The Percheron goes gay;
The Shire will lean against his load
All through the longest day;
But where the plough-land meets the heather
And the earth from sky divides,
Through the misty Northern weather
Stepping two and two together,
All fire and feather,
Come the Clydes!
- Will Ogilvie
The Clydesdale horse originated in the Clyde River valley of Scotland, at least in ancestral form. The Clydesdale of the modern era is a mixed bag, however, the most so of all the heavy horse breeds. Herein lies its versatility, say some. While there are more powerful horses for working the furrow alone, or for taking to pulling contests, none is better for more jobs than the Clyde. Their breed standard calls for the ideal of substance without coarseness; neither grossness nor bulk, but rather quality and weight. An apt description, a person is led to think, while one is there in front of you.
Aside from a precipitous drop in numbers early in the 20th Century, the end of the horse era created some other issues for the Clydesdale. When they were being bred for the farm, the colour of the horse took a back seat to quality. The Clydesdale evolved as a colourful, even flashy horse. The best ones tend heavily towards roaning, which in this breed is actually more of a bold marbling and splotching, than it is the subtler overall wash of flecking called “roan” in other breeds. Against a background of just about any colour a Clydesdale horse can be overlaid in a liberal splashing of white, with the white predominating in extreme cases. It is these roan horses that carry the quality genes in this breed. One second-generation Clydesdale breeder of renown assured me that if you take the top ten Clydesdales at any show where true quality is the concern, eight of them will be roans or have a strong lineage of roaning. Yet today with the Clydesdale, we see a trend towards uniformity – solid bay with four white feet, or “four whites,” as seen in the Budweiser hitches. While there are many fine bay Clydesdales (left), quality will suffer if this is what you are breeding for alone in this horse. Worse for the breed has been the fashion towards black Clydesdales (with the signature four whites and facial blazes, of course.) One colour that is rare in a Clydesdale is black, and it is hard to breed one of real quality.
The good news is, Wally’s genes are alive and well now amongst our little herd of registered Clydesdale horses, along with the genes of other fine examples of the breed, from Alberta to Ontario. We are eager to see how our latest youngsters turn out.
Clean limbs for him who rides,
But for me the giant graces,
And the white and honest faces
The power upon the traces
Of the Clydes!