Irish Draught

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Irish Draught

Irish Draught stallion
Distinguishing features Powerful warmblood build, well-muscled
Country of origin Ireland
Horse (Equus ferus caballus)

The Irish Draught horse is the national horse breed of Ireland which developed primarily for farm use. Today, they are especially popular for crossing with Thoroughbreds and warmbloods, producing the popular Irish Sport Horses (also called Irish Draught Sport Horses) which excel at the highest levels of eventing and show jumping.

History of the Irish Draught[edit]

The breed originated from the Irish Hobby, a small ambling horse with many similarities to the primitive Garrano and Sorraia horses of Northern Spain and Portugal. War horses brought to Ireland during the Anglo-Norman invasions were bred with this local stock and later, additional Iberian blood was incorporated as Spanish horses from the shipwrecked Armada found their way ashore near Cork and the South West of Ireland. Clydesdale, Thoroughbred and half-bred sires were used on the local Draught mares in the 19th century and early 20th century, and a sprinkling of native Connemara pony blood added to form the breed known as the Irish Draught today.

The breed was bred to be docile, yet strong. They were required not only to perform the farm work of pulling carts and ploughing, but they were also used as riding and hunt horses, and during the Great European Wars, as army artillery horses. Irish Draughts were bred to be economical to keep, surviving on grass and gorse, and on any boiled turnips, oats and bran left over from cattle feed.

The Irish government became involved with the breed at the beginning of the 20th century to promote better horses. They offered subsidies, and introduced registration for stallions in 1907 and mares in 1911. Inspections for registration also began. The stud book was opened by the Ministry of Agriculture in 1917, selecting 375 mares and 44 stallions to enter as the foundation stock. Clydesdales horses were imported from Britain to meet the demand for plow horses in the heavy soil agricultural areas and also as heavy haulage horses in Dublin and other cities. Clydes were cross-bred with the Irish Draught horses in these areas, producing an animal that was taller and coarser. However, the Clydesdale was blamed for adding a lack of stamina, and poor limb and quarter conformation to the Irish Draught and so this practice was discontinued. Infusions of Thoroughbred blood helped to breed out some of these traits, and also added more refinement, greater endurance, and better shoulder conformation.

The breed flourished for a while, but numbers subsequently dropped as a result of death losses during the Great Wars, and the mechanization of the mid-20th century. During the latter period, thousands of horses went to the slaughterhouse each week as farm horses were sold to pay for tractors. In 1976, a small group of Irish breeders banded together to form the Irish Draught Horse Society and preserve the breed.[1] By 1979, a branch of the Society was formed in Great Britain. Bord na gCapall ("Irish Horse Board" in Irish) was formed in 1976 specifically to promote the non-Thoroughbred horse industry,[2] but was disbanded in the 1980s. The Irish Horse Board (IHB) was founded as a co-operative society in 1993 and administers the Irish Horse Register, the Irish Sport Horse Studbook and the Irish Draught Horse Studbook on behalf of the Department of Agriculture.[3]

Since the evolution of showjumping in Ireland, Irish Draughts have been popular for crossbreeding. They are well known for producing upper-level eventers and show jumpers, and are exported across the globe. Today's Irish Draught is used mainly as a foundation animal for crossing with other breeds to produce sport horses. The most popular cross is the Thoroughbred or Continental Warmblood stallion used on the purebred or partbred Irish Draught mare to produce the Irish Sport Horse (or Irish Draught Sport Horse). The Irish Draught dam passes on bone, substance, and a more sensible temperament to her crossbred offspring. The breed is also used for hunting and showing, being excellent jumpers themselves. Due to its calm good sense and strength, Irish Draught geldings are popular mounts for police forces in Britain and Ireland.

Ironically, it is the Irish Draught's popularity as a foundation animal for the production of sport horses that has put the breed at risk a second time. Many Irish Draught mares never breed a purebred replacement for the herd. Aggressive selection for show jumping characteristics has degraded the foundation stock,[4] and inbreeding to a few popular performance bloodlines has further endangered the genetic diversity of the breed.[5] The Irish Draught is considered an "endangered maintained" breed by the Food and Agriculture Committee of the United Nations.[6] In 2009, the breed was upgraded to the "Watch" category on the American Livestock Breed Conservancy's Rare Breed Conservation Priority List.[7] The Irish Draught Horse Society of Ireland,[1] with support from the Royal Dublin Society[8] and technical assistance from the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation,[9] have spearheaded research into a breeding plan to improve genetic diversity, and to maintain the traditional breed traits that are the defining characteristics of the Irish Draught breed.[5]

Breed Standard[edit]

Type & Character The Irish Draught Horse is an active, short-shinned, powerful horse with substance and quality. It is proud of bearing, deep of girth and strong of back and quarters. Standing over a lot of ground, it has an exceptionally strong and sound constitution. It has an intelligent and gentle nature and is noted for its docility and sense.

Height Stallions: 15.3 h.h. to 16.3 h.h. approx. Mares: 15.1 h.h. to 16.1 h.h. approx.

Bone Good, strong, clean bone.

Head Good, bold eyes, set well-apart, long, well-set ears, wide of forehead. Head should be generous and pleasant, not coarse or hatchet-headed, though a slight Roman nose is permissible. The jaw bones should have enough room to take the gullet and allow ease of breathing

Shoulders, Neck and Front Shoulders should be clean-cut and not loaded, withers well-defined, not coarse; the neck set in high and carried proudly. The chest should not be too broad and beefy, the forearms should be long and muscular, not caught in at the elbow; the knee large and generous, set near the ground; the cannon bone straight and short, with plenty of flat, clean bone, never back of the knee (calf kneed), i.e. not sloping forward from knee to fetlock. The legs should be clean and hard, with a little hair permissible at the back of the fetlock as necessary protection; the pastern strong and in proportion, not short and upright nor too long and weak. The hoof should be generous and sound, not boxy or contracted and there should be plenty of room at the heel.

Back, Hindquarters, Body & Hind Legs The back to be powerful, the girth very deep, the loins must not be weak but the mares must have enough room to carry the foal. The croup to buttocks to be long and sloping, not short and rounded or flat topped; hips not wide and plain; thighs strong and powerful and at least as wide from the back view as the hips; the second thighs long and well developed; the hock near the ground and generous, points not too close together or wide apart but straight, they should not be out behind the horse but should be in line from the back and the quarters to the heel to the ground, they should not be over bent or in any way weak. The cannon bone, etc., as for the foreleg short and strong.

Action Smooth and free but without exaggeration and not heavy or ponderous. Walk and trot to be straight and true with good flexion in the hocks and freedom of the shoulders.

Colour Any solid colour, including greys. White leg markings, above the knees or hocks are not desirable.


  1. ^ a b Irish Draught Horse Society. Retrieved 29 November 2011.
  2. ^ Fell, A: The Irish Draught Horse, J.A. Allen & Company, Ltd., 1991, Pages 54–55.
  3. ^ What We Do – Horse Sport Ireland. Retrieved 29 November 2011.
  4. ^
  5. ^ a b An Interim Report on the Development of a Breed Preservation Plan for the Irish Draught Horse, December 2005
  6. ^ Home. FAO. Retrieved 29 November 2011.
  7. ^ American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. Retrieved 29 November 2011.
  8. ^ RDS – For all your conference, concert, exhibition, meeting and hospitality needs. Retrieved 29 November 2011.
  9. ^ Irish Cattle Breeding Federation. ICBF. Retrieved 29 November 2011.

External links[edit]