Clydesdale, the horse of the River Clyde

The Clydesdale is a native breed of Scotland, founded in the district of Clydesdale, now known as Lanarkshire.

In the middle of the 18th century, the 6th Duke of Hamilton imported a dark-brown Flemish stallion (county in Belgium), and John Paterson of Lochlyloch bought another Flemish stallion, black with a white face. These stallions were bred to local mares to produce horses of greater weight and substance for heavy work.

At one time, Scotland had about 140,000 farm horses, mostly Clydesdales, not including those in towns and cities. Between 1884 and 1945, export certificates were issued for over 20,000 horses, which were exported to other countries in the British Empire, mainly Australia and New Zealand; and to Europe, the Americas, and Russia. In 1911 alone, more than 1,500 stallions were exported.

The popularity of the Clydesdale in Australia was so great that other heavy horse breeds were practically unknown, and it was called “the breed that built Australia”. Between 1924 and 2008, over 25,000 Clydesdales were registered in the country.

When war broke out in 1914, Clydesdales, along with many other horses, were conscripted by the army for the war effort. Between the First and Second World Wars, breed numbers started to decline as mechanisation began to replace genuine horsepower. In 1946, the number of Clydesdale breeding stallions was more than 200; by 1949 it was down to 80. In 1975, when the number of breeding females in the UK fell to fewer than 900, they were considered ‘vulnerable to extinction’ by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust.

Even though the breed’s popularity and numbers began to recover in the 1990s and there were about 1500 breeding females in the UK, by 2010 their status had been moved back to ‘vulnerable’. As of 2010, there are estimated to be about 5000 Clydesdales worldwide, with about 4000 in the US and Canada, and 800 in the UK.

Without a doubt, the most famous Clydesdales are the Budweiser Clydesdales, originally known as the Anheuser-Busch Clydesdales. Their ‘legend’ began when Adolphus Busch, a German immigrant, married Lily Anheuser, and took over his father-in-law’s brewery business, turning it into one of the most successful in America. He built sumptuous stables for his draught horses, which were needed to move the vast amounts of beer. In time, he passed his love of the brewery, and its horses to his son, August, who then passed it on to his own son, August Jr.

Despite Prohibition and the advent of the delivery truck, August Jr held on to his horses, keeping them working by using them to sell yeast, corn and maple syrup. By the time Prohibition was over, the delivery horse had been superseded by the truck. Remembering his childhood days and the impressive sight of his father’s horses transporting beer barrels, August Jr secretly bought eight Clydesdales and kept them hidden in an unused brewery stable. Apparently, he invited his father to have a look at the new car he’d bought and when August Sr stepped out of his office, he was greeted with the unforgettable sight of six Clydesdales hitched to a big, red beer wagon.

August Jr shipped the Clydesdales by train to New York, where they were unloaded and hitched to their red and gold-trimmed wagon. They were then driven to the house of Al Smith, the former governor of New York – he had helped repeal Prohibition – to deliver two cases of beer. The horses were then taken to Washington DC where another case of beer was hand delivered to President Franklin Roosevelt. How much is legend and how much is fact, who knows. But there’s no doubt that Clydesdales look the business, whether they’re spruced up and pulling shiny beer wagons, or getting down and dirty on the farm.

I love the udweiser ads that feature Clydesdales... a bit corny maybe, but I always get teary (in a good way) watching this ...

... except watching this doesn't make me want to buy a beer, it makes me want to buy a horse!!