Draft Horse vs Clydesdale: Key Differences Explained

Are you curious about the differences between draft horses and Clydesdales? These majestic animals may look similar, but there are some key distinctions to be aware of. In this blog post, we’ll explore the nuances of draft horse vs Clydesdale, so you can better understand these magnificent creatures.

Draft Horse and Clydesdale Overview

Draft horse show at the Parade

Origin of Draft Horses

Draft horses, also known as draught horses, have an extensive history dating back to medieval times. These horses were predominantly used for heavy work, such as pulling plows, wagons, and carts. Over time, several draft horse breeds have emerged, each with unique traits and purposes, but all are characterized by their strength, size, and muscular build.

Origin of Clydesdales

The Clydesdale originated in Scotland during the 18th century and was named after the region of Clydesdale, now known as Lanarkshire. Initially bred for agricultural work, this graceful and robust draft horse quickly gained worldwide recognition, notably in the form of the famous Budweiser Clydesdales, which make regular public appearances and appear in commercials throughout the United States (Horse Illustrated) .

Clydesdales are often slightly smaller than their draft horse relatives, standing between 16 and 18 hands high and typically weighing between 1,800 to 2,300 pounds (Pet Keen) . However, they still possess immense strength and are characterized by their muscular build.

Some key distinctions between Clydesdales and other draft horses include the following:

  • Clydesdales typically have a more compact build
  • They have a sensible, calm temperament
  • They often weigh around 500 pounds less than a regular draft horse (Horse Vills)

Despite these differences, Clydesdales still maintain many of the characteristics common among draft horse breeds, making them a recognized and admired member of the draft horse family.

Physical Characteristics

Size and Build

Draft horses and Clydesdales are known for their substantial size and strength. Clydesdales typically stand between 16 and 18 hands, with weights ranging from 1800 to 2000 pounds. In some instances, mature males can be taller than 18 hands and weigh up to 2200 pounds [source].

Belgian Draft Horses are often slightly shorter and more robust in comparison to Clydesdales. Their smaller heads and shorter necks give them a stout appearance [source].

Coat and Color

Clydesdales exhibit various coat colors, including bay, brown, roan, black, and gray. They commonly have white markings on their faces and legs [source]. Belgian Draft Horses, on the other hand, typically display solid colors, such as chestnut or light sorrel.

Feathering and Gait

One distinguishing characteristic of Clydesdales is their white “feathering” on their lower legs. This long and silky hair covers their large hooves, adding to their elegant appearance. While feathering is less prominent in Belgian Draft Horses, both breeds are known for their impressive gait [source].

Clydesdales have a high-stepping and flashy gait, attributed to their powerful and large feet [source]. Conversely, Belgian Draft Horses typically exhibit a smooth and even gait, making them suitable for various working roles.

Temperament and Behavior

Clydesdale horse in a field

Draft Horses’ Personality

Draft horses, known for their heavyweight and adherence to carrying out heavy labor, possess gentle and kind temperaments. These horses are characterized by their willingness and affectionate nature towards their human handlers. Their calm demeanor makes them suitable for various tasks on the farm, including plowing and hauling heavy loads. Their large size and strength are complemented by their eagerness to please and their patience in performing work tasks (source).

Clydesdales’ Personality

As a specific breed within the draft horse category, Clydesdales exhibit many of the same temperament traits found in other draft horses. Known for their gentle dispositions, Clydesdales are typically calm, affectionate, and hardworking animals (source).

With their massive build and musculature, Clydesdales are more than capable of pulling large loads, and their sensible nature allows them to work well with humans. Clydesdale stallions, in particular, are comparatively calmer than their counterparts from other breeds. However, they may exhibit increased excitement and activity during the breeding season. Handling these behaviors during that time should be left to experts with experience managing Clydesdale stallions (source).

Overall, the temperament and behavior of draft horses and Clydesdales make them ideal candidates for working situations on farms or in other heavy labor tasks. Their calm, gentle nature allows them to form strong bonds with their handlers, and their eagerness to please makes them highly adaptable to various work environments.

Uses and Work Abilities

Traditional Roles

Draft horses and Clydesdales have been widely used for heavy labor purposes throughout history. They were primarily bred to carry out farm work, such as plowing, logging, and pulling heavy loads, including carts, sleighs, hitches, and carriages. These horses’ strength, patience, and easygoing nature made them suitable for challenging tasks in agriculture and transportation.

Though the Clydesdale is considered a type of draft horse, it is slightly smaller than some of its Draft horse cousins, such as the Shire, but still possesses substantial strength necessary for heavy work. Clydesdales usually stand between 16 and 18 hands high and weigh between 1,800 to 2,300 pounds.

Modern Applications

While the advent of modern machinery has lessened the reliance on draft horses for agricultural and heavy labor purposes, these horses are still employed in various capacities today. Clydesdales, for example, maintain their popularity, especially in parades, processions, and shows. Their calm temperaments and distinctive appearance make them an appealing choice for public events.

In addition to public events, both draft horses and Clydesdales have found a place in modern equestrian pursuits such as pleasure riding, show jumping, dressage, and endurance. Their versatility, coupled with their strength and gentle nature, allows them to adapt to various roles and activities, making them a popular choice for riders of many backgrounds.

Health and Lifespan

Clydesdale horse Standing

Common Health Issues

Draft horses and Clydesdales, like any other horse breeds, can suffer from some common health issues. As a large breed, Clydesdales may experience joint problems, including osteoarthritis and other degenerative joint conditions. Additionally, they can be susceptible to conditions like hoof issues and laminitis, which can arise from poor hoof care or excess weight.

These colossal breeds may also be affected by Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS), a condition that can cause insulin resistance, obesity, and an increased risk of laminitis. Proper diet, exercise, and management can help reduce the risk of EMS and keep a draft horse or Clydesdale in good health.


When comparing the lifespans of draft horses and Clydesdales, there is a slight difference. Draft horses, in general, can live up to 30 years, while the average lifespan of a Clydesdale is slightly shorter at 20 to 25 years (source). However, some Clydesdales have been known to live into their early twenties and beyond, with the oldest recorded Clydesdale reaching the age of 26 (source).


Proper care is essential in maintaining the health and extending the lifespan of both draft horses and Clydesdales. This includes providing them with an appropriate diet, as Clydesdales require between 25 and 50 pounds of hay daily, and 2 to 10 pounds of grain or feed (source). Since they consume more food than the average-sized horse, it is crucial to adjust their feeding needs based on age and activity level.

Providing regular exercise is also necessary, not only to maintain a healthy weight but also to promote overall fitness and reduce the risk of health issues. Regular grooming, hoof care, dental care, and veterinary check-ups are equally important in keeping a draft horse or Clydesdale in optimal health throughout their life.

Population and Preservation

Draft Horse Grazing

Conservation Status

The Clydesdale horse, which is a distinct breed within the broader category of draft horses, has experienced a significant decline in population over the past century. In the early 1900s, there were over 140,000 Clydesdales in the United States, but today, there are fewer than 1,000 left in the country, putting the breed at risk of becoming endangered (12news.com).

On the other hand, draft horses as a whole represent a wider range of breeds, and while some may also be experiencing a reduction in population, others are not as severely affected. Draft horses are heavyweight working horses with a calm temperament, typically used to pull heavy loads and perform tasks on farms, such as plowing (besthorserider.com).

Efforts to Preserve

As the population of Clydesdale horses declines, several efforts are underway to preserve and protect the breed. One such effort involves focusing on breeding programs that aim to maintain the genetic integrity of the Clydesdale horse while also increasing their numbers. This includes breeding horses that are taller and more impressive in appearance, as these will often be utilized in parades and shows (Wikipedia).

It is crucial for breeders and enthusiasts to work together to ensure that the Clydesdale’s population continues to grow and that this iconic and important breed does not disappear. By educating the public, supporting responsible breeding programs, and encouraging the use of Clydesdales in various equestrian events, it is possible to help preserve this unique and majestic horse breed for future generations.


In summary, both Draft horses and Clydesdales have their unique features and characteristics, making them suitable for various purposes. Draft horses, being a group of heavyweight working horses, are known for their calm temperament and ability to carry out farm work, such as pulling heavy loads and plowing (source). On the other hand, Clydesdales, a specific breed of horse, boast a taller and wider stature, making them popular for shows and ceremonies due to their striking appearance (source).

Belgian Draft horses are noted for their athleticism, wide shoulders, and long backs, allowing them to carry more weight (source). However, it is essential to consider factors such as compatibility, handling skills, and specific requirements when choosing between these two breeds. For some, a crossbreed or half draft horse may be a more practical and manageable option while retaining many of the benefits associated with Draft horses (source).

Ultimately, the choice between a Draft horse and a Clydesdale should be based on individual preferences, the intended purpose, and the ability to provide proper care and meet their specific needs. Both breeds have their pros and cons, but undeniably possess unique charm and abilities that any horse enthusiast can appreciate.