Both Clydesdale and Belgian draft horses are popular breeds for both pleasure and farm work. They're strong enough to plow a field or pull a heavily laden wagon, yet gentle enough that anyone can work safely around them. Although the two breeds are similar in personality, they differ in many ways.
Belgian horses developed in Europe in the region now known as Belgium and remained popular through Western Europe for the past several centuries. They're the direct descendants of the so-called "great horses" ridden by knights during the Middle Ages. They were bred as an all-purpose farm horse to plow the hillsides and fields of Western Europe. The Clydesdale is a younger breed, developing as a separate draft horse breed from farming stock in Scotland only about 200 years ago. They were bred primarily to pull plows and heavy coal wagons.
Colors and Markings
The Clydesdale's coat color can be bay, black, brown, chestnut or roan. They usually sport a wide blaze and four white socks, or stockings, that extend from hoof to knee. Belgians can be sorrel, chestnut, bay or gray, but the preferred color is a very light chestnut or sorrel color with creamy white mane and tail. Belgians rarely have flashy white markings like a Clydesdale.
Belgian draft horses tend to be a bit shorter and stockier than Clydesdales, with broad backs, strong shoulders and kind, gentle dispositions. Belgians average 16.2 to 18 hands. Clydesdales tend to be around 18 hands and appear slightly less muscular and stocky. The most notable difference between the two breeds is in the legs and feet. Clydesdale horses sport special leg hairs called feathers and spats that form a protective fringe over the cannon bone and wick water away from the legs and feet. Their hooves are large and round, and can be as big as dinner plates.
Popularity and Commercial Use
Both breeds are popular in the United States, but Belgians are more plentiful. According to the Belgian Draft Horse Corp. website, Belgians are the most numerous draft horse breed in America. Belgians are popular for farm work and are used on many small farms as an economical and ecological alternative to tractors. Clydesdales are popular thanks in part to the Budweiser beer company, which has used the horse in its advertising campaigns for many years. Clydesdales can be crossed with thoroughbreds and quarter horses to create strong, heavier-boned riding horses.
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Jeanne Grunert has been a writer since 1990. Covering business, marketing, gardening and health topics, her work has appeared in the "Chicken Soup for the Soul" books, "Horse Illustrated" and many national publications. Grunert earned her Master of Arts in writing from Queens College and a Master of Science in direct and interactive marketing from New York University.