Caring for draft horses involves both physiological and logistical challenges

They were bred to be workhorses: to pull plows, sledges, and wagons loaded with goods, equipment, or artillery. Draft breeds helped move the factory output of the Industrial Revolution, then the caissons and gun carriages of both sides in World War I. By the time peace returned, they were losing their civilian jobs to the “horseless carriage.”

But their towering stature (some are upwards of 19 or 20 hands tall) and their hold on people’s imaginations secured their presence among us. Today, a number of active draft breed registries support breeders producing and competitions showcasing these animals, and draft horse hitches remain sure crowd-pleasers at any parade.

For instance, the Budweiser Clydesdales made their public debut in 1933, delivering a case of beer to the White House to mark Prohibition’s end. Since then, they’ve been regulars at events around the country. Now numbering 170, they’re stabled at several facilities around the United States and headquartered in St. Louis, Mo. 

The University of Tennessee (UT) Veterinary Medical Center has overseen the Clydesdales’ health for 30 years. These days, UT associate professor of equine surgery Steve Adair, MS, DVM, Dipl. ACVS, ACVSMR, is their herd health consultant—a job that takes him all over the country. He says that although a few health issues—mostly size and/or work-related—show up more in draft breeds, “from a general-heal