The CLYDESDALE was first developed around 250 years ago, in the Clyde Valley, Scotland and is one of the best known heavy horses. The breed was founded between 1715 and 1720, when the 6th Duke of Hamilton imported Flemish horses to improve and increase the size of the native draught stock. At the same time John Paterson of Lochlyoch also brought in Flemish horses, probably from England, and founded a strain that was to be a major influence at least until the mid-19th century. In addition, there were undoubtedly infusions of Shire Horse blood

Two notable 19th-century breeders were Lawrence Drew, steward to the 11th Duke of Hamilton at Merryton, and his friend David Riddell. Both were dedicated to the improvement of the Clydesdale. They had little respect for the establishment and in 1883 set up the Select Clydesdale Horse Society, in opposition to the official Clydesdale Horse Society Stud Book which had been published five years previously. They were committed to the introduction of Shire mares, and firmly believed that Shires and Clydesdales were two wings of one breed. Riddell was also one of the first breeders to export Clydesdales, creating a tradition that was to become the hallmark of subsequent Clydesdale breeders.

Both Drew and Riddell used the great 19th-century sires, Prince of Wales 673 and Darnley 222. The success of these stallions was consolidated by the lines created by one being put to the best daughters of the other. However, it is an earlier horse, Glancer 335, who is recognized as the breed’s foundation sire. Glancer was the son of “Lampit’s mare”, who was foaled in 1806, and was believed to be descended from the Lochlyoch strain. His descendant, Broomfield Champion, appears in Darnley’s pedigree, and sired Clyde (or Glancer 153), a horse who left a particular mark on the breed through his sons.

The Clydesdale is renowned for its action. According to the Clydesdale Horse Society, the breed has “a flamboyant style, a flashy, spirited bearing and a high-stepping action that makes him a singularly elegant animal among draught horses”. More importantly, it is bred for its strength of legs and feet. Judges will often start with an inspection of same.However, they are less good for ploughing, as they can be too big to fit in the furrow.

The modern Clydesdale is lighter than those bred in the past, and is now distinctive in type and appearance. The average height is around 1.68 m (16.2 hh), although some are larger, and they weigh up to one tonne. The legs often appear long, and carry abundant silky feather. The joints should be big, the hocks broad and clean, and the knees flat.

The Clydesdale stands ‘close behind’ and that is a breed feature which is notably different to the fault “cow hocked”. A cow hocked horse has hocks close-almost touching, and hooves far apart, and cannon bones that are angled from the hock to the hoof.

The ‘close behind’ attribute of the clydesdale is such that the hocks are close, but so are the hind hooves, and the cannon bones are vertical and parallel and perpendicular to the ground.

This enables them to concentrate their pulling power in a central line, or even in a furrow,and not to ‘waddle’ like a duck, when under a heavy load. Breed enthusiasts want “close” movement, the forelegs being placed right under the shoulders and the hind legs close together.

Sickle or cow hocks are a fault both of which weaken the pulling power of the horse, often causing it to waddle or sway from side to side as the power from the back legs can not be directed in a completely forward direction.

Unlike the Shire, which has a Roman nose, the Clydesdale has a straight profile and it also has a longer neck. The colour is usually bay or brown, but greys, roans, and blacks are also found. White occurs on the face, the legs, and the underside of the body to a greater extent than in Shire horses.

Clydesdales have been exported worldwide, although the preponderance of white markings and the heavy feather, which can cause an eczema-type condition on the legs, were a disadvantage in some regions They worked the Canadian and American prairies, and later earned the title “the breed that built Australia”.

(Editor – correction regarding cow hocks gratefully received from Ian Stewart-Koster