and Clydesdales follow this description.

Clydesdales enjoy people.

Draft horses enjoy people and tolerate bad behavior. Their trusting nature is a desired horse trait, but it can lead to abuse in the wrong hands. These horses are brilliant animals and adapt to new environments relatively quickly.

When transitioning to a new home, they are pleasant and optimistic. They are also willing to learn new things and are easy to train. These draft horses can learn just about any equestrian discipline.

Overall they have a cooperative disposition and even energy level. But as with any other horse, they are individuals whose past life events shape the animal.

Clydesdale horses are reasonably priced.

How much a Clydesdale is worth depends on how far advanced the horse is in training, his pedigree, size, conformation, coloring, age, and overall disposition.  If you want an entry-grade horse, you expect to spend between $500 and $1,500.

From there, the prices go up, and a quality horse used for pulling or breeding can cost $5,000 or more. Besides the initial cost of purchasing a Clydesdale, you also need to be aware of the extra expenses associated with owning a big horse over a lighter horse.

Clydesdales horses eat a lot.

Draft horses eat more feed and hay than an averaged sized horse. The amount they eat varies based upon how hard the horse is being worked or trained and the time of year.

Draft horses also cost more to board. A stall for a normal-sized horse is 12 feet by 12 feet, and a draft horse needs a much larger area, 24 feet by 24 feet is the recommended stall size.

Farriers charge extra to shoe large horses like Clydesdales.

Shoeing a Clydesdale horse is more expensive than a smaller horse. And hauling needs to be considered, and many standard horse trailers are insufficient to haul big draft horses.

The combined weight of a Clydesdale horse and trailer could require the purchase of a more massive truck to pull this heavy load. Tack costs are higher for massive horses.

Tack for a Clydesdale is expensive.

You won’t be able to use tack from smaller horses on a large horse. The specialized tack required for big horses’ halters, saddle blankets, saddles, bridles, reins, etc., all have to be a large size and, because of this, cost more.

Grooming costs and supplies needed to maintain the Clydesdales, coats, and feathers will cost more than usual too. If you are a first-time owner of a draft breed horse, expect to spend more money on the basics than you are used to spending on a traditionally sized horse.

Clydesdale horses can pull a ton.

Picture of Clydesdales pulling a wagon during a parade.
New Orleans – Photo by Infrogmation,

The Clydesdale breed became famous in Scotland because of its ability to pull more than 2,000 pounds at a walk. Draft horses are powerful, and some can tow 8,000 pounds individually.

When draft horses are teamed, the amount of weight they can pull more than doubles. The amount of weight they can pull depends on the wagon and terrain as well.

The Clydesdale was bred to work and pull in the farms of Scotland. They originated in the county of the same name. Before the industrial revolution, draft horses were essential to farms and cities.

Draft horses were used to pull cargo in the canals, people in trams, and plow fields. Today, draft horses’ ability to pull is still displayed in farming, logging, pulling competitions, and during parades.

Clydesdales eat hay, grass, and grain.

Clydesdales need the same foods as an average horse, carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, but because of their massive size, they consume considerably more.

Horses must have access to a fresh, clean water source. During a typical day, a draft horse drinks 30 gallons of water. A draft horse eats feed and hay of about 2% of their body weight per day. For the average adult Clydesdale that translates to 2-10 lbs of grain and 25-50 lbs of hay.

A working Clydesdale can eat 50 lbs. of feed per day.

The variations depend on how hard the horse is being worked or trained and the time of year. Horses eat more in the winter than in summer. A drafted horse who worked hard in the winter may require a 50 lb sack of feed a day to maintain his weight and health.

Draft horse foals also eat a lot. A draft horse mare provides up to 100 pounds of milk for their growing babies each day. As they get older, they continue to consume large amounts. They must be monitored for unusual growth spurts that could lead to fragile bones. Foals can put on four pounds a day.

A Clydesdale weighs a lot; some are over 2,000 lbs.

A full-grown Clydesdale weighs between 1,800 to 2,200 pounds. These are large horses, one of the most enormous horses in the world. They stand up to 18 hands tall at their withers.

A full-grown Clydesdale can stand over six feet tall and weigh more than one ton. Not to be outdone by its parents’ foals are born at 3 feet tall and can weigh 180 pounds at birth.

Clydesdales are powerfully built.

Clydesdale conformation

Clydesdales are powerfully built horses with massive hindquarters. A proper Clydesdale should have the following confirmation.

  • Head- The head is slightly concave with a wide forehead
  • Neck- a muscular, arched neck,
  • Shoulders- sloped shoulders and high withers;
  • Legs- The legs are strong and thick with thick feathering on their low legs; the feathering is thought to be to help keep the legs warm in the winter;
  • Hooves-draft horses have enormous feet; a single horseshoe for one weighs about five pounds and is twenty inches across.
  • Coat-they have thick coats, probably because they originated in the cold climate of Scotland.

Most Clydesdales are bay with white markings.

These draft horses have thick coats and can be bay, black, grey, and chestnut with or without roaning. The most common color is bay with white markings. Most have white markings on their face, feet, and legs. Some will also have white on their bodies as well, usually under the belly.

The horses have feathers on their lower legs, which are typically white. These long hairs need to be groomed daily and kept dry. If they are neglected, the horse will get bad skin irritation in the feathering area.

Clydesdale Horses are a threatened horse breed.

In the 1990s, Clydesdales had a resurgence of its population but remained a threatened breed. Today it is estimated that 5,000 exist worldwide. They are on the “watch” status by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy.

In the 1700s, Flemish stallions were imported to Scotland and bred to local mares. The foals grew larger and became the foundation of the modern Clydesdale horses.

Their numbers grew across the world, and export records indicate that between 1884 and 1945, over 20,000 Clydesdales were exported from Scotland.

After WW II, Clydesdale’s population began to decrease.

However, shortly after 1945, their numbers began to decrease. There was less need for draft horses with the advent of gas-powered tractors. By 1975 only 900 breeding mares were known to exist in the United Kingdom, and so they were listed by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust as vulnerable to extinction.

Clydesdales are still listed on the Rare Breeds Survival Trust as vulnerable and are listed in The Livestock Conservatory’s list of horse breeds to watch.

In the United States, there are about 600 new foals registered each year. The United States has the largest number of these draft horses in the world.

What are the Names of the Budweiser Clydesdales?

When the Budweiser Clydesdales passed us, my granddaughter asked if anyone knew their names. I didn’t, but I decided I would find out.

The Budweiser website gives three names for examples of Clydesdales names they use for the horses, Mark, Bud, and Duke. They explain the horses always have short names to make it easier for the driver to call out to them.

Click this link to read an engaging interview with one driver of the Budweiser carriages pulled by the Clydesdales. Here is a link to the Anheuser-Busch website so you can read even more about the Budweiser Clydesdales.

How Long Do Clydesdale Horses Live?

Generally, Clydesdale horses live to be in their mid-20s. Although Clydesdales are a large horse breed, their lifespan is relatively the same as lighter-weight horses.

What Horse is Bigger Than a Clydesdale?

The Shire Sampson has the distinction of being the world’s most massive horse on record. He was foaled in 1846 in Bedfordshire, England. He weighed 3,360 pounds while standing 21.25 hands tall at his withers, more than 7 feet, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.

Shires and Clydesdale horses are generally the same height, but a Clydesdale is usually thicker-bodied.

Is a Percheron Bigger Than a Clydesdale?

The largest Clydesdale is bigger than any Percheron on record. The Percheron is a draft breed and very similar to a Clydesdale. They have an excellent temperament and body conformation. But are they a bigger breed than the Clydesdale breed?

Like the Shire, the Percheron can be taller, but the Clydesdale is more massive; there are recordings of individual Clydesdales that larger than any recorded Percheron. Both are big horses.

Is Belgian or Clydesdale Bigger?

The Belgian is bigger than the Clydesdale. These are two large breeds, but the world record for the tallest horse is held by “Big Jake,” a Belgian horse who stands 20.2 hands. You can read more here about the similarities and differences between Belgians and Clydesdales.