Many Clydesdales exemplify why they are called “cold-bloods”. Since draft horses grow so large, there are not many predators willing to mess with them, so they do not spook as easily as a riding horse. One of the reasons Clydesdales became popular on both sides of the Atlantic and Australia is because of their tolerance of human behavior. To put it bluntly, many Clydesdales will quietly put up with a lot of crap.
Clydesdales are also more intelligent than most people. They can quietly adapt to new situations – such as horse shows, moving to a new home or meeting a family pet. They are not “bomb-proof”. If they are startled badly enough or abused, they will react violently in order to protect themselves.
Clydesdales are highly trainable, as long as they are treated with patience and persistence. They can learn to jump courses, pull a bell-covered sleigh or perform many tricks for television adverts. Although gentle, Clydesdales normally don’t shuffle along through life. They tend to keep a high head carriage and reasonably high prance when they walk or trot, showing off their feistiness.
Beloved veterinarian and author Dr. James Wright (pen name James Herriot) admired Clydesdales and thought they had a sense of humor. He wrote about having to inspect a Clydesdale’s hoof. The Clyde allowed the hoof to be lifted and then gently leaned his nearly one ton frame onto the convenient veterinarian’s back.
Unfortunately, the Clydesdales’ gentle nature has led to them being targets of abuse and neglect. Along with many other breeds of draft horse, they have used in the cruel harvesting of pregnant mare urine for hormone replacement therapy drugs such as Premarin.
Many Clydesdales wind up being abandoned through no fault of their own – other than being very large and needing more food than a smaller horse. Whenever there have been hard times, draft horses are usually the first to be abandoned or even turned loose to fend for themselves.
In the 1800s and early 1900s, Clydesdales and other draft horse breeds were also intentionally released into Mustang herds by the United States. It was hoped that some would survive long enough to breed with the Mustangs. Mustangs were the usual form of transportation of the Native American tribes that the United States government wished to subdue. The Mustangs were much faster than the usual cavalry mount. However, most drafters did not last long in the wild.
Some draft horse aficionados fear that the original type of many draft breeds, including the Clydesdale, is gone forever. This is because Clydesdales have had to adapt to changing times. Since riding horses are more in demand than plow horses, breeders are producing sleeker Clydesdales. Some think this change in physical appearance has also lead to a change in temperament, making the modern Clydesdale more skittish and belligerent than his ancestors.
But all Clydesdales are individuals. Their temperaments will be shaped by their past life events, their general health and how well they are treated.
“International Encyclopedia of Horse Breeds.” Bonnie Hendricks. University of Oklahoma Press; 1995.
“Storey’s Illustrated Guide to 96 Horse Breeds of North America.” Judith Dutson. Storey Publishing; 2005.
“Riding Clydesdales.” Scottish & Northern Equestrian; February, 2005. http://www.clydesdalehorses.co.uk/scotequest.htm
Mustangs4Us. “Draft Horses.” http://www.mustangs4us.com/HISTORY1.htm#DRAFT_HORSES