The Clydesdale Horse is the pride of Scotland and is a native breed which was founded in Lanarkshire, Clydesdale being the old name for the district. The history of the breed dates back from the middle of the 18th century when native horses of Lanarkshire were graded up in an effort to produce greater weight and substance by the use of Flemish stallions.
The first stallion, imported by the Sixth Duke of Hamilton, was dark brown in colour and was kept for the benefit of his tenants who were granted its use, free of charge. John Paterson of Lochlyloch brought from England a Flemish stallion, black in colour with a white face and some white on his legs, around this time. The venture proved successful and Lochlyloch blood speedily became famous and sought after, a marked improvement apparent in the colts and fillies from this district offered at the various fairs in the county.
The next horse of note to have left a record was Blaze, a black 16.1hh stallion with a white ratch on his face, belonging to Mr Scott of Carstairs. In 1782, Blaze won first prize at an Edinburgh Show and did good service in Lanarkshire for many years. Nothing was known of his antecedents, but the impression produced by his shape, style and action was that he was of coaching blood.
The next step brings us into the region of recorded pedigrees, as from the mare now to be referred to, practically every Clydesdale of recorded lineage, can trace descent. In 1808, a displenishing sale was held at Shotts Hill Mill, Carstairs, when the stock of Mr Clarkson was disposed of. Mr Somerville, Lampits Farm, Carstairs, purchased a two-year-old filly. Mr Clarkson was a descendant of the Paterson's of Lochlyloch, the importers of the Flemish stallion and there is good reason to believe the stallion claimed a place in the family tree of this filly.
The filly produced amongst others a black colt foal, which under the name of “Thompson's Black Horse”, or Glancer, is to be found in the pedigree of horses today. Glancer had white on both hind legs and is described as “having a strong neat body set on short thick legs, the clean sharp bones of which were fringed with nice, flowing silken hair”. The Lampits mare went on to produce Farmers Fancy and Glancer I and it is felt by some that the frequent mating of descendants of these two horses has resulted in lasting benefit to the breed.
Mares of renown, both in their own right and for their foals, were Peggy, Kate and Jean. Jean, by Farmer's Fancy, produced a filly foal by Samson in 1860. This filly became the famous Keir Peggy, a grand powerful dark bay. Besides having five filly foals, Peggy had four colt foals, one of which was Darnley a rich bay with very little white. Among Darnley's most famous sons were MacGregor, Top Gallant and Flashwood. Top Gallant's most prominent son was Sir Everard, who in turn was the sire of Baron's Pride.
Baron's Pride went on to sire one of the breeds most famous sons, Baron of Buchlyvie. Bred by William McKeich, foaled in 1900 and out of Young Maybloom, this horse was sold by public auction in Ayr during December 1911 to William Dunlop of Dunure Mains, Ayr, for £9,500. The equivalent today being around £275,000 in purchasing power.
At its peak, Scotland had around 140,000 farm horses plus an unknown number in towns and cities, most of which were Clydesdales in whole or part. The top year came in 1911, when 1,617 stallions were exported. Three years later Clydesdale horses were conscripted by the army to serve in The First World War. It is known that between 1850 and 1880 a large number of the best stallions and a few good quality mares were annually exported mainly to Australia and New Zealand. It was, however, after the foundation of the Stud Book that exports began to be numbered in hundreds and during the period 1884 to 1945, 20,183 export certificates for stallions, mares and fillies were issued by the Society, the importing countries being not only the Dominions, but America, South America, Russia, Italy and Austria.
In some parts of the world, the downturn in the fortunes of the breed came soon after the Great War. In Australia, in the 1920's the tractor took over and in many cases the field gates were left open and the horses were allowed to run free. The Clydesdale had its part to play in England too. In 1946 over 200 Clydesdale stallions were licensed and working in England. By 1949 however, this was down to 80.
The conditions prevailing in Britain during the Second World War necessitated the agricultural industry being brought to its highest pitch of productivity, and this could only be attained by the extensive use of the tractor and sadly, horses were replaced by mechanical power. During the 1960's and early 1970's, breed numbers dwindled and in 1975, the Clydesdale was categorized by the Rare Breed Survival Trust as “vulnerable”. Over the years and with the increase in breed numbers, it is now categorized as “at risk”.
The Clydesdale and Its Qualities
Male or female, a Clydesdale should look handsome, weighty and powerful, but with a gaiety of carriage and outlook, so that the impression is given of quality and weight, rather than grossness and bulk.
"No feet no horse” is an old saying, but it applies with particular force in the Clydesdale show ring. The judge expects to see feet ‘open and round like a masons mallet'. The hoof heads must be wide and springy, with no suspicion of hardness such as may lead to the formation of side-bone or ring bone. The feather on the legs is a beauty point in the breed. British judges put more stress on the silkiness of the hair than judges across the Atlantic do. Pasterns must be long and set at an angle of 45 degrees from the hoof head to the fetlock joint. The fore legs must be planted well under the shoulders, plumb and hang straight from the shoulder to the fetlock joint. There must be no openness at the knees, nor any tendency to knock-knees. The hind legs must also be planted closely together, with the points of the hocks turned inwards rather than outwards. The thighs must come well down to the hocks and the shanks from the hock-joint to the fetlock joint must be plumb and straight.
A Clydesdale should have a nice open forehead, broad between the eyes, a flat profile, wide muzzle, large nostrils, a bright clear intelligent eye, big ears and a well arched long neck springing out of an oblique shoulder with high withers. The back should be short and strong, carrying on towards the rump and this must be associated with lots of spring and depth of rib, like hoops of a barrel. The horse's quarters should not only be long, but well muscled, this is a draught horse after all. The colours most common are bay and brown with white markings, but blacks, greys , roans and chestnuts are occasionally seen. The white markings are characteristic and it is the exception to see a bay or brown Clydesdale without a white face and considerable white on the feet and legs.
At rest, a judge can see if the horse is well balanced and correct. At the walk and trot towards and away from him, the judge can assess it for better or worse. There must be “action”, when viewed from behind, the foot at every step is lifted clear of the ground. The action, too, must be close and true. The final decision is based on soundness, size and action, not by some kind of points system, but by a general assessment of the whole animal as it is presented in the ring. Presentation may not make a poor animal into a trophy winner, but a good person at the halter can bring out the best in a horse, to the pleasure of onlookers and the satisfaction of the owner.
The Clydesdale Breed Today
The popularity of the Clydesdale in the 1990's is growing continually. Although there are only approximately 700 registered brood mares in the United Kingdom and about 100 registered stallions, more and more people are using Clydesdales not just for showing and driving, but for farm work, horse logging and even riding. People with a love of the Clydesdale are not only rediscovering the uses of the breed, but with the skills needed for working these animals, including harness making and shoeing, traditions which began a hundred years and more ago being kept alive.
Useful though Clydesdales can be, most of them are kept for pleasure. Their grace and vigour are refreshing in this mechanical age. Those who show their horses can rarely hope to recover any substantial part of their outlay but they admit this cheerfully.
The show season is a busy time and Clydesdale entries over the years continue to increase. The Royal Highland Show in June is the showpiece of the Clydesdale year, where the top award, the Cawdor Cup, goes to the best female. The Male Cawdor Cup is awarded at the National Stallion Show in the spring of each year. The Clydesdale draws in amazing crowds, regardless of the size of the show.
It is not just in the summer that shows take place. Foal shows are held throughout the winter months, giving enthusiasts an interesting picture of what new talent is coming forward.
Since 1982, the Society has been awarded a grant by the Horserace Betting Levy Board to help with the breed improvement. This grant is used to fund the Stallion Premium Scheme whereby a maximum of 16 paraded stallions are eligible for a premium, provided they leave four or more foals registered in the Stud Book the following year. The scheme is also of benefit to breeders who register foals.
Filly foals forward for registration are also DNA'd. This involves pulling hair from the foal which is then sent to the Animal Health Trust at Newmarket for testing against both sire and dam. Stallions forward for registration are also sampled and this ensures that pedigrees of horses are correct.