The Irish Draught is a strong and versatile horse breed originating from Ireland. Descendent from native Irish horses crossed with various imported horses breeds, Irish Draughts are recognized as the official national horse breed of the Republic of Ireland.

Contrary to their name suggesting a draft-type, Irish Draughts are technically warmblood horses. Their athleticism and size made them popular additions to sport horse breeding programs worldwide, but demand for crosses almost drove the purebred Irish Draught to extinction.

Modern efforts to maintain traditional traits and improve genetic diversity have have reinvigorated the breed. Purebred Irish Draughts are now recognized as versatile and willing equine partners, frequently participating in athletic disciplines.

Although these horses are generally healthy, Irish Draughts need good care and management to perform their best. This breed profile will review the history, characteristics, health problems, and nutritional needs of the Irish Draught breed.

Irish Draught History

Irish Draught horses have a rich history that traces back to medieval Ireland, but the breed first gained international recognition in the late 19th to early 20th centuries.

The breed’s evolution from its Irish roots to its current international acclaim was largely driven by its legacy in serving the needs of Irish farmers.

Origin

Historians believe the Irish Draught descends from the Irish Hobby, an extinct small horse breed developed in Ireland in the Middle Ages. These horses crossed with Anglo-Norman war horses brought to Ireland in the 12th century to produce a sturdier type. [1]

The 16th century saw a surge in trade, introduced imported horses from Spain and other European nations to the Irish breeding population. Breeding programs in Ireland primarily produced cavalry horses until the mid-19th century.

Irish farmers sought to create the ideal all-around horse during this period to meet the diverse needs of their rural communities. Crossbreeding with Clydesdales increased Irish horses’ size and hauling capabilities, while Thoroughbred blood maintained the horse’s stamina and lighter conformation. [2]

Governmental registration and inspections of the resulting horses were introduced in the early 20th century, establishing a foundation stock for the Irish Draught breed. [3]

Historic Use

The original Irish Hobbies were small, swift horses used for racing and light cavalry riding. The introduction of larger war horses to Ireland during the Middle Ages led to the development of purpose-bred cavalry horses that were strong enough to carry armoured knights into battle.

Irish Draught horses can trace their development directly to the rugged landscapes of Ireland, where a sturdy, adaptable horse was essential for daily life. These horses were expected to perform a variety of tasks, from plowing fields and hauling goods to carrying their riders to church on Sundays.

Unlike Europeans breeding programs, which bred separate horses for light riding and heavy farm work, Irish farmers wanted to create a single breed suitable for any purpose. Thus began the development of a versatile breed that could do farm work, haul carts, and hunt foxes. [1]

These horses also needed to be economical to keep and sensible to handle. Word eventually spread about the adaptable Irish horses that could excel under saddle, under harness, and in front of a plow. As a result, demand for Irish Draughts grew throughout the British Isles.

However, Purebred Irish Draughts experienced a setback in 1922 when a fire in the Four Courts destroyed the original studbook records. World War I and II also led to significant declines in the breed’s population, and many Irish Draughts were sent abroad for breeding. [3]

Irish Draughts also gained popularity as breeding stock to produce crosses with Thoroughbreds and Warmbloods. As the resulting Irish Sport Horses and Irish Hunters experienced success in several disciplines, the number of purebred Irish Draughts declined. [3]

Breed Registry

The Irish Draught Horse Society was founded in 1976 to preserve the purebred breed. The society supports research into improving genetic diversity while maintaining characteristics of the pure Irish Draught horse.

Established in 1993, the Irish Draught Horse Society of North America promotes the breeding and ownership of purebred and part-bred Irish Draughts in the United States and Canada.

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Breed Characteristics

Breeding programs for Irish Sport Hors