Irish Draught Horse - Not Your Typical Draft Horse
The Irish Draught horse is the national horse of Ireland The name Irish Draught may be misleading since the breed is a lighter, more free-moving animal than the traditional image of the heavy draft horse. The Irish Draught is neither as massive nor as heavily feathered as its name implies.
The breed has been in existence for at least a century or more and originated from the Irish Hobby Horse which was a small ambling horse that was similar to the primitive Garrano and Sorraia horses of Northern Spain and Portugal. Clydesdale, Thoroughbred and half-bred sires were used on the local Draught mares in the 1800's and early 1900's. Native Connemara Pony was also added to form the breed known as the Irish Draught today.
Traditionally, the Irish Draught Horse was the farm horse in Ireland and so it had to be versatile enough for use as a hunter or ridden or cart pulling and plowing. It had to be docile, strong and economical to keep. The traditional winter feed for the Irish Draught Horse was young gorse put through a chaff-cutter, boiled turnips, and bran or meal of some sort that could be spared from the cattle.
But even for all its usefulness, it has nearly gone extinct on several occasions. During times of poverty and famine in Irish history, many breeders gave up registering their animals and hundreds of Irish Draughts were going to the slaughter houses each week until there were very few left. The conservation status of this equine is considered rare. However, today the Irish Draught is more sought after for its breeding qualities with other equines rather than with itself. In England, brood mares are considered to be excellent dams for the Irish Sport Horse when mated with a Thoroughbred stallion. Now the Irish Draught stallion is being used more and more to get extra bone and substance in the progeny of the lighter type mare.
The Irish Draught Horse Society of North America (IDHS-NA) was established in 1993 to assist in the conservation and appreciation of the Irish Draught Horse and its successful crossbred, the Irish Draught Sport Horse throughout the world. The IDHS-NA maintains the studbooks for qualified Irish Draught and part Irish Draught horses in North America.
On their website can found information regarding the rarity of the breed. The following is a direct quote from "Report to The Irish Draught Horse Society, Ireland" prepared at the Animal Genomics Laboratory, School of Agriculture, Food Science and Veterinary Medicine, College of Life Sciences, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland; by Angela McGahern, Patrick Brophy, David MacHugh & Emmeline Hill and released in February, 2006.
"The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations classifies the Irish Draught (ID) horse as an endangered breed due to the declining population size. Falling purebred numbers, combined with a serious threat of genetic erosion, suggest that the ID population is in urgent need of conservation. Genetic diversity is an important component in the consideration of conservation strategies and measures of genetic diversity are becoming widely used in breed management systems. The Irish Draught Horse Society must now identify and preserve its rare bloodlines and explore the genetic resources available to preserve the broadest possible genetic base."
In terms of physical characteristics, the Irish Draught Horse stands between 15.1 and 16.3 hands. Any solid color is acceptable, including grays, but white above the knees or hocks is not desirable. The horse has a graceful head and a large kind eye. The neck is set high and carried proudly, showing a good length of rein.
The strong limbs have particularly short cannon bones and despite the power, this equine is free-moving and not ponderous. The feet are like those of a hunter and not like those of a cart horse. The feet are one of the horse's most important features and they are the reason why the Irish Draught is required for the breeding show jumpers -- the feet have to withstand the concussion from jumping, often on hard surfaces.
The traveling action of the breed is smooth without exaggeration and not heavy or ponderous. The walk and trot are straight and true with good hock flexion and shoulder freedom.
It is hoped that the traditional Irish Draught Horse can make a comeback. It has an intelligent and gentle nature and is noted for its docility and common sense, and has a proud bearing, as well as being an important ingredient in the creation of the Irish Draught Sport Horse.