Recorded mention of Irish Draught horses was first made in the late 1700s. The origins of the Irish Draught breed are thought to be linked to the now extinct Irish Hobbie pony breeds developed from the small horses brought to Ireland by the ancient Celts around 500 BCE. These horses were combined with larger Norman horses and later with Connemara ponies, Spanish breeds, and Thoroughbreds, and possibly Clydesdales as they became more widely available in the country.
Irish Draughts began as a landrace breed selected to perform a multitude of tasks on farms while also being an attractive and athletic mount for fox hunting or for simply looking good riding into town. They could work the fields, pull wagons, and take on any task asked of them with gentle confidence. Heavier draft breeds popular at the time didn’t fare well in Ireland with its rough, wet terrain amply loaded with burrs and stickers that would cling to their heavily feathered legs. A lighter but equally strong horse was needed, and the result was the Irish Draught.
The Irish Draught was officially recognized as a breed in Ireland in 1901. In 1900s, the Irish Government Ministry of Agriculture set up a registry for the breed, but unfortunately the studbook opened in 1917 was lost in a fire. During WWI, the breed’s popularity had skyrocketed as they made solid, easy-keeping cavalry horses that had a comfortable gait and they were used to help the war effort. The emergence of tractors and automobiles ultimately reversed the trend and numbers plummeted as the need for horses declined.
Fortunately, the breed had another use – for the production of fine horses known as the Irish Hunter or Irish Sport horse. When crossed with Thoroughbreds, they produce a highly athletic horse with the solid bone that is crucial to the well-being of an equine athlete intended for fox hunting or as a hunter/jumper at a competitive level. Unfortunately, purebred Irish Draughts have been used for the creation of the more valuable sport horses resulting in very few pure Irish Draughts being bred.
In 1976, the Irish Draught Horse Society was set up to encourage purebred breeding. The Royal Dublin Society and the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation are working with the IDHS to establish a breeding plan that will widen the breed’s genetic diversity while keeping the traits that have allowed it to be successful.
Irish Draughts can be found in many solid colors including, occasionally, grays. White on the legs above the knees or hocks not desirable and considered a fault. Stallions are approximately 15.3-16.3 hands and the mares 15.1-16.1hands. Their body is well muscled but not heavy as their name suggests. They have strong hindquarters, and their chest is muscular and lean, both an asset when jumping. They have a broad forehead and long ears. Their head is described as “smooth and pleasant”; coarse or “hatchet’ heads should be avoided.
Irish Draught horses are considered a warmblood breed. They are sound, sensible, and intelligent, are known for their extremely gentle dispositions, and are a great choice for novice riders. Their movement is smooth, and their stride covers a lot of ground; they are versatile and a good choice for jumping, eventing, dressage, and driving.
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