In Scotland the place of the Shire was taken by the Clydesdale. Both breeds evolved from their native soil, with some admixture of imported blood, and the two are indeed very similar to each other.

Probably the Clydesdale was based originally on an ancient type of Celtic pony which seems to have been indigenous, but imports of other stock began at an early date. Almost certainly some Norse blood was introduced, and there is a tradition that in the seventeenth century a Duke of Hamilton brought over six stallions from Flanders. As we have seen, there were considerable imports of heavy horses from Europe into England in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, so the story is not unlikely. On the other hand, another tradition that speaks of the local breed of horses being reinforced by stallions from wrecked ships of the Spanish Armada is probably myth. If all the breeds of livestock in England, Scotland and Ireland about which the same story is told were indeed indebted to escapes from the Spanish ships, then the Armada must have been conveying a menagerie.

By the early eighteenth century a promising type of heavy horse, similar to the English Shire (or rather, its progenitors) and developed in much the same manner, was certainly well established in lowland Scotland and particularly in Lanarkshire, for which Clydesdale is an approximate synonym. At that juncture, and therefore a little earlier than the beginning of scientific farm horse improvement in England (according to the records we have), a Lanarkshire farmer, John Paterson, of Lochlyoch, Carmichael, imported a black stallion from Flanders, which had a considerable influence on the breed. His initiative, which occurred between 1715 and 1720, coincided with the improvement in roads and the growth of a more informed and intelligent interest in agriculture. In particular, horses were now being required to draw loads rather than to carry them on their backs.

An impetus was given to the breeding of heavy horses, as of other livestock, by the formation of the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland in 1784. From 1816 onwards the Society offered premiums for the improvement of horses in certain districts. At its first general show, at Glasgow in 1826, the Clydesdales were mentioned by name, and prizes were offered for animals from Lanark, Renfrew, Dumbarton, Stirling and Ayr.

One of the most prominent of the Clydesdale sires in these early days, and one to which the breed owes much, was Glancer, who could claim direct descent from the black stallion introduced by John Paterson. Says Robert Jarvis, recounting the history of the breed,

There are seven stallions registered as his sons in the retrospective volume of the Clydesdale Stud Book, and without exception each of these seven left his mark on Clydesdale history. They varied in respect of their distinction in the showyard, but it would be difficult to name any seven horses all got by the same sire whose influence in moulding a type has been greater.

Mr. Jarvis selects Galloway, Ayrshire, Kintyre, Aberdeenshire and Cumberland as the regions which, in addition to Lanark and Renfrew, made some of the most notable contributions to the development of the Clydesdale. Kintyre comes into the picture because in the first half of the nineteenth century certain agricultural estates in Lanarkshire and Kintyre were in the same hands, and Clydesdales were moved between them. Within the comparatively restricted limits of the Kintyre peninsula the work of the stallions was concentrated and produced some magnificent horses, most outstanding of which were Rob Roy, Farmer’s Fancy and Large Jock, the last of which produced a son, Prince of Kilbride, who won the supreme award at the Highland Show for three successive years.

In Galloway the breed was developed by using Clydesdale stallions on the local Galloway nags, which themselves are described as “strong black horses”, excellent for draught work.

From the early years of the nineteenth century there was much movement backward and forward across the border, and first-class Clydesdale stallions were travelling in Cumberland as early as the 1820s. The influence of the breed extended over all the northern counties of England. Describing the situation on the east of the Pennines, W. Harwood Long (in A Survey of the Agriculture of Yorkshire) writes:

When farming relied on horses for its source of power, the country was divided north and south largely into two breeds, Clydesdale and Shire. They met in Yorkshire; the north of the county was mainly Clydesdale, and the south was Shire. Where they met there was rivalry of Montague-Capulet intensity, which, nevertheless, was often resolved more felicitiously than the end which fate bestowed on Shakespeare’s tragic lovers; for many years the cross between a Clydesdale and a Shire produced a farm horse that was hard to surpass.

In Aberdeenshire stallions from England seem to have shared the honours with those from Lanarkshire and other parts of southern Scotland in the first half of the nineteenth century. Gradually, however, the Clydesdales predominated and later in the century produced a number of outstanding sires there.

One reason for the steady growth of the Clydesdales during that century was the general Scottish custom of holding small stallion shows in the market towns. At these shows a panel of judges selected a premium stallion to serve the surrounding district. The premium usually amounted to not more than £50, with a fee of £1 for a service, plus an extra £2 when the mare was proved to be in foal. Although the rewards were thus small, they were sufficient to sustain a keen interest in horsebreeding. These minor shows were eventually superseded by the Glasgow Stallion Show, held annually in March.

The Clydesdale Horse Society was formed in 1877 and published its first Stud Book, with retrospective entries, in the following year, listing 1,044 stallions and 461 mares. The pedigree of every Clydesdale bred during the past hundred years is thus faithfully recorded, and it is said that all can trace their ancestry back, by more than one line, to the stallion Glancer, mentioned above.

The standards set for a Clydesdale, enumerated by the Standard Cyclopedia of Modern Agriculture, still stand;

The Clydesdale is a very active horse. He is not bred for action, like the Hackney, but he must have action . . . The foot at every step must be lifted clean off the ground, and the inside of every shoe be made plain to the man standing behind. Action for the Clydesdale judge also means ‘close’ movement. The forelegs must be planted well under the shoulders not on the outside, like the legs of a bulldog and the legs must be plumb and, so to speak, hang straight from the shoulder to the fetlock joint. There must be no openness at the knees, and no inclination to knock the knees together. In like manner, the hind legs must 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. “Sickle” hocks are a very bad fault, as they lead to loss of leverage.

A Clydesdale judge begins to estimate the merits of a horse by examining his feet. These must be open and round, like a mason’s mallet. The hoof heads must be wide and springy, with no suspicion of hardness such as may lead to the formation of a sidebone or ringbone. The pasterns must be long, and set at an angle of 45 degrees from the hoof head to the pastern joint. Too long a pastern is very objectionable but very seldom seen. A weakness to be guarded against is what is termed “calf knees”, that is, the formation from the knee to the ground which begins with the knee being set back, giving the appearance of an angle, which is delusive because it is not the angle from the fetlock joint to the hoof head, which is a weakness and unsightly.

A Clydesdale should have a nice open forehead, broad between the eyes; a flat (neither Roman-nosed nor “dished”) profile; a wide muzzle; large nostrils; a bright, clear, intelligent eye; a big ear, and a well-arched, long neck springing out of an oblique shoulder, with high withers. His back should be short, and his ribs wellsprung from the backbone, like the hoops of a barrel. His quarters should be long, and his thighs well packed with muscle and sinew. He should have broad, clean, sharply developed hocks, and big knees, broad in front. The impression created by a thoroughly well-built typical Clydesdale is that of strength and activity, with a minimum of superfluous tissue. The idea is not grossness and bulk, but quality and weight.

The ideal colour for a Clydesdale is dark brown, with a more or less defined white stripe on the face, dark-coloured fore-legs, and white hind shanks. At one time chestnuts were seldom seen among Clydesdales, and blacks are a little more common now than formerly.

The Clydesdale, like the Shire, has feathered feet, though the feather is not as pronounced as in the Shire. A detailed examination of the above-mentioned points and a comparison with those of the Shire will indicate that there is not over-much difference between the two breeds. Indeed, almost all of the show points are virtually interchangeable. That is not surprising, for the two breeds shared much of the same ancestry. Indeed, as late as the 1880s the progeny of the outstanding stallion Prince of Wales and a number of Shire, mares were admitted to the Clydesdale Stud Book.

One of the chief differences is that the Clydesdale tends to be speedier and brisker than the Shire, hence the emphasis on “action”. Its legs are longer and thinner than those of the Shire, and it has a longer body and neck. It is, in short, a somewhat more sprightly animal. And that is reflected in its temperament, which is less stolid and lethargic than that of the docile Shire. It will do much the same work as the Shire, but it cannot be relied upon to stand about waiting so patiently in between bouts of activity. It needs more handling. Or, at least, that is the testimony of those who are familiar with both.

Nevertheless, in Scotland the Clydesdale has been bred for town work as much as for work on the farm. The coalfields of Lanarkshire and the towns which sprang up around them gave an equal impetus to the need for draught horses on the farm to the development of the breed. The Clydesdale is reputed to have a longer life than the Shire. Having left the breaking-in farm at, say, five years old it will work for ten or twelve years in city streets and then is good for light work on farms for several more years. Breeders say it will pull a weight of 2 1/2 to 3 tons on level ground. The system of retaining a young horse on the farm for the first five years of its life is, of course, an economic one, for at five years the horse is at peak value, and the farmer therefore gets, more or less free of charge, the work it has done to that date.

As with Shires, Clydesdales are still used on some Scottish and northern English farms and are in demand for forestry work. A revival in interest is occurring, and the export trade is thriving moderately. Chief demand is from the United States and Canada, where many studs have been established. Clydesdales have also been exported to most European countries.

Now that Shire breeders seem to have lost their prejudice against white “socks” in their horses the gap in colour between the Clydesdale and Shire has narrowed, but in the past Shire breeders tended to frown on much white, except for the white stripe down the nose and one or two white feet, whereas the Clydesdale breeder freely allowed not only white legs and noses and splashes of white on other parts of the body.

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