The Irish Draught Horse is the national horse of Ireland. Originally, these sturdy animals were bred as work horses for the main purpose of farm labor.
Presently, the very versatile horse is one of the main breeds used in crossing with Thoroughbreds to create Irish Sport Horses. The Irish Draught has an appealing temperament and a stature of royal proportions. As a result, these are perfect for such events as driving, show jumping competitions, dressage events and the like.
The Irish Draught, also spelt as the Irish Draft, is a breed that has evolved over a few hundred years or so. As in the case of many fine breeds, selective breeding has had a large role to play in this horse’s lineage. The foundation stock of this horse is believed to have been sourced from Ireland’s own Irish Hobby Horse, an animal small-statured and possessing an ambling gait.
During the Anglo-Norman invasion, war horses were sent to Ireland. These were bred with Irish horses. Some Spanish Andalusian stock was also added to the gene pool as offspring would benefit from traits of regal quality, and gaits of a free-flowing nature.
Irish local draught mares were further bred with Scottish Clydesdales and half-breeds. Some cross-breeding took place with the Connemara pony as well. With the combination of all these, the true-to-its-name Irish Draught Horse of today is a culmination of great traits.
Satisfying the criteria of local farmers as being docile animals, yet strong enough to work the land, the Irish Draft worked tirelessly on farms. Pulling carts, tending to animals, and suited for riding and hunting, these animals gained favor with local farmers. Affordable horses, farmers were content as they thrived on a diet of gorse, grass and leftover cattle feed like oats and bran. It proved worthiness as an efficient farm horse.
During the Great Wars in Europe, these horses served as loyal artillery horses.
In the 20th century, the Irish government took steps to officially incorporate this horse breed and recognize its significance. The government provided subsidies and began registrations for stallions and mares, carrying out inspections of horses. This was conducted by 1911. In 1917, the agricultural ministry of the government opened the studbook with 44 stallions and 375 mares.
In the latter part of the 20th century, the popularity of the Irish Draft waned as the advent of machines gained importance with the Great Wars. Even for farming, tractors replaced horses, and horses were sold to buy new machines that were faster and convenient to use. In 1976, a society was formed to represent the Irish Draught Horse. In 1993, the Irish Horse Board was developed in Great Britain.
The board set up for Irish Draught Horses was responsible for administering studbooks representative of the Irish Draught Horse. The board also took into account the Irish Draught Sport Horse category. When show jumping became a famed sport in Ireland, only sport horses were sired to meet this demand. The true Draft Horse had thus been degraded in genetic material and its defining traits were all but lost. The Irish Draught Horse Society, to this day, has improved breeding standards and seeks better genetics with every subsequent stock.
The Irish Draft Horse has a set of clever eyes. With an energy and power that rivals any Thoroughbred, this horse is typically active, with short shins. Deep of girth and strong-backed, with the unending strength that this horse has, comes a sound constitution.
With remarkable vigor, these horses are gentle by nature, and have a unique way of sensing what their owners want. You could say these horses possess a degree of “common sense”.
The Irish Draft Horse, like many of its forefathers, takes to any kind of horse feed. A diet that is rich in hay, fruits, grains and vegetables can be a good source of nutrition for this energy-packed animal.
Owners may add some vegetable oil to make coats shine and add more energy in food. Left-overs from what farmers feed cattle is also given to horses that live on farms.
Breeding And Uses
Historically, and even in the present day, in some cases, these horses do well as farm animals. Irish Draught Horses did some tedious work for the whole family, dating back to olden times. They used to draw family carriages, plow fields, and take their masters hunting.
To this day, they make great hunting horses as they are alert and adept. You will find them in royal family stables as well as in sports championships. The Irish Draught Sport Horse is one of the most likely candidates for show jumping events nowadays, particularly in upper-level jumping competitions.
Standing anywhere between 15.1 and 16.3 hands, this is a tall horse by any standard. Mares are usually at the short end of the spectrum. Horses weigh anything from 1300 to 1500 pounds.
What Breeds Make Up The Irish Draught Horse?
In 1976, the Irish Draught Horse was incorporated into a society that officially recognized it in its own right as a purebred horse. Nonetheless, this horse had a variety of contributors to its gene pool. Bloodlines of these horses include Spanish Andalusian horses from where they get their royal stature and frame. There is also evidence to show that mares were once bred with Connemara ponies, and that’s where they get their hardiness from.
Thoroughbred stallions were also included in the selective breeding of these horses, and this makes them great show horses with a freely flowing and easy gait.
Every color that horses generally have can be found in this horse breed. Horses come in whole colors in hues of gray, white, black, brown, cremello, chestnut, grullo and roan. The Irish Draught Sport Horse could possess colors like palomino, champagne, black, buckskin and perlino too. White above the knees or hocks of any Draught Horse is considered an undesirable trait.
What Do They Look Like?
Much more athletically built than those huge furry-legged country horses, Irish Draughts are sporty horses. They have a robust and clean bone structure, a bold and upright head with eyes that are widely spaced. With a broad forehead and long, alert ears, the horse exhibits a mildly Romanesque nose. It has a spacious jawline that aids in breathing.
Purebred Irish Draught Horses are not coarse in any way, unlike some of their antecedent cross-breeds. With well-defined withers, the chest isn’t very broad. Legs are long, yet proportionate to the body, with knees or hocks set close to the ground. You will see a bit of hair on the fetlocks. These horses are fast and have strength in their back, hindquarters and hind legs.
What Are They Used For?
In 1847, the famine that hit Irish shores nearly wiped out the breed. Many horses were degraded as they were sold to the slaughter house. The breed is rare even today, but efforts to build it up have proved fruitful.
Today, they are used as rescue animals. Since their ability lies in the show jumping ring, superior horses for jumping are exclusively bred. Horses are used in police departments in many countries too, including Ireland and Great Britain.
Where Do They Live?
Horses are native to Ireland, but you can find these horses all over the world and the European continent as they take part in show jumping events globally. They adapt to new environments well, and you will find most in Ireland and England.
How Long Do They Live?
Called draft horses for their amazing endurance abilities and stamina, these horses live well into their twenties, like any mid to large-sized horse. Some horses have been known to live up to 30 years and a bit more.
How Fast Are They?
The Irish Draught Horse is agile and made for a good deal of speed, but not as much as a Thoroughbred may possess.
Built for fast work, they can reach speeds of 40 miles per hour, but are used more as show horses, as their jumps are very high.
How Much Do They Cost?
Original draft horses may cost somewhere between $3,000 to $7,000 USD, and sport varieties may cost more. Price is usually fixed according to the purity of bloodlines and inherited traits.
Are They Good For Beginners?
This breed has a superb and amiable personality. All levels of riders can easily adapt to this horse, as well as beginner riders. They are bold and lively, but when commanded, can maintain a surprisingly calm and even tempered demeanor. They are obedient and easy to train.
You could call an Irish Draft Horse an all-rounder of a horse. Though not fast enough for racing standards, the horse is capable of a decent level of speed.
It has a versatile powerful and athletic build and its temperament is a favorite with owners and breeders. Right now, there are very few Irish Draught Horses in the world, and the sport horses are more sought-after for their use in dressage and events. The United Nations has classified it under its “endangered species” list, and efforts are underway to revive the evolution of this very desired and inimitable horse.