Black Clydesdale Horses

Black Clydesdale Horses

Black Clydesdale horses are rare, but they do exist, to understand why they are rare you have to learn about how the breed came into existence

Are there black Clydesdales horses?

While not genetically impossible, an all black Clydesdale is highly unlikely. If someone shows you a photo and claims it is an all black Clydesdale, it more likely to be a Fresian horse. But why are there no all black Clydesdales?

Breeding Clydesdale horses

Understanding the breeding of clydesdale horses helps answer why Clydesdales are not all black. Modern Clydesdales are a mix of Native Scottish Draught horses from the Clyde Valley in Scotland and Flemish Stallions imported from Belgium and England.

Clydesdales are a mix of native Scottish draught horses and flemish stallions

  • The Sixth Duke of Hamilton, imported the first flemish stallion to Scotland, who was dark brown in colour.

  • John Paterson then imported a Flemish stallion, who had a black body, a white face and some white on his legs

  • These were crossed with native Scottish mares

Shire blood was introduced to the breed in the 19th Century to further increase the size of the breed. Introducing bloodlines from other breeds with desirable characteristics is common in pedigree breeding, but it must follow strict guidelines laid down by the Clydesdale Horse Society.

The process is called “Grading Up” and it allows the filly of the first cross between a fully registered Clydesdale Mare and a “Clydesdale Type” Stallion of Clydesdale type or a filly from a “Clydesdale type” Mare and a registered Clydesdale Stallion to be registered in the Grading-Up register – an appendix of the Clydesdale Horse Stud book.

The next generation of filly foals from the “Grade-Up” mare are then eligible for full registration, provided it was sired by a fully registered Clydesdale Stallion. The foal has to prove it’s lineage with DNA testing.

Black Clydesdale Horses

Native Lanarkshire Horses

Flemish stallions have a big influence over how clydesdales look today

Flemish Stallions have a big influence over how Clydesdales look today

So as you can see, having all black clydesdales is very unlikely due to their genetics. However having black clydesdales with white markings is possible… Just look at our Clydesdale mare Ella!

Black Clydesdale Mare

Ella – Our beautiful Black Clydesdale Mare

Ella the Black Clydesdale Horse

So it’s a trait of their breeding. Since Clydesdales are no longer bred as work horses, they are now more selectively bred to have desirable breed characteristics. Just look at the Budweiser Clydesdales. It’s no accident that they all look similar. As a rule, each horse must be bay in colour with four white stocking feet and a white blaze on the face. However, it you look back in time you will see that the early Clydesdale breeders cared more about strength and conformation and less about colour and markings

vintage photo of a clydesdale stallion born in 1912

Montrave Vanguard B 1912 – a son of the Baron of Buchlyvie can be seen to have one black leg.

Montrave Vanguard B 1912 – a son of the famous Baron of Buchlyvie can be seen to have one black leg. Markings were less important than good locomation and confirmation when Clydesdales worked the land.

Vintage photo of a grey clydesdale stallion at stud from the early 1900s

Pearl Oyster – a famous Grey Dappled Clydesdale

Pearl Oyster shows that grey Clydesdales are not only possible, but were once very much sought after

Vintage photo of a Clydesdale stallion, born in 1918

Scotland’s Invicible

Scotland’s Invincible. A compact powerful lad with two black front legs

Vintage photo of a bay clydesdale stallion with four white legs. Scotland's Victor. Born in 1911

Scotland’s Victor

Scotland’s Victor, similar to the modern Bay Clydesdale with four white stockings

The science of genetics and horse colour

Horses come in a variety of colors and patterns, including black, bay, chestnut, palomino, buckskin, gray, and white. The genetic basis of horse coat color is complex and controlled by multiple genes.

The primary gene that controls horse coat color is the Extension gene (MC1R). This gene controls the production of the pigment eumelanin, which is responsible for black and dark brown colors, and the absence of this pigment, which results in red or chestnut colors.

The allele (version) of the Extension gene determines whether a horse will be black or red. Horses that are homozygous (carry two copies) for the dominant E allele will be black, while horses that are homozygous for the recessive e allele will be red. Horses that are heterozygous (carry one copy of each allele) will be bay, which is a brown color with a black mane and tail.

Another gene that plays a role in horse coat color is the Agouti gene. This gene controls the distribution of eumelanin and phaeomelanin (the pigment responsible for red and yellow colors) within individual hairs. The allele of the Agouti gene determines whether eumelanin will be restricted to the tips of the hairs, resulting in a bay color, or whether it will be distributed throughout the entire hair, resulting in a black color.

The Cream gene also plays a role in horse coat color. This gene is responsible for diluting the base coat color. The allele of the Cream gene determines whether a horse will be palomino (one copy of the gene) or buckskin (two copies of the gene). Palomino is a golden color with a white mane and tail, while buckskin is a lighter version of bay.

The Gray gene controls the graying of a horse’s coat over time. The allele of the Gray gene determines whether a horse will be gray or non-gray. A horse that is homozygous for the dominant G allele will turn gray as it ages, while a horse that is homozygous for the recessive g allele will not turn gray.

Finally, the Sabino gene is responsible for white markings on a horse’s coat. The Sabino gene can cause a wide range of white markings, from small white spots to large patches of white on the horse’s body.

In summary, horse coat color is determined by a complex interplay of multiple genes, including the Extension, Agouti, Cream, Gray, and Sabino genes. The alleles of these genes determine the base color and patterns of a horse’s coat, as well as whether and how the coat will change over time.

The breeds that were used to create the modern clydesdale will have a strong influence over their coat colour


The Clydesdale horse is an impressive animal with a colorful history stretching back to 18th Century Scotland. Most historically accurate photos depict them as bay but black Clydesdales do exist and play an important part in their lineage even if they aren’t common.

Combining native Scottish Draughts from the Clyde Valley and Flemish Stallions from Belgium led to an incredibly rich genetic heritage which makes these animals so amazing to see in person. We hope you now have better understanding of what horses make up a Clydesdale and why black Clydesdales are so rare.

Clydesdales with black bodies, while rare, do exist but they will have white markings somewhere on their body, legs or face. If you see an all black Clydesdale one day, it’s probably a Fresian in disguise! Let us not forget the determination, hardwork and dedication of those who developed this unique breed. If you liked this article please share it on social media or drop us a comment complimenting our work! Thank you for reading today’s post on Black Clydesdales.

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