I recently got interested in the Clydesdale breed after watching a documentary about them on TV, featuring a British actor Martin Clunes who owns a pair of these horses, and uses them to work the land on his farm. This is a breed of very large and super-strong working horse who originated in Britain in the 18th century. You probably know them as the mascots of Budweiser beer! The adverts use teams of eight giant Clydesdales. They stand at more than 18 hands high (about six feet!) and weigh more than a ton.
They were derived from farm horses in Scotland and are named after the area they come from, Clydesdale, now Lanarkshire. The breed is said to have originated in the mid-18th century, when Flemish stallions were imported to Scotland and crossed with local mares. It seems that it was the Sixth Duke of Hamilton who brought the first stallion from abroad to breed with his mare, and that started the line which quickly gained popularity. Curiously, they began as one of the smallest draught breeds, and are now one of the largest. This came about as a result of selective breeding in the 1940s onwards, when owners wanted to increase the size for show and work purposes.
They are very often bay in colour with distinctive white markings. They were traditionally used for heavy labour as carthorses, for hauling coal and as warhorses for more than 200 years. The first recorded use of this breed name was in 1826. In 1877 the Clydesdale Horse Society was established in Scotland and then in the 19th century many of these horses were exported to Australia and New Zealand, besides other countries, and became very well known as the main Australian working (draught) horse. The Commonwealth Clydesdale Horse Society was formed as a result of this in 1918.
The Queen of England was so impressed with a Clydesdale she saw pulling milk cart that she put them into Royal Service as drum carriers for the Household Cavalry Band, and now they are used on many state occasions in Britain. (see the accompanying picture, showing their Scottish heritage).
As farms became increasingly mechanised throughout the 20th century, this breed became almost extinct. There are now about 800 Clydesdales in the UK and around 5000 worldwide. Despite the fact that they have become rare, their popularity is enjoying a resurgence, as now more and more people are taking to owning these horses, for showing and driving, logging or even to ride them.
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Picture courtesy of www.news.bbc.co.uk