Like many heavy draft horses, Clydesdales have a horse temperament that is generally described as being “coldblooded.” This means they tend to be very calm, collected, and gentle in their interactions with people. Because they are so large, the only real threat that these horses tend to have comes from horses of a similar size or humans that they feel do not treat them with the right amount of respect.
Clydesdales are also highly intelligent horses. They are patient, but they can be stubborn if they feel like their handler or trainer is not respecting them. When you weigh more than 2,000 pounds, the easiest way to get someone to listen is to just stand still and wait until the other horse or person is willing to listen.
They will easily adapt to changing situations and environments, such as traveling to a show or moving to a new home. Like any horse, however, if they feel like they are in a threatening situation, they will react in a potentially violent way in an effort to protect themselves.
The Spirit of the Clydesdale Horse
Clydesdales might be classified as a coldblooded horse, but that doesn’t mean that the breed lacks spirit. They have a strong nature that may be tolerant, though there is a certain temper that tends to lie beneath the surface if the horse is pushed hard enough. Most Clydesdales are willing and easy to please.
On the other hand, if you encounter the occasional stubborn Clydesdale who doesn’t want to listen, there isn’t much that can be done to change that horse’s mind. For the average Clydesdale, they are the largest horse on the farm. That naturally gives them a leadership role.
They are not easily excitable as a breed, though there are individual exceptions. They tend to maintain even energy levels and a cooperative disposition. They can be competitive, which makes them useful for cart racing and pulling events. If they show an interest, certain competitive riding sports are also suited to the Clydesdale, such as dressage.
If the Clydesdale is going to be in public situations, such as the Budweiser Clydesdales tend to be, then a certain peacefulness is required of the horse. Although the breed standard doesn’t require this personality trait as part of the temperament of the horse, a calm horse is typically going to be a happier horse in any situation they may face. You’ll find that most Clydesdales tend to be happy with their circumstances, assuming there is enough food to eat and they are being treated with respect.
How Trainable Are Clydesdales?
Most Clydesdales are highly trainable horses. If they are treated with patience and a certain amount of persistence, they are highly cooperative. This breed, even though it is a heavy draft horse, has been known to learn and complete jump courses. They’re also commonly used to pull sleighs, carriages, or perform certain tricks that can be filmed.
Clydesdales might have earned a reputation as being a gentle horse, but that doesn’t mean they just hang their heads low and let life pass them by. The Clydesdale is a proud horse which tends to keep a high head carriage. Even in the paddock, you will see them with a high trot or walk, showing off their spirit.
You’ll also find that many Clydesdales tend to be pranksters when they are in an environment in which they are comfortable. There are many stories on forums and blogs that tell of Clydesdales who will lift a hoof so that they can have a shoe looked at, only to lean back on that hoof to put some of their weight onto the person who is handling the inspection.
Some believe that the sheer size of the Clydesdale breed makes them difficult to train, but this is far from true. The primary training barrier that many owners face is the cost of the tack that is required to complete the training work. This breed is so large that customized tack is often needed, which can cost several thousand dollars.
The Movement and Action of the Clydesdale Horse
Most heavy horses display very little action during their movements. Added action increases the energy expended by the horse, which typically reduces the workload a draft horse can support. Hauling 1 ton of weight around requires a certain amount of energy. That’s why the Clydesdale is such a popular draft horse today.
Their pride and style shows off plenty of action and personality with their movements. Clydesdales tend to bring each hoof completely off of the ground during their regular movement, whether they are in a hitch or on their own in the pasture. This allows you to see the bottom of the hoof as it passes by, which creates a unique sight – even for those who are familiar with horses.
This pronounced action occurs because of the design of the joint flexion of the Clydesdale horse. It takes the same amount of energy for them to move with their common high-stepping action as it takes other heavy draft breeds to plod along.
For this reason, the hoof of the Clydesdale must be given an added level of respect. Any hoof disease or softness can create an immediate and devastating injury to the leg, which can threaten the life of the horse. Because of the action of their walk, many Clydesdales need to wear Scotch bottoms to protect their hoof and leg.
Scotched shoes are designed to extend behind the hoof wall of the horse, allowing the hoof to have more support with each step. Scotch bottoms are nearly square across the front of the shoe. This reduces the impact of each step while also allowing the horse to navigate soft ground conditions without a higher risk of hoof rot or other health issues.
Even the Budweiser Clydesdales tend to be given Scotch bottoms for shoes.
Health Issues Which Affect Clydesdale Horse Temperament
One of the most common health issues that affects the Clydesdale breed is called Chronic Progressive Lymphedema. This disease is similar to the chronic lymphedema that can be found in humans. It causes fibrosis of the distal limbs, progressive swelling, and hyperkeratosis. When it forms, it can place the horse in a great level of discomfort, which can change the temperament of the horse.
When Clydesdales suffer from something that causes irritation, they tend to accept their circumstances at first. In the early stages of a disease or injury, there may be no temperament changes that are noticed. Over time, however, the willpower of the horse is ground down by the constant irritation. This causes the horse to explode from the pent-up energy from a personality standpoint, creating conditions where it may lash out at other horses or people.
Resolving the health concern or providing pain relief will often reduce or eliminate the temperament changes that are seen.