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The Clydesdale hoof conjures up dreamy images of large horses traveling across heather-covered highlands in Scotland in centuries past or more recently, and closer to home, the famed Budweiser team beloved for their power, beauty, and panache. During the holiday season this year, I went to a local tree farm to find the perfect specimen and was delighted to see a pair of Clydesdales and their driver offering carriage rides around the fields, past rows of trees of varying sizes, shapes, and species. Some let scents of evergreen permeate the air while others waved their piney branches as the horses passed by. The Clydesdale’s mere presence certainly added a great deal to the spirit of the day and the thrill of the holidays. Children were dazzled by the size of the horses and very happy to get a ride as they enjoyed the day and hoped to spy the tree they wanted for their own homes. 

At the moment I arrived, they were awaiting passengers, sweat trickling down their necks despite the cold. My attention was drawn to their colossal hooves covered by long feathers that would dance when they moved, creating a sense of lightness that belied the power in each step. Their hooves weigh about five pounds and are four times larger than those of the average non-draft horse. The Clydesdale takes its name from the river Clyde in Scotland that crosses their homeland, Lanarkshire, a largely agricultural region where they were first bred. Today, the

city of Glasgow is now the largest and most heavily populated city in Scotland, but there are still many farms outside city limits. 

It is believed that the long feathers served as mother nature’s protection against windy, cold weather in Scotland, particularly in dark forests where roads connected farmers to market and their fields, many of which were very large estates. Those long feathers require frequent, thorough cleaning and grooming to avoid infection from mud and other debris that collect in all the thick mattes. 

When I saw the Clydesdales, I wondered how many wagons of joyful children they had pulled and how many miles those huge, beautifully feathered feet had covered. My ancestors, like the Clydesdales, hailed from Scotland, in nearby Ayrshire and surely saw the breed often and probably had some on their own farm. For centuries, draft horses have worked with humans to complete farmwork and provide transportation. The equine-human connection remains strong, and the beauty, power, and willingness of the mighty Clydesdale continues to impress and delight us all today.

 
Katharine MacCornack
Published on 2021-02-01