What to Know About Clydesdale Horses

Medically Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on December 07, 2022
5 min read

When you think of Clydesdale horses, the image of big, burly creatures pulling the Budweiser wagon probably comes to mind. While this is certainly what the breed is famous for, there are many other interesting things to know about this hardworking horse. Here’s what you need to know about this horse when it comes to personality, diet needs, and basic care.

The Clydesdale horse comes from Lanarkshire, Scotland, a district that used to be called Clydesdale. The area is near the River Clyde, which is where the district and the horse both get their names. While the horses were developed earlier, in 1715 the breed was improved when they were mated with Flemish horses, and then later on Shire blood was added to the bloodline. The result is the large horse that we know today as the Clydesdale.

Around this time, roads in Scotland were improved so that wagons and teams of horses were able to use them. The Clydesdale was developed for this need, to drive heavy wagons through the streets of Glasgow. Along with their proven ability as workhorses for farmers, Clydesdales became popular all across Scotland and England. In 1842, Clydesdales were introduced to North America, but they never became as popular as draft horses there as they were in their homeland.

If you’ve ever seen a Clydesdale, you already know that its look is distinctive.

Clydesdale horse size. The Clydesdale is a large horse, with males standing 17 to 19 hands (5.7 to 6.3 feet) tall from the ground to their shoulders. They weigh between 1,700 and 2,200 pounds on average. Female Clydesdales are a little shorter and lighter than males. They are barrel-chested and built for carrying loads and have incredible strength.

Clydesdale horse color. This horse can be black, brown, or bay with some white around its face and lower legs. The legs have silky, feathery hair on them as well. Some Clydesdales have white markings on their bodies.

Body and features. The Clydesdale has straight legs and durable feet made for working. It has a distinctive gait: each foot lifts off the ground so that you can see the bottom of its hoof from behind. The Clydesdale has a short back, high withers, and long, muscly quarters. It has an open forehead with a flat face and space between the eyes. Its muzzle is also wide with large nostrils.

Clydesdale horse lifespan. On average, Clydesdales live into their late teens or early twenties. Those that die of old age usually experience heart and/or kidney failure.

In the past, the Clydesdale was the horse of choice for working in agriculture due to its strength. However, many Clydesdale breeders raise and train this breed either to show or for elegant hitches, like carriages. A century ago, people wanted compact Clydesdales. Today, they are taller and a little broader to show off their beauty.

The number of Clydesdales has steadily decreased over the last few decades. The biggest drop-off started in 2010 with the decline of the economy and the equine market. Even though most people know and recognize this famous breed, experts estimate that there are only about 5,000 Clydesdale horses around the world.

The most famous Clydesdales in the US are those that belong to the Anheuser-Busch Company in St. Louis, Missouri. The company acquired Clydesdales in the 1930s and used them to showcase its products as people celebrated the end of Prohibition. The Budweiser Clydesdales delivered the first post-Prohibition beer to the White House and became the perfect mascot for the company.

The Anheuser-Busch Company has had a Clydesdale breeding program since 1953. Many experts credit this breeding program to the survival of the Clydesdale throughout the US and North America. Clydesdales have to meet specific requirements, like physical attributes, age, and weight, to become a part of the company’s official hitching horse.

Getting the right nutrition is an important part of your Clydesdale’s overall health. A horse’s dietary needs will vary throughout its lifetime depending on its:

  • Age
  • Health
  • Environment
  • Growth
  • Activity level

Horses are natural herbivores and spend most of their time grazing on hay and grass in their natural environments. Your Clydesdale should have hay every day, and most owners choose to supplement their horse’s diet with feed. This can be a mix of:

  • Oats
  • Bran
  • Grains
  • Water
  • Salt

Clydesdales that are used for hitching need a lot of food for their active lifestyle. To keep up with their activity, many eat a mix of these items each day:

  • 20 to 25 quarts of whole grains or feed
  • 50 pounds or more of hay
  • 30 gallons of water

Modern Clydesdales are larger than their ancestors were, but they still need the same amount of care to keep them looking and feeling their best. Unfortunately, some of the traditional methods of maintaining their feet and the feathery hair on their legs have been lost over time. Your horse will need regular grooming, foot care, and farriery to maintain its physical appearance and health.

Horses, like other domesticated animals, need regular vet checkups for preventative health and dental care. Experts recommend that adult horses have at least one checkup a year. Horses that are 20 or older are classified as geriatric and should see a vet two or more times a year. This ensures that your vet can assess them sooner for problems that often afflict older horses. During these checkups, your vet may ask for routine blood tests or tailor a wellness program specifically for your horse’s needs.

Young horses need dental examinations twice a year until they reach the age of five. As adults, they need to have their teeth checked once a year to prevent periodontal disease or other tooth problems. Dental care is important for senior Clydesdales, since their teeth wear down over time. The front teeth often bow out towards the horse’s lip as well. Even if your older horse’s teeth are beyond repair, it’s important that they are still able to bite and chew well.