Known throughout the United States as the official mascot of the Budweiser brand, the Clydesdale is a large, muscular horse that excels at manual labor and farm work. Its name stems from the district in Scotland, where the breed originated. The Clydesdale is also generally upheld as the quintessential example of a draft horse, a breed that is known for its strong body, long legs, and feathered hooves.
Physical Characteristics and Appearance
Clydesdales stand between 16.1 and 18 hands high with muscular legs, powerful joints, and an arched neck that helps it maintain a proud posture. Their board heads feature a wide forehead and large nostrils, and the breed’s overall stature reflects strength. They weigh approximately 2,000 pounds on average, although their weight can range between 1,600 and 2,400 pounds. Although the Clydesdale’s coat is most commonly bay colored, individual horses may also possess black, brown, and chestnut coats with a roan pattern—a solid colored coat with a scattering of white hairs. In addition, the Clydesdale’s large hooves are feathered around the ankles.
Although spirited and steadfast, Clydesdales are typically docile and gentle with a high tolerance of difficult situations and human behavior. They spook less easily than most riding horses and adapt well to new situations and changes in their environment. For instance, they perform well in horse shows and can easily become accustomed to a new home or stablemate. This temperament is typical of cold-blooded horses, which are primarily draft horses bred for hauling, farming, and other forms of heavy work and physical labor. Their intelligence also makes them highly trainable if approached with persistence and patience.
Despite their docile nature, Clydesdales are also known for their sense of pride. They tend to keep their heads held aloft as they move along, and they maintain a reasonably high prance while trotting or walking. In addition, Clydesdales may react violently in the event they do startle and will fight to protect themselves if they feel threatened.
Clydesdales have a long history as workhorses, particularly in regards to farming and hauling in rural areas. During the 17th century, they also commonly served as warhorses and provided services to members of royal families and the social elite. Although draft horses like the Clydesdale saw a decline in popularity following the Industrial Revolution and the introduction of mechanized farm equipment, they remain a favorite in the show circuit and in Heritage Day competitions.
The breed today mainly has the following uses:
Draft Horse Shows—Draft horse shows highlight the appearance and abilities of draft horses, and competitions consist of showing at halter and driving in harness. Judges consider the conformation, grace of movement, and overall appearance of the horse during the halter phase of the competition. Harness driving is the performance phase of the show, during which judges observe the horse’s behavior, its response to commands, and the transition and quality of its gaits.
Hauling—From parade floats and carriages to farm equipment and wagons, the Clydesdale’s superior strength enables it to haul a wide variety of loads. The breed remains a favorite for use in parades and festival events, where handlers offer rides in horse-drawn carriages through neighboring woods and historical neighborhoods.
Budweiser Clydesdales—As mascots for the Budweiser beer company, Clydesdales tour the country pulling the infamous red, white, and gold beer wagon, making appearances at events for beer and Budweiser products nationwide. A team of six carefully selected and highly trained horses pull the wagons. However, before they can join the Budweiser hitch, horses must pass a strict list of criteria. Appearance-wise, they must stand at least 18 hands high, with bay-colored coats, a white blaze on their face, and a black mane and tail. In addition, only Clydesdales with exceptionally gentle and docile personalities make the team.
The history of the Clydesdale traces back to 18th-century Scotland, when the horses were essential in hauling heavy loads for coal mining and road-improvement projects. The breed’s genetic roots lie with six Flemish stallions imported to Scotland by the Sixth Duke of Hamilton as an attempt to produce draft horses with greater weight and substance. The Duke bred the stallions with local Scottish mares in Lanarkshire, an area formerly known as Clydesdale. Offspring produced by the mating consisted of foals with superior strength and power, and non-locals began referring to them as the Clydesman’s horses. In 1826, the breed became formally known as the Clydesdale.
Despite its popularity in Scotland, the Clydesdale almost faced extinction due to the Industrial Revolution. Interest in the breed was reawakened in part to the successful use of Clydesdales in marketing campaigns for various brands of beer, namely Budweiser. The horses became an official part of the Budweiser brand on April 7, 1933, when the son of August Busch paraded a case of Budweiser beer down a St. Louis street on a wagon drawn by eight Clydesdales.