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The Irish Draught as its name suggests, began life as a working horse in Ireland and is their national horse. It originated as a much smaller animal called the Irish Hobby. As in other quarters of Europe, there had been a need for many hundreds of years, for a weight carrying animal that could be used as a beast of burden, an animal of war and a servant of agriculture. The original heaviness of the Irish Draught came from French and Flemish blood after the Norman Conquest. However lightness was introduced to the breed for one principal reason and this was the Irish love affair with fox hunting which brought about a need for a strong and sound animal that could cross the Irish countryside with speed and athletic ability. The use of Spanish and Andalucian blood lightened the draught characteristics some of this coming from Spanish horses shipwrecked from vessels in the Armada fleet. They swam ashore in County Cork. This out cross was used again a few hundred years later when the Irish Draught was crossed with English Thoroughbreds to produce what many believe to be the ultimate sports horse. This is either with a straight cross of half and half or, producing a horse described as 7/8ths bred so mostly Thoroughbred with just a smattering of Irish Draught. And somewhere back in the mix there is also a sprinkling of Connemara, Ireland’s native pony breed.
Image source: Curtesy of SarahPannasch via Flickr Creative Commons.
At the start of the twentieth century, the Irish government became involved in the breed introducing inspection and registration schemes and subsidies to promote better breeding. The Irish Draught Stud Book was officially opened by the Irish Ministry of Agriculture in 1917. The breed suffered greatly after the Great War so suitable were they for service at the front line and again following the mechanisation of agriculture after the second war. A small group of breeders banded together to form the Irish Draught Horse Society but amazingly, this did not occur until 1976 despite the enduring popularity of the breed as a hunter and sports horse. The Irish Horse Board was founded as a co-operative society in 1993 and now administers the Irish Horse Register, the Irish Sport Horse Studbook and the Irish Draught Horse Studbook on behalf of the Irish Department of Agriculture. So over the last one hundred years or so, the Irish Draught has developed from purely a farm horse to one that had sufficient athletic ability to be able to hunt and also work on the farm, to finally a horse with a jumping ability and athletic prowess renowned the world over.
The modern Irish Draught is a quality stamp of a horse with strength and a powerful frame that at the same time is neither heavy nor coarse. The limbs have plenty of bone and are clean, so not feathered and the whole horse should give the impression of both impressive strength but never at the expense of quality. The breed offers that rare combination of athletic ability and performance whilst maintaining a calm and tractable temperament. The Irish Draught is prolific in show jumping and eventing and as a hunter in pure bred or part bred form. It is perhaps ironic that the Irish Draught is actually more popular as a cross rather than in pure bred form in order to produce a lighter, sports horse. The Irish Draught Horse Society of Ireland are now taking steps to preserve pure foundation stock and also widen the gene pool to protect breed numbers. The Irish Draught has also proved popular with those police forces that still retain a mounted section, the horse’s size and presence combined with a calm and docile nature, proving the ideal mix for a modern police horse.
The Irish Draught Society can provide much information about the breed and where you can find studs. However, there is no better place to see the Irish Draught than in its homeland at the Dublin Show which aims to showcase the breed, in particular the current stallions available to mare owners – yet another good reason to visit the Dublin Show and savour true Irish hospitality and enthusiasm for this special breed of horse.
Main Image source: Silver Wind Twister, 2008 dapple grey stallion, 16.2hh. Curtesy of Bell Tower Stud