‘Saving the greatest horse’: Clydesdale stars in television documentary

  • Scotland’s treasured draught horse the Clydesdale is to become a big star of the small screen this Christmas when the BBC airs a documentary about the battle to preserve the breed.

    Like many of the British heavy horses, the Clydesdale horse is now classed as vulnerable by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, having suffered the loss of its primary role since the onset of mechanisation.

    Clydesdale: Saving the Greatest Horse is produced by the BBC, in partnership with Screen Scotland and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and follows Clydesdale enthusiast Janice Kirkpatrick as she travels to the Canadian Prairies to source a rare black mare from a bloodline “lost” to the UK.

    Professor Kirkpatrick traces the story of the Clydesdale from its origins in the Clyde Valley, and meets the Canadian family who have bred these black horses for five generations.

    Clydesdales were once numerous in their native Scotland, where they were first recognised as a breed in 1826, and went on to be so desired as a working animal that in 1911 a prized stallion sold for the equivalent of £1m. The animals were exported all over the world, where some of their bloodlines are still preserved.

    “Once I realised that the Clydesdale was considered to be in the extinction vortex, I felt I could not stand by, I had to do something,” said Professor Kirkpatrick, a designer and graduate of the Glasgow School of Art, who now keeps Clydesdales on her farm on the Scottish coast.

    The documentary covers her work to establish a global centre for the Clydesdale horse in Glasgow. The facility includes an animal genetics centre, farriery school, conservation and craftsmanship of leather and metal and a working rare breeds farm. It also plans innovative ways of engaging with local residents and the visitor economy, including through equine therapies and horse-centred tours and experiences.

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    “It is the perfect place to give our most powerful and handsome rare breed a bright future. It will help to create highly skilled jobs, new businesses, networks, knowledge, partnerships for people who live nearby and for visitors,” Professor Kirkpatrick said.

    “As the project develops, there will be opportunities to interact with horses and other animals, to use science, technology and economic activities to protect and secure the future of the breed, to design, make, repair and repurpose leather goods, to work in a forge, to study and interpret a world-class historic archive, to start a business and to have hands-on experiences by welcoming visitors or working in the city farm.”

    The film will be shown on BBC Scotland on December 30 at 7.30pm.

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