The Irish Draught Horse is considered to be Ireland’s national horse breed. It may be less well-known than other draught breeds, yet it has rare qualities. Breeders who sell an Irish Draught Horse are conscious of maintaining a breed that has made a substantial contribution to equestrianism. Crossing with other breeds produces a superb competition horse. For this reason, sports horse breeders and draught enthusiasts may buy an Irish Draught.
History and Origins
Ireland has been famous for the quality of its horses for centuries. The fast Irish Hobby was greatly desired as an elite horse across Europe. Ponies such as the Connemara and the Kerry Bog Pony were valued for their hardiness and strength. In the eighteenth century, the Irish Draught emerged as an important breed for use on farms. The Connemara pony likely contributed to the foundation stock.
The later addition of Clydesdale and Shire horse genes did not produce the farmers’ type of horse. This was rectified by the use of Thoroughbreds, producing the Irish Draught that is admired today. Farmers required a good all-rounder to work the land, draw a vehicle and be ridden. Irish Draughts were also hardy, easy keepers. They made good hunters. Registration of breeding stock began between 1907 and 1911. Because of their value to the military, large numbers of Irish Draughts were used in WWI, particularly by the artillery.
Many horses died on the war front, but the breed continued to be popular, and breeding flourished. Like many breeds, the greatest threat to their continuance came with mechanization. In 1976, the Irish Draught Horse Society was formed. This was a significant sports horse breeding period, particularly for show jumping and eventing. The ID proved to be an excellent cross with Thoroughbreds and other warmbloods to produce sports horses. They already had an excellent ability to jump!
This put the breed at risk since they started to be used to produce sports horses only, TB x ID producing the popular Irish Sports Horse. To maintain the valuable qualities of the Irish Draught as an outcross to produce sports horses, it is vital to maintain the essential qualities of the breed itself. Now on the “endangered maintained” list, efforts are being made to ensure genetic diversity in the Irish Draught.
Use and characteristics
The term “draught” tends to conjure up an image of a substantial horse like a Shire or Clydesdale. However, this is not representative of the Irish Draught, a strong yet elegant light draught animal closer to a warmblood. They generally stand between 15.2 hands (62 in/158 cm) and 16.3 hands (67 in/170 cm) high. They have athleticism as well as strength. The outstanding leg bone of Irish Draughts is frequently attributed to the quality of grass growing in limestone pastures.
It is strong and flat, measuring 9.1 in (23 cm) in circumference. Their legs have little feathering, and their heads are handsome, with broad foreheads and kind eyes. The ID has a range of coat colours, including grey, chestnut, black and brown. They have calm and friendly temperaments. Additionally, they are very versatile, having been bred as all-purpose animals.
Suitability of Irish Draught Horses as general-purpose horses
ID versatility results from the horses’ original role in farming. As a heritage breed, it is a great choice for smallholders, farmers, arboriculturists and heritage centres offering hands-on training. It is also a great choice for riders looking for a larger riding horse.