The Irish Draught Horse is a warm blood horse with its origins in Ireland. While the name suggests it is a heavy draft breed, it is no longer a true draft due to the refined blood that has been infused into the line throughout the years. It is a large boned and very athletic horse, known for amazing jumping ability. It is also a rare breed and there has been a continuing effort to keep it in existence for the last half-century.
The original Irish Draught horses were bred to fulfill the Irish farmers’ need for an extremely versatile horse. They wanted an animal that could do heavy pulling and farm work as well as be ridden to town and used on fox hunts. These horses had to pull carts and buggies in peacetime and artillery batteries during times of war. Irish farmers also needed easy keepers as they needed to survive solely on pasture, boiled turnips, bran, oats, and any other left over forage.
The Irish Draught horses have many ancestors in the equine world. The original descendants were the small Irish Hobby Horse. As the years went by, and Ireland was invaded by the Anglo-Saxons, more blood types were introduced to the Hobby Horse including the Sorria, the Garrano, the Clydesdale and the Thoroughbred. This line also includes a small amount of Connemara pony.
Towards the end of the 19th century, it was very popular to crossbreed the Draughts with Clydesdales. No too much later, however, this fell out of favor as the larger drafts were blamed for conformational faults and a dulling of the temperament.
At the end of the 20th century, the Irish Government started to promote the breeding of the Irish Draught. It offered subsidies, as well as registration for breeding stock. It started registering stallions in 1907 and added mares in the 1911. In 1917, the studbook was opened by the Ministry of Agriculture. Originally, 44 stallions and 375 mares were named the foundation stock.
These horses became quite rare in the 20th century. If not victims of war, they were put out to pasture as machines became increasingly relied upon in farming. Thousands upon thousands went to slaughter so the farmers could pay for new tractors and machinery.
In 1976, a small group of breeders formed the Irish Draught Horse Society in the interest of preserving and promoting the breed. Currently the Irish Draught Horse is a very popular horse for crossbreeding with hotter blooded horses such as Thoroughbreds and Arabs. These mixes result in what is known as the Irish Draught Sport Horse.
In 2006, the United Nations declared this breed to be endangered and suggested that genetic research be done to preserve this type of horse; an unusual move by any standard.
In the world of Eventing and cross-country competition where the Irish Draught Horse and Thorobreds are crossbred to produce a highly competitive mount, this horse is known by different names in different parts of the world. In North America, it is known as the Irish Draught Sport Horse. In Europe, they are called the Irish Sport horse or Irish Hunter.
There are many famous Irish Draught Sport horses on the Grand Prix circuit as well as in Eventing. Some of the better known horses include Sailing, Custom Made, Ado Annie, Carling King, Supreme Rock and Eezy.
The Irish Draught is a strong and solid horse. It ranges in height from 15 to 17 hands. It is heavy with strong and clean bones. Its head is wide between the eyes with well set ears. It has a kind and gentle eye. The overall silhouette of the head can be either clean and straight, or slightly roman-nosed. The shoulders are strong and sloping with nicely defined withers. The head and neck must be well set. The chest is not too broad or too muscular. The horse should carry itself in a proud manner with long and muscular forelegs and short cannon bones. It can have a bit of feathering on the fetlock. The back is muscular and the back thighs are powerful. The hock should be close to the ground. Its movement should be smooth and comfortable with minimal action. The hock should have good flexion producing a lively step, neither slow nor lazy. The color can be bay, chestnut or gray.
These horses are used today for jumping, showing and pleasure riding. They are one of the horses of choice for the mounted police forces of Ireland and Great Britain as they are intelligent and gentle. They have a docile temperament with plenty of common sense. They can be a good match for any age or level of rider.
In Australia, the breed and its development are managed by the The Irish Draught and Sport Horse Society of Australia