IT IS Scotland’s most iconic and distinctive horse, a beast which powered industrial and agricultural revolutions and helped to win the First World War. 

Now a plan to save the Clydesdale horse in its homeland has been revealed in a new BBC Scotland feature-length documentary to be shown next week. 

The film, Clydesdale: Saving the Greatest Horse, reveals how the breed is entering the “vortex of extinction”. 

Once exported from Scotland all over the world, the current small size and relative isolation of the population has impacted on its genetic diversity. 

Classed as “vulnerable” in the UK by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, urgent action is needed to halt its decline. 

Professor Janice Kirkpatrick, an award-winning Glaswegian designer and Clydesdale horse expert, hopes to introduce new bloodlines into the population and also develop a world-class centre for the native breed in the Clyde Valley, where it began. 


Prof Kirkpatrick said: “Clydesdales are incredible athletes, graceful in their movements, but with big personalities. 

“It makes you feel small and humbled and incredibly privileged to be with them. I see them as the most amazing breed – a treasure trove of positive traits and characteristics that I am passionate that we should not lose. 

“You only need to look at the herd books to see that it is diminishing. 

“There are far fewer horses. Unless we act quickly, the whole breed can just collapse. It’s now or never.” 

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The Clydesdale was the product of the race to create the biggest horses able to produce the most power to fuel the agricultural and industrial revolutions. 

Perfected in the Clyde Valley, the first recorded use of the name “Clydesdale” in reference to the breed was in 1826 at an exhibition in Glasgow.  

The powerful workhorses were exported in their thousands to Europe and around the world. Ms Kirkpatrick has worked with scientists in the US to create a snapshot of the genetic diversity and health of the populations in the UK, North America and Canada.  

The results show that the shrinking Scottish population has less diversity than those overseas. 

Genetic scientist Jessica Petersen, of the University of Nebraska, said: “The concern about the Scottish population being very small in size holds true in that inbreeding estimates were generally quite a bit higher than from horses in North America. 

“That goes back to the small population size where there’s just not a whole lot of horses – you’re going to be mating relatives with relatives whether or not you are intending to do so.” 

Ms Kirkpatrick said: “For the first time, we have definitive scientific genetic proof that the Clydesdale herd in Scotland is in danger.  

“Of all breeds, the Clydesdale deserves a future.” 


The documentary, filmed over two years, follows Ms Kirkpatrick as she travels to Canada to select a pregnant mare she has named Jesse to take back to her Lindsayston farm in Ayrshire.  

Including its foal Snowy, she now has five Clydesdales, among them a pure black colt from America, with rare DNA, which she hopes will help deepen the Scottish gene pool. 

The programme also reveals Ms Kirkpatrick’s work to establish a global centre for the Clydesdale horse in Pollok Country Park, in Glasgow.  

The proposal would transform disused stable blocks at Pollok House into an animal genetics centre of excellence, that would include a farrier school, conservation and craftsmanship of leather and metal, and a working “rare breeds” farm. It would also include innovative ways to engage with visitors through equine therapies and horse-centred tours and experiences.  

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Ms Kirkpatrick, who is working with Glasgow City Council to deliver the scheme, said: “Pollok Park Stables are beautiful early 18th-century stables so they fit with the story of the Clydesdale. Pollok Park could be the thing that helps save the horse. It’s the perfect place to give our most powerful and handsome rare breed a bright future.” 

David McDonald, the council’s deputy leader, tells the programme the plans are “exciting”.  He added: “The stable blocks at Pollok House and the park have been derelict and mainly unused for many years, many decades in some parts of the building. There’s so much potential behind that 

story that it’s something we should certainly be supporting as a city.” 

Ms Kirkpatrick adds: “I believe I’ve at least started the journey of helping the Clydesdale flourish again. I have a great belief that others will join me. We need to be proud of it and embrace it.”