Can You Ride a Clydesdale?

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Draft horses- the gentle giants of the equestrian world! We all picture draft horses pulling wagons and carriages. In fact, one of the most iconic images that comes to mind when thinking of draft horses is the Budweiser Clydesdales. A team of Clydesdales pulling a giant red Budweiser cart. Riding a Clydesdale will be a remarkable experience.

Clydesdales are known for being strong hauling horses, but can they also be riding horses?  The answer is yes! Clydesdales, like all other draft breeds, are capable of being ridden. But, it’s important to understand the differences between having a draft horse for riding and having a regular-sized horse for riding.

In this article, I will be discussing those differences and illustrating what it may look like to own a Clydesdale horse for riding purposes.  

Riding a Clydesdale

Size Differences

So what is different when you’re riding a Clydesdale horse? The first thing that comes to mind is height.  Clydesdales average at a 17 hand or 18 hand height, which is extremely tall for a regular riding horse.  If you’re not used to riding a horse of this height, it may take some adjusting for you to get used to it!

Second is the width.  Draft horses are built to be wider than riding horses;  this characteristic has helped them pull plows and wagons in the past.  But, for riding, it can feel significantly different from sitting on a normal riding horse.  Especially if you have short legs!

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Due to both of these sizing differences, it can be difficult to find properly fitting tack for Clydesdales.  Especially if you are moving from a normal-sized riding horse to a Clydesdale, you will almost certainly need to purchase a new saddle, bridle, girth, and maybe even saddle pads.

It’s important to take these possible expenses into consideration when buying any horse, but especially when buying a horse that is a significantly different size than your last one! Ill-fitting tack can cause lots of problems in the long-term well-being of your horse.

Riding a Clydesdale: Riding Differences

When you are actually riding a Clydesdale, it will feel much different from riding a standard sized horse.  Clydesdales are known for having smooth gaits, so sitting should be very comfortable.  However, due to their size, the feel can still be different from what you are used to.

It is also common for draft horses, including Clydesdales, to have a harder time bending than standard-sized riding horses do.  But, consider the way these horses are built- their necks are short, thick, and stout. Of course, it will be harder for them to bend in the neck.

Sometimes, it will also take them longer to turn.  But, think of how much horse there is turning! Sometimes it can take longer for that big body to move than it would a smaller horse or pony.  

Additionally, it can take the rider awhile to readjust his or her balance in the saddle.  Draft horses, including Clydesdales, are frequently built “uphill” while many standard riding horses are built “downhill.”  

So, this difference in angles can require an adjustment in the rider’s balance.  This shouldn’t take too long to get used to, but it could be a necessary change.

But, it is important to take note of these differences so that you understand what your Clydesdale is capable of doing under saddle.

Riding a Clydesdale: Disciplines

There are two, arguably three, disciplines that Clydesdales really excel at.  The first two are trail and dressage. Lastly, though not an official discipline per se, Clydesdales are great pleasure and family horses.

Trail

Clydesdales are known for being gentle and easy-going.  They do not spook or startle easily, and they are very level-headed.  As mentioned earlier, they also have comfortable gaits. For these reasons, Clydesdales can be great trail horses.  

Whether you’re doing any kind of competitive events out on the trails, or simply trail riding for pleasure, the Clydesdale could be a great mount for you.  Though they are large, they can easily walk, trot, and canter, and will keep their riders safe in the saddle.

Dressage

Clydesdales, like many other draft breeds, also excel at lower level dressage.  They are beautiful horses that can have very flashy, correct gaits.  They are great horses to learn dressage on and will be gentle and forgiving to a rider that may not be perfect.

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But, Clydesdales do have their limitations in dressage skills.  They are not physically equipped to perform the movements required of an upper-level dressage horse.  So, while they may be a great mount for a beginning dressage rider or a dressage rider not looking to climb too high up the ropes, they are not a suitable mount for a rider looking to be extremely competitive.

Pleasure

Lastly, Clydesdales make great family horses or “husband” horses.  They are generally low maintenance and extremely level-headed.  They don’t require a regular training program and can be ridden by children and those who may not be as experienced in the saddle.

They can essentially be happy and successful as a pet that periodically goes out on rides.  Clydesdales are also pretty independent and don’t depend on the presence of other horses. They can typically ride out alone or be turned out alone.  These are desirable characteristics for those that keep their horses on their own property!

Conclusion

So, yes! Clydesdales can be ridden, and in fact, make great riding horses.  But, before putting a deposit down on your gentle giant, make sure your goals are aligned with the physical abilities of a Clydesdale.

They are ideal trail horses, pleasure horses, and low-level dressage horses.  But, if you want to be a competitive hunter-jumper rider, you do not want a Clydesdale.  Clydesdales are fantastic, easy-going horses. But we need to make sure they are going to a home that will best suit their capabilities.

I hope you enjoyed this article and that it helped you better understand the riding capabilities of the Clydesdale breed! If so, please share this article, and share with us your experiences riding Clydesdales!


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