Irish Draught Horse: Breed Profile

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In This Article

  • History and Origins

  • Size

  • Breeding and Uses

  • Color and Markings

  • Characteristics

  • Diet and Nutrition

  • Health and Behavior

  • Grooming

  • Irish Draught Horse for You

  • How to Adopt or Buy

  • More Horse Breeds

The Irish Draught (pronounced “draft”) is the national horse breed of Ireland and was originally bred primarily for farm use. Today, the breed is known for its athleticism and fortitude and is often crossed with Thoroughbreds and warmbloods to produce the Irish Sport Horse—also known as the Irish Draught Sport Horse—which excels in activities like eventing, dressage, showjumping, fox hunting, and leisure riding.

Other notable traits of the Irish Draught include a profound strength (a lingering offshoot of their farm days, no doubt), as well as sound temperament and gentle nature that suggests that, for all of their size and strength, these horses are really just big softies at heart.

Breed Overview

Weight: 1,300 to 1,500 pounds

Height: 15.2 hands (62 inches) to 16.3 hands (67 inches)

Body Type: Strong, well-proportioned, and muscular with long legs, a wide forehead, and widely spaced eyes

Best For: Hunting and riding

Life Expectancy: Late 20s to early 30s

Irish Draught History and Origins

Irish Draughts have a long history in Ireland as trusted farm horses and family companions. The breed originated in the country in the 18th century, at which time they served a dual purpose for cash-strapped Irish farmers and their families who needed a horse that was strong enough to engage in farm work but refined enough to serve as a travel companion.

The breed was almost eliminated from Irish lands in the wake of World War I, during which thousands of Irish Draughts were sent to the front. Several decades later, a marked effort to preserve the breed emerged in Ireland, starting with the formation of the Irish Draught Horse Society in 1976.

Irish Draught Size

Irish Draught horses range in size from 15.2 hands (62 inches) to 16.3 hands (67 inches), with an impressive weight of 1,300 to 1,500 pounds. Their weight is generally distributed proportionally throughout their body, with long legs and overall muscular stature.

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Breeding and Uses

There isn’t much use anymore for the Irish Draught on the farm, however, this athletic and well-composed breed is often used as a police horse in the UK. Their primary uses today are largely leisure-related, and they’re a favorite breed among those looking for a hunting or riding companion.

Of course, what the Irish Draught is perhaps best known for today is their breeding uses—most notably for the development of the highly competitive Irish Sport Horse.

Color and Markings

Irish Draught horses present with a wide variety of solid coat colors, with gray and chestnut being the most common. Other coat colors include white, black, brown, dun, champagne, cremello, palomino, perlino, grullo, and roan.

Despite the range of colors, Irish Draughts are preferred not to have excessive white markings, particularly above the knees.

Unique Characteristics of the Irish Draught

You don’t become a national horse breed without having some pretty likeable traits. For the Irish Draught, those extend past their strength and utility to include their amenable temperament and common sense composure.

They’re considered to be easygoing and adaptable, as well as quick learners that are quite capable of tapping into their excellent athletic abilities with the right rider in the saddle.

Diet and Nutrition

The Irish Draught is a large breed with equally large nutritional requirements, including plenty of grains, grass, and legumes. Added fat is often recommended to assist with the maintenance of their muscular build, though a balance is essential since excess body weight could lead to stress on a draught horse’s bones and joints.

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Common Health and Behavior Problems

Irish Draughts are a generally healthy breed, however, they are still prone to certain health problems, particularly as foals. These include:

  • Developmental orthopedic diseases
  • Degenerative joint diseases
  • Growth plate inflammation

Grooming

As with any horse, regular grooming is required. This includes bathing and brushing, as well as taking care to maintain the Irish Draught’s hooves, eyes, and ears. That being said, the Irish Draught doesn’t require any special type of grooming care, and basic—but consistent—grooming should be enough.

Pros

  • Gentle and sound temperament

  • Strong and athletic

  • Adaptable

Cons

  • High nutrional needs

  • Rare

Is the Irish Draught Horse Right for You?

The gentle temperament and basic care requirements of the Irish Draught make it a good breed for all types of owners, including first-timers. As with any horse breed, the right owner is one who provides lots of exercise and individual care, and who works to build on the horse’s innate skills and strengths.

How to Adopt or Buy an Irish Draught Horse

Irish Draughts are a rare breed, especially in the United States. The Irish Draught Horse Society of America does maintain a list of breeders and Irish Draughts for sale. It may also be possible to adopt an Irish Draught through an organization like Gentle Giants Draft Horse Rescue, though you may have to wait for one to become available. 

More Horse Breeds

If you’re interested in similar breeds, check out:

  • Clydesdale Horse
  • Shire Horse
  • Dutch Warmblood

Otherwise, you can check out all of our other horse breed profiles.

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