Meet the Clydesdale

Clydesdale Horses in full harnesses
A pair of Clydesdales makes an impressive show of horsepower. Alan Crawford / Getty Images

The Clydesdale breed once almost faced extinction. Even though there is little practical use for heavy horses today because their muscle power has been replaced by machinery, breeders and enthusiasts have ensured that the breed is increasing, rather diminishing in numbers. Even so, it remains on some endangered lists even though it is often one of the most easily recognized heavy horse breeds.

Body Type

While there is no absolute breed standard, Clydes should be short backed and broad chested with a well-sprung barrel.

Heads should have a flat profile and a large bright eye. The neck should be long and arched. Overall the horse should give the impression of muscular strength without being rangy or loose-jointed. Clydesdales tend to be leggier than many draft horse breeds.


Clydesdales are tall and leggy. They should stand over 16 HH and can weigh over 1600 pounds. Clydes that stand over 18HH and weigh over a ton are not unusual.


The Clydesdale was developed for both agricultural work and commercial transportation. In their early history, they were used as war horses, suited to carrying a heavily armed soldier. They were used to pull agricultural implements,  haul logs in forestry, pull freight wagons, milk wagons, and general hauling. They have served as drum horses, carrying heavy kettle drums. Today they are used for both riding and driving and are frequently crossed with Thoroughbreds to make strong, level headed sports horses.

They are still occasionally used in agriculture work and logging but have largely been replaced by machinery such as tractors. These are truly gentle giants that make wonderful family horses.

Color and Markings

Clydesdales can be black, brown or bay or chestnut. Their coats may be either solid or have some roan markings or spots.

They can have white stockings on their legs or solid colors. They often have wide white blazes or ‘bald’ facial markings resulting in flashy eye-catching combinations.

History and Origins

The Clydesdale was developed in Scotland during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The area where the breed began is now known as Lanarkshire district with the River Clyde flowing through it. Clydesdales first arrived in Canada with Scottish settlers, and then in the late 1880s were introduced in the United States. In Canada, Clydesdales are listed as an At Risk breed with less than 500 registered horses in the country. In the United Kingdom, the breed is listed by the Rare Breeds Trust that claims at the peak of their use, there were about 140,000 Clydesdale horses. They are now in the rare breeds list. 

Unique Characteristics

The most obvious characteristic is their large frying pan sized hooves and luxurious leg feather. Many Clydesdales have flashy coloring, with white facial markings and four white legs. They are high stepping at both the walk and trot and have an impressive presence.

Champions and Celebrities

Most people know the Budweiser Clydesdales. Currently, there are several teams that tour North America.

The sight of the rumbling wagon weighing several tons, pulled by the eight-horse hitch in gleaming harness is unforgettable. The first team was formed in the 1930s and they have made appearances at many public events.