Saturday, July 19, 2014


1904 drawing of an English Clydesdale mare
Clydesdale horses started out in Scotland a long time ago.  Farmers who lived near the River Clyde in Lanarkshire imported Flemish stallions and bred them to local mares because they wanted some work horses that were bigger and stronger than the ones they already had.  Happily, this breeding program gave the farmers just the kind of horses they wanted.  The first recorded use of the name "Clydesdale" for the breed was in 1826 at an exhibition in Glasgow.

A modern-day Scottish plowing match
The local agricultural improvement societies started holding breed shows in the 1830s to choose the best stallion.  The farmer whose horse won got some money as a prize, and then he was supposed to take his stallion to visit the local mares in a designated area.  In this way and also by purchase, the Clydesdale type of draft horse spread through Scotland and northern England.

In 1877, the Clydesdale Horse Society of Scotland was formed.  Two years later, the American Clydesdale Association was founded, and it served both U.S. and Canadian breeders.  The first American stud book was published in 1882.

During World War I, thousands of Clydesdales were conscripted to help haul military equipment.  About the same time, more machinery started being used on farms, so horses weren't needed as much.  This caused a decline in breed numbers that continued between the wars and afterwards.  In 1946, there were more than 200 breeding stallions in England, and by 1949 there were only 80.  The Rare Breeds Survival Trust decided in 1975 that Clydesdales were vulnerable to extinction.

Meanwhile, during the 19th and early 20th centuries, lots of Clydesdales had been exported from Scotland to New Zealand and Australia.  Many of these horses were bred, so that there were quite a lot of them, but breeders in those countries also wanted to go on importing Clydesdales from the U.K. to help keep their stock pure.
The total number of Clydesdales worldwide in 2010 was thought to be fewer than 10,000.  The Rare Breeds Survival Trust still classifies the breed as vulnerable.  The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy has given the Clydesdale a "watch" status because fewer than 2,500 horses are registered annually.

Originally, Clydesdales were used for agriculture, for hauling coal in Lanarkshire, and for heavy hauling in Glasgow.  Today they are still used for some draft purposes, for logging, and for driving.  Many are shown or ridden for pleasure.

Back in the 1920s and 1930s, Clydesdales were much smaller and more compact than they are now.  This is because in the '40s, people started breeding the horses to be taller so that they would look more impressive in parades or shows.  The modern Clydesdale is 16 to 18 hands (64 to 72 inches) tall and weighs between 1,800 and 2,000 pounds.

The usual colors for the breed are bay, roan, black, gray, or chestnut.  Most horses have white markings on the face, feet, and legs.  Sometimes there is also white spotting on the body, especially on the belly.  Clydesdales have a lot of hair on their feet.  This is called "feathering."

Photo:  Freekee
Probably the most famous Clydesdales that everybody in America knows about are the Budweiser Clydesdales.  They made their first public appearance on April 7, 1933, to celebrate the end of Prohibition.  Ever since then, they have been a symbol of the Anheuser-Busch company, and are used to advertise Budweiser beer.  There are several "hitches" of 8 horses each that travel around the country and take part in parades and special events.  Also the horses help make commercials, especially for the Super Bowl.

There are several farms in the U.S. where Anheuser-Busch keeps or breeds Clydesdales.  All together the company owns about 250 horses.  In order to be part of a hitch, a Clydesdale has to be a gelding with an even temperament.  He has to be 4 years old, at least 72 inches tall and weigh between 1,800 and 2,300 pounds.  He has to be bay in color, meaning he has a reddish-brown coat with a black mane and tail.  He is also required to have a white blaze on his face and 4 white stocking feet.

Photo:  John Ehlke, Bay City Times
In the early days, the Budweiser Clydesdales traveled by train, but now they ride in style in 50-foot semi trailers.  Every hitch has two semis to carry the horses, and a third one for the wagon and other equipment.  Ten horses travel with each hitch, even though only eight are harnessed to the wagon at one time.  A hitch may be on the road for 10 months at a time.  An individual horse eats as much as 20-25 quarts of whole grains, minerals and vitamins; 50-60 pounds of hay; and drinks 30 gallons of water every day.  Special handlers travel with the horses to take care of them.  The wagons are Studebaker wagons that have been modified to carry beer.  They were first manufactured around 1900.

Another part of each Budweiser hitch is an obedience-trained Dalmatian.  Having these dogs on the wagons has been a tradition since the 1950s.  Back in the old days, the role of the dog was to guard the wagon while the driver went inside to make a delivery.  Nowadays, the dog's role is to sit on the seat beside the driver and look handsome.

Photo:  Ananova

The only other thing I need to tell you about Clydesdales is that if you are a small animal such as a mouse or a cat or a chihuahua, you should stay far away from the Clydesdales' feet.  Those crazy horses weigh like a ton apiece, and if they step on you, they will smash you as flat as a pancake!  Here's a picture of a chi named Berry who got his head stepped on by a Clydesdale back in 2009, and amazingly, he lived to bark about it!  But I still don't think you should press your luck.  Just saying.

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