What Do Clydesdale Horses Eat?

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Clydesdales pulled carriages until they were replaced in the 1930s by the automobile.
Clydesdales pulled carriages until they were replaced in the 1930s by the automobile. (Image: Topical Press Agency/Valueline/Getty Images)

Clydesdales are large draft horses that originated in Scotland during the mid 1700s. Reaching 6 feet at the shoulder, this breed is notable for its docile temperament, feathered feet and flashy high-stepping gait. Although the Clydesdale nearly vanished between 1960 and 1975, as of 2011, numbers have increased to more than 2,000. The most famous Clydesdale horses are the Anheuser-Busch eight-horse hitch.

Natural and Domestic Diet

Like all equines, Clydesdale horses are herbivores, which means they eat plants and plant-based products. In the wild, when they are not resting, playing or socializing with other members of the herd, horses graze on rich grasses like clover that are full of nutrients. However in captivity, a Clydesdale eats twice that of other horses consuming up to 20 quarts of feed, 50 lbs. of hay and 30 gallons of water throughout a single day. Equine feed mix is generally composed of oats and barley, pellets and molasses.

Clydedales average 125 lbs. at birth and 2,000 lbs. as an adult.
Clydedales average 125 lbs. at birth and 2,000 lbs. as an adult. (Image: Macan/Valueline/Getty Images)

Course Mixes

Clydesdales that have special roles such as breeding, working and competing also have special diets. Along with fresh hay and water, these horses are feed specially formulated feed mixes that include extra nutrients and energy. For example, horses that do not get the opportunity to graze or are too old to digest roughage are fed beet pulp based feed mix. Other formulas include yearling mixes, stud mixes and low starch mixes. And, supplements are added at the time of feeding to achieve a particular result. For example, Glucosamine is used to promote tendon and ligament health, and limestone is added for extra calcium to promote bone health. Herbs and probiotics are added to increase the immune system and digestive system health of working and retired Clydesdales.

Hay and Other Foods

Hay comes in a variety of types including haylage, which is sealed at the time of cut and allowed to ferment to achieve maximum nutritional benefit. Standard hay comes in a few variations but are primarily cut, dried and bailed timothy, alfalfa or a blend of the two. Meadow grass hay, seeded hay and Rye grass are also fed; however, Rye grass has a higher protein count than other hays. Chaff is a blend of molasses and chopped hay, and some other foods that Clydesdales eat are bran, corn, beans and peas.

Treats

Clydesdales like to be treated and rewarded just like any other pet. Specially formulated equine treats, carrots, apples and sugar cubes are particular horse favorites, and most farm supply stores carry packaged treats safe to feed Clydesdale horses. Grasses such as Blue Grass and fresh organic grass are sweet and tender for Clydesdales to graze on, too. An equine vet or Clydesdale breeder are also familiar with foods that are safe for Clydesdales to eat or have as a treat.

Too many treats, including apples, can give a Clydesdale colic.
Too many treats, including apples, can give a Clydesdale colic. (Image: Photos.com/AbleStock.com/Getty Images)

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