The Clydesdale horse is named for the Clyde river valley in Lanarkshire, Scotland. Clydesdale, in fact, was the ancient name for the place.
Clydesdale Mare, 24 x 30 painted paper collage on panel.
As with most old breeds, it is difficult to pin down the origins exactly. In the mid-eighteenth century, local Scottish draught mares were bred to bigger stallions imported from England and Flanders with the aim of producing larger and better looking offspring. Among these imported stallions was an unnamed dark-brown stallion owned by the Duke of Hamilton.
“…[T]he sixth Duke, who succeeded to the title in 1742, and died in 1758, imported a dark-brown Flemish stallion for the use of his tenantry, with a view to improve the breed of horses. […] It was named ” Clyde,” and the progeny were called the “Clyde breed.” James Davidson died when Mr. Burns was a boy, yet he remembers him, and has a distinct recollection of the reputation which the progeny of “Clyde” obtained.” The Glasgow Herald, May 12th, 1883 compiled in The History of the Clydesdale Horse, 1884
In addition to the Duke of Hamilton’s famous ‘Clyde’, there was also a black unnamed Flemish stallion imported from England around 1750 by a John Paterson of Lochlyloch. This black stallion with white on his legs was also a famous progenitor of the Clydesdale breed. A filly born in 1806 – later known as the Lampits Mare for Lampits Farm where she was born – who traced her lineage to that black stallion is listed in the ancestry of almost every Clydesdale living today. She and her offspring were described as:
…the true type of Clydesdale, having well-sprung ribs, gun-barrel body, hind legs standing well together, and first-rate action.” “The Hamilton Advertiser”, August 11, 1883, compiled in The History of the Clydesdale Horse, 1884
It is the ‘first-rate action’ that sets the Clydesdale apart from other draught breeds. Each foot is lifted cleanly off the ground so that the bottom of the hoof is visible. This showy leg action gives the Clydesdale its distinctive style, enabling the breed to dominate the show ring.
Georgia, Clydesdale filly, owned by Murray McClintock of Ormstown
The original Clydesdale was probably a stockier animal than the ones we see today. The modern Clydesdale is tall- commonly between 16.2 and 18 hands high – weighs about 1600 to 1800 pounds, has a fairly short back, and is well-muscled. They are usually bay in colour, but may be black, brown or roan, and have extensive white markings on the legs, belly, and face. Their long straight legs are ‘feathered’ with silky white hair.
An example of the breed circa 1860 from Elements of Agriculture by G.F Warren, 1915
The first Clydesdale to arrive in Canada was a stallion named Cumberland who was imported to Ontario in 1840. The breed quickly spread throughout the country. Soon the Clydesdale had become the most prevalent draught breed in Canada. The breed’s numbers peaked in the 1930’s, but mechanization in farming eventually rendered the heavy horses obsolete. By the 1960’s, the Clydesdale was nearly extinct, not only in Canada, but world-wide.
The Clydesdale’s numbers have rebounded somewhat – thanks in no small part to Budweiser – but the horse remains on the ‘watch’ list. There are an estimated 5000 Clydesdales remaining in the world.
Sources: The History of the Clydesdale Horse, William Love, Glasgow, 1884.
The Canadian Clydesdale Horse Association, www.canadianclydesdales.ca
The Livestock Conservancy, www.livestockconservancy.org
The Clydesdale Horse Society www.clydesdalehorsesociety.com