The Clydesdale Horse Breed: How Much Can They Pull?


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Clydesdale’s strength is legendary and is the primary reason the breed flourished in the pre-industrial period. But do you know how much weight these massive horses can pull?

A Clydesdale can pull between 2,000 and 8,000 pounds. Pulling strength is determined by the distance a loaded sled (boat), or a dynamometer is moved. Most large draft breeds pull similar weight.

Clydesdales horses are powerful. Their strength is typically displayed and measured at pulling competitions, and there’s a lot to learn about these events.

A Clydesdale can pull 2,000 lbs at a walk

A Clydesdale can pull 2,000 pounds at a walk, which is an essential benchmark for draft breeds. It was especially vital in the pre-industrial era because farmers reliance on draft horses to work their agricultural fields.

Horse’s with the ability to pull heavy loads for sustained periods were coveted. The Clydesdale’s originated in Scotland when local mares were bred to imported Flemish stallions. This cross of breeds produced foals that were larger and stronger than the local stock.

Picture of Clydesdales pulling a wagon.

The newly developed Scottish horse was named for the local horses of Clydesdale, a county in Scotland. They worked hard on the farms pulling plows and in the cities hauling heavy carts of coal.

Word of the Clydesdale’s strength and stamina quickly spread across Europe, and the breed flourished. Today, Clydesdale’s ability to pull consistently over long periods is displayed in farming, logging, pulling competitions, and during parades.

A pair of Clydesdale can pull approximately 18,000-pounds.

The world record in draft horse competition is 22,000 pounds. The load was pulled 66 inches over dry clay by a pair of Belgiums.

A pair of draft horses can pull a load weighing over 9,000 lbs 30 feet. In draft competitions, a set of two horses in harnesses pull a sled loaded with concrete blocks. The horses compete by size, and all are required to pull a load at a minimum distance.

Draft horse pulling competitions measure a horses strength

A starting load is determined at a weight most teams are expected to be able to pull. Each team entered in the contest is hitched to the load, and they pull it for a short distance.

At the end of each round, contestants are eliminated if they fail to pull the load the required distance. Drivers can also voluntarily eliminate their team if they feel the weight is more than his team can handle or the horses have had enough for the day.

Successful teams continue to the next round, where they attempt to pull more substantial weight. Teams are trying to achieve a full pull in each round– associations establish their distance for what is considered a “full pull” the typical distances range from mere inches to thirty feet.

The competition continues in this way until only one team of horses remains If no team completes a full pull on a particular weight, the winner is the team that has pulled the load the furthest distance.

Horses pull a boat or dynamometer to measure pulling power

What’s pulled in draft horse pulling competitions?

When you’re at a pulling competition, you’ll notice horses pulling an apparatus. I wondered what the horses pull, so I did some research to find out.

Teams are hooked to either a boat or a dynamometer. The boat is a flat-bottomed stone sled with or without runners, which is loaded with weight. The competition begins with the boat typically loaded with 1500 pounds, a comfortable weight to get the battle started.

The dynamometer

In some competitions, instead of using a loaded sled, a dynamometer is used for weight resistance. A dynamometer is a weight-resistant machine that ensures the same challenge for each team. It provides a more consistent and accurate way to measure a team’s strength and ability.

A dynamometer is a machine specifically designed to test the maximum pulling power of a team of horses. The dynamometer was first used in the early 1920s and quickly became a staple at county fairs.

If you’ve ever gone to a truck or tractor pull competition, a dynamometer was likely used. A typical load at an average pull is 5000 pounds.

Horses get two chances to pull their load

How many tries do they get to pull a load?

You may see a team unhook from a sled and then later hooked back to the same weighted load and try the pull again. Do you know how many tries they have to move a weight?

Teams get two chances to pull the load per hook. So if a team pulls short of the required distance and quits, the length is reset, and the team can continue to try again so long as the horses start the second attempt from a standstill.

If the team does not complete the pull this time, they are unhooked and given the option to come back at the end of the round and try one more time.

If the team can’t complete the pull on this attempt, they are out of the competition, and their furthest pull on that weight is their final placing.

What types of horses compete in pulling competitions?

Since pulling competitions are divided by weight class it made me wonder if horse other than draft breed compete.

Competitions aren’t restricted by breed, but the most common horses in the pulling contest are large draft breeds such as Belgians, Shires, Clydesdales, and Percherons. Belgians hold most of the world pulling records. However, they also have pony competitions, and mule pulls.

Horses compete by weight class

Pulling contests have a variety of weight classes and follow strict rules to avoid animal cruelty. Each match has a weigh-in session hours before the contest starts.

Lightweights are typically under 3000 pounds of combined weight, and heavyweights are over. Some competitions break down the weight classes into smaller divisions.

Horses lose weight rapidly to drop a weight class

Horse owners often encourage rapid weight loss so their horses can compete at a lower weight level, much like a wrestler or boxer. However, some competitions prohibit this practice and state that it is grounds for a horse’s disqualification.

Researchers studied the effects of rapid weight loss on horses and found no adverse long term effects. You can read their report here.

Horses in pulling competition are shod with caulks or studs to help them get a firmer grip in the dirt. Generally, competitive pulling teams are not used for farm work but trained and fed exclusively for competitions.

Clydesdale horses are bred to pull

Are pulling competitions cruel?

Draft horses are bred to pull and they train for years before being hooked to a sled in competition. Pulling is natural for these draft breeds.

Pulling competitions aren’t cruel; however, some bad apples break the rules and treat horses unethically to win. Most animals that compete in pulling games are treated with care.

Horse owners that compete in these pulls have a bond with their horses and typically love their animals like members of their family. However, in every equine discipline, there are outliers, and some owners in pulling events may mistreat their animals.

Some concerns include drugging horses, depriving them of water, shocking them, and beating animals to make them pull harder. Some horses are injected with performance-enhancing chemicals prior to competitions.

These drugs can cause long term health problems for the competitors and should be forbidden. Most pulling associations have rules against this practice.

Owners allegedly deprive their animals of water before they’re weighed for class competitions. The reason an owner would limit its water is so the animal could compete in a lighter class than its standard weight class.

Water deprivation is a cruel practice and not an acceptable practice by pulling groups. In the past owners have used whips and shocking devices to make their horses pull.

Shocking and hitting horses is not common or acceptable to horse owners. But just like in any sport, you always have people willing to act unethically and cheat to win.

Most horse owners would report signs of abuse to the authorities if they witnessed a horse being abused. Am I being too generous, I don’t think so.

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Miles Henry

I love animals! Especially horses, I've been around them most of my life but I am always learning more and enjoy sharing with others. I have bought, sold, and broke racehorse yearlings. I have raised some winning horses and had some that didn't make it as racehorses, so we trained them in other disciplines. Miles Henry

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