What is an Irish Draught horse?

Last Updated on March 4, 2022 by Allison Price

The Irish Draught is a traditional horse breed that most equestrians will know. Cross breeding is the key to the breed’s success today, so it is rare to find an Irish Draught that has been bred from pure blood.

What is an Irish Draught? And what makes them so special.

What is an Irish Draught?

The Irish Draught horse is a native Irish breed. This strong, resilient, and athletic breed was originally bred for farm use.

The Irish Draught: History

The Irish Draught, like many European breeds was originally developed to be an all-purpose animal. It can do both hunting and agricultural work, as well as transport under saddle or in harness. Although the breed’s name is dated back to the 18th century it has roots in Irish history.

It is believed that the Irish Draught was created in the 12th century when Anglo-Norman war horses were crossed with the Irish Hobby. The 16th-century Spanish Armada shipwrecks left Iberian horses on Irish shores. These too are believed to have contributed to the Irish Draught.

Clydesdales and thoroughbred Stallions were later introduced along with Connemara ponies.

The Irish Draught was bred for toughness and versatility. Their diet consisted of grass, chopped gorse, boiled turnsips, and any leftovers from the cattle.

The formal recording of Irish Draughts began in the 20th Century. In 1907 and 1911, the Irish government declared that they would register mares or stallions in return for inspection and subsidies. The studbook was opened by the Ministry of Agriculture in 1917 with a foundation stock of 375 mares, and 44 stallions.

Similar to other horse breeds in Europe, the Irish Draught suffered double the effects of mechanisation as well as the wars that erupted in the 20th century. Both the former saw their roles in agriculture being replaced by tractors and the latter saw a large portion of the breed sent to Europe to fight alongside the Allies. Many horses that remained were either killed or sold overseas for breeding.

Irish Draught Horse

To preserve the breed, the Irish Draught Horse Societywas established in 1976. A British branch was established three years later. Horse Sport Ireland was given control of the Irish Horse Register. This includes Irish Draughts as well as Irish Sport Horses. The Irish Draught Horse Breeders Association was also established.

The second challenge to the breed was the result of its popularity as a foundation for cross-breeding. Many mares never produced a purebred foal and the number of Irish Draughts fell.

According to the Irish Rare Breeds Society, aggressive selection for showjumping traits and inbreeding of certain popular bloodlines has led to a decline in breeding stock. This and a shrinking gene pool have led to some breeds losing their genetic diversity, which is essential for a breed’s survival.

The Royal Dublin Society and Irish Cattle Breeding Federation have teamed up with the breed society to create a breeding plan that will increase the Irish Draught’s genetic diversity while preserving its traditional traits.

Is the Irish Draught a Warmblood or a Warmblood?

It would be easy to call the Irish Draught a Warmblood, given its history which is similar to many European warmbloods and its love for athleticism. This isn’t a classification the breed tends not to have.

The Irish Sport Horse, technically a warmblood is a cross between an Irish Draught and a hotblooded thoroughbred. This would suggest that the Irish Draught is a coldblood. However, they are not as physically similar to a Percheron or Shire Horse.

Technically, the Irish Draught would be a warmblood because of its mix of pony, thoroughbred and heavy horse.

The Irish Draught is more bone-rich than any European warmblood or British bred sport horse. Its use as a producer rather than a competitor has preserved some of the more manlike traits that were bred from breeds like the Dutch warmblood.

Although the Irish Draught breed society doesn’t state whether their horses are a warmblood or coldblood breed, they could be considered the lightest coldblood, perhaps in the same category as Friesians or as a heavier set warmblood. Aficionados of this breed would love to see them as a separate class.

Which disciplines are Irish Draughts involved in?

The Irish Draught horse is versatile and has been a champion in showjumping as well as hunting. Although purebred Irish Draughts can be rare, their influence is evident in the Irish Sport Horse which competes at top levels of equestrian sports.

King of Diamonds, a stallion representing the Irish Draught, is an example of how showjumping has been successful. The chestnut stallion, who was born in 1962, was originally registered as an Irish Draught, but was actually a part thoroughbred and measured 17hh. Before retiring to Stud, he was a Grade A showjumper and was prominent in the bloodline for many great showjumpers.

Today, almost every Irish Draught will claim to be related or heir to King of Diamonds. In fact, a 2005 Royal Dublin Society study found that 98% and 96% respectively of Irish mares were descended from King of Diamonds. However, this narrow genetic lineage presents its own challenges.

King of Diamonds passed away in 1991. He was 7th in the global breeding rankings for showjumping sires, between 1990 and 1995. Hopes are High and Special Envoy are his notable descendants.

Due to his fame, the stallion was even featured on a stamp!

Irish Draughts can now enter many classes at general shows as well as events geared specifically for them. Irish Draughts can also compete in the Olympic disciplines, hunt, as well as enjoy hacking, general riding, and hunting. They are the preferred horse for the Irish Garda’s Mounted Unit, which depends on their calm temperaments as well as bravery.

The Irish Draught: Key features

The Irish Draught should be between 15.2hh-16.3hh. It can be any solid colour, including bay, grey or chestnut. Avoid too many white markings.

According to the breed standard, the Irish Draught is a versatile, strong, athletic, and durable animal. A horse should have a nice head and 9 inches of solid, clean, flat bone. It should also have strong hindquarters and loins. The Irish Draught should have kind eyes and a free and straight movement.

Where can I buy an Irish Draught?

You can buy Irish Draught horses privately in the UK via sites like Whickr, where horses are listed for sale. However, due to the limited number of purebred horses available, you’ll need to be quick to spot any new horses. A classified section is maintained by the Irish Draught Horse Society, which lists all stallions at stud in Great Britain.

Another option is to travel to Ireland to purchase an Irish Draught horse. Prospective owners can check the society’s website to locate individual breeders and horse dealers selling Irish Draught horses .


The Irish Draught is a great native breed and offers riders so many opportunities as both a riding horse and as a breeding prospect. They are popular due to their size, kindness, and sporting ability. New owners have the opportunity to play an active part in conserving this breed for future generations.

Allison Price
Allison Price

I’m Allison, born and raised in San Diego California, the earliest memory I have with horses was at my grandfather’s farm. I used to sit at the stable as a kid and hang out with my Papa while he was training the horses. When I was invited to watch a horse riding competition, I got so fascinated with riding!