When it comes to the world of horse breeds, few horses capture the attention of equestrians quite like Clydesdales and Thoroughbreds. But other than their personality, these horses don’t have much in common. In fact, they both stand alone as two distinct and unique breeds that each have a lot to offer their owners in different areas.
Here at Strathorn Farm, we have a unique bond with Clydesdales, and they have quickly become a beloved breed among all who have visited us. Still, we wanted to take a closer look at how our favourite breed measures up to another favourite among horse enthusiasts: the Thoroughbred.
So, strap on your riding helmet and join us on this journey as we delve into what sets these two breeds apart!
All About Clydesdale Horses
Named after the River Clyde in Scotland’s Lanarkshire district, the Clydesdale draught horse (also known as a draft horse) originated in the late 18th century. This large horse breed first arrived in North America when Scottish settlers brought it to Canada. And, in the late 1880s, it was introduced to the U.S. where it was used for its strength in ploughing fields, powering machinery, and pulling heavy loads.
But, as industrialisation and mechanisation slowly replaced the need for heavy-working horse breeds, the Clydesdale horse was threatened with near extinction, leaving the breed vulnerable. The population of the Clydesdale breed dwindled even further during World War I, and so, to safeguard the breed, the Clydesdale Horse Society was founded in 1877 as a breed registry.
Here at Strathorn Farm, we have a special connection to these gorgeous draught horses and they’ve played an important role in the history of Strathorn.
This is mostly thanks to George Skinner, who has a long history with Clydesdales, and who used them to work the land at Strathorn in the 1940s and 50s. Strathorn Farm has also participated in shows and events with our Clydesdales, including the Blair horse trials in 2022 with King Edward.
King Edward wins the 2022 Blair Ridden Clydesdale Championship
Clydesdale horses are known for their size, strength, and distinct physical characteristics which make them one of the most beloved and iconic breeds around.
Height and weight
The Clydesdale breed is renowned for its impressive size and stature, which makes it a contender for the largest horse breed in the world (besides Shire horses, that is).
On average, these impressive draught (or draft) horses are around 16 to 18 hands high, and they can weigh more than 700 kilograms. Of course, stallions may also be taller and heavier than mares.
Coat colours and patterns
When it comes to colours and markings, the Clydesdale horse is commonly bay. However, they may also be black, grey, or chestnut. Their stunning markings are part of their appeal, and they may sometimes have roan markings or spots.
Clydesdales usually have white markings or stockings on their legs, and their white wide blazes or bald facial markings only make them look more striking.
Clydesdales have several distinct breed characteristics. They have a well-muscled and strong build with a slightly arched neck, high withers, and sloped shoulders.
Of course, one of their most notable features is their large hooves (which are sometimes referred to as the size of frying pans!) which can weigh around 2.2 kilograms each. In comparison, the hooves of an average thoroughbred racehorse are much smaller.
Clydesdales also have feathering, which is the long hairs on their lower legs. This feathering, combined with their high-step walking and trot, only adds to their impressive presentation.
The Clydesdale horse has a lively and energetic temperament but is calm and gentle when they are working. These horses love receiving affection and attention from their owners and can be docile and easy to handle. This makes them a fantastic breed for beginners and as pets.
Clydesdales are versatile horses that are most commonly used as draught horses in agriculture, logging, and driving. However, they also excel as carriage horses and draw plenty of attention with their white, feathery feet. Usually, they’re also shown in lead line and harness classes at fairs and exhibitions.
This gorgeous breed can make for a fantastic riding companion, too! Their calm nature and their ease of training make them an excellent choice for any rider.
An Overview Of Thoroughbred Horses
Thoroughbreds have their origins in England during the late 1600s and early 1700s. In fact, this breed was created through the importation of three foundation stallions, namely the Byerley Turk, the Darley Arabian, and the Godolphin Arabian. These three stallions were bred to native English mares and eventually resulted in offspring that had the perfect speed, strength, and stamina needed for horse racing.
Thoroughbred racing gained its popularity in England and the establishment of racing clubs and dedicated publications for the sport made it grow even faster. The breed’s influence spread to other parts of Europe, like France and Italy. And, eventually, Thoroughbreds were introduced to America, where they became an important part of racing and breeding.
To this day, Thoroughbreds are renowned for their racing prowess and unmatched athleticism.
Thoroughbreds are a favourite breed for plenty of riders, and it’s not hard to see why. These horses are athletic, refined, and fast as bullets! But, when compared to Clydesdales and other horses, it’s easy to tell them apart based on a few basic characteristics.
Height and weight
Thoroughbreds typically range in height from around 15 to 17 hands high and can weigh roughly between 450 and 550 kilograms. This makes them significantly shorter and sleeker than Clydesdales. And, while stallions may be on the heavier side and be slightly taller, their stature and size put them in stark contrast with other larger breeds.
Coat colours and patterns
While Clydesdales come in a few select colours, Thoroughbreds have a mixed bunch of coat colours. They typically have bay, brown, chestnut, black, grey, roan, or palomino coats.
They may also have white markings on their legs or face, much like the Clydesdale. However, it’s important to note Thoroughbreds that have body patterns with multiple colours aren’t recognized by mainstream breed registries.
In terms of appearance, Thoroughbreds have well-chiselled heads with long necks and high withers. They usually also have shorter backs with deep chests and long, muscular legs. Their hindquarters are particularly muscular, which is what gives them their ability to generate more power when they’re galloping.
It’s no secret that Thoroughbreds are considered ‘hot-blooded’ horses because of their breeding for agility and speed. This means that they typically have a spirited and bold temperament, but can also be wild and difficult to tame without the right guidance.
Still, their temperament makes them well-suited for activities like racing, hunting, jumping, and more. With the right trainer, they can easily take corrections and listen to cues. Their strong work ethic makes it difficult to stop when they get going though, and they have a lot more energy than other breeds.
Thoroughbreds have a huge range of uses outside of their primary role as racehorses. Some of the different disciplines that Thoroughbreds excel in include:
- Show jumping: A Thoroughbred’s ability to clear jumps with grace and agility (thanks to their powerful legs) makes them perfect for show jumping and combined training events.
- Dressage: With a skilled trainer, Thoroughbreds can clean the competition in dressage. This is because the discipline requires clean, precise movements, and excellent agility – which is exactly what Thoroughbreds are bred for!
- Steeplechasing: Thoroughbreds have a long history in steeplechase racing, where they compete over jumps on a turf track. Their speed and jumping ability make them fierce competition in this thrilling sport.
- Polo ponies: Smaller Thoroughbreds are in high demand as polo ponies. It’s mainly thanks to their responsiveness to rider cues that make them excellent riding companions for equestrians and highly-skilled polo players.
What is the life expectancy of a Clydesdale horse versus a Thoroughbred?
On average, both Clydesdales and Thoroughbreds have an average life expectancy of around 25 to 30 years. However, the life expectancy of any horse can be influenced by its overall health and genetics.
Are Clydesdale or Thoroughbred horses better for beginners?
When it comes to choosing a horse breed for beginners, Clydesdales make great riding companions. They have a calm and gentle nature that lends them to be more trainable, but this also means you’ll have a more relaxed riding experience.
On the other hand, Thoroughbreds are bred for racing and have more spirited personalities. Their wilder nature is usually best paired with a skilled rider who has experience in training more energetic horses.
Are there any horse breeds that are bigger than Clydesdale horses?
In comparison to a regular horse, Clydesdale horses may look like giants! But there are other breeds that rival (and even dwarf) the Clydesdale. Shire horses, Belgian horses, the Suffolk Punch, and the Percheron are all horse breeds that may be the same size, or slightly larger, than Clydesdales.