The resemblance which exists between the Clydesdale and the Shire horse may possibly be regarded by persons who are not intimately acquainted with the points of heavy horses as being very close; though, as may be seen by a comparison of the descriptions which appear in this volume of the two varieties, the opinion would be a most incorrect one in several respects, and notably in weight and the position of shoulders as well as in the length and spring of the pasterns. Regarding the origin of the Clydesdale, there is not the same explicit information forthcoming as there is to be obtained with reference to the ancestry of the English horse, and even the most enthusiastic supporters of the former variety are divided in opinion concerning the source from which it was originally obtained. According to the authority of the Clydesdale Stud-book, the more popular but least satisfactory explanation is, that the breed comes of a cross between some Flemish stallions that were imported into Scotland over two hundred years ago by an ancestor of the then Duke of Hamilton, and the mares that were in the country at that period of its history. The alternative, and more reasonable, theory of the origin of the Clydesdale is, that the breed owes its existence to the perseverance and capacity of the farmers who then resided in the valley of the Clyde; this hypothesis being strengthened by the impossibility of discovering any reliable data in support of the story of the Duke of Hamilton's ancestor having imported any Flemish stallions into the district during the seventeenth century. In fact, William Aiton, a well-known writer on Scottish agricultural subjects, appears to have made full enquiry into the truth of the story, with the result that he could find no one at all who had ever heard of the existence of the Flemish sires, and all they knew of them was gathered from their reading.
Suffice it, therefore, to recognize the fact that the Clydesdale horse has existed, and been highly valued by the inhabitants of his native district as a distinct breed, for many generations. No doubt, however, the original horse of Scotland, wherever it may have sprung from, was like the ancient War-horse of England, a very much smaller animal than its modern descendant. At the same time, there is evidence forthcoming that so-called "large horses" were recognized in Scotland as far back as the year 1352, this information being supplied by the "safe-conduct" from Edward, King of England, to William Douglas, Knight, of Scotland, to enter the district of Teviotdale, then in the possession of England, with "ten grooms and ten large horses". This "conduct" is still in existence, and unquestionably may be accepted as evidence that even at that remote period of the world's history there were fair-sized horses of some sort or other to be found in parts of Scotland. Unfortunately, however, as Mr. Thomas Dykes observes, no information is forthcoming as to the precise localities from which these "large horses" were brought, though it may not be unreasonable to infer from contemporary events that they came into Teviotdale from Lanarkshire. One other point in connection with these particular horses which is worthy of consideration is the fact that the adoption of the word "magnos" in the aforesaid "conduct", which was in Latin, is an unusual addition, as no qualification of the word "equos" was added to the customary conducts that were issued, this showing that the animals which found their way to Teviotdale were unusually big. It is, of course, quite possible that, as their stature seems to have been exceptionally great, they may have contained the blood of foreign horses in their veins. Still, it does not appear that the horse-breeders of Scotland, such as they then were, displayed anything like the amount of interest shown by the English in the improvement of their stock, though in the reign of King David II, who ascended the throne in 1329, many foreign horses were imported into the country with the object of increasing the size of the native animals. After the reign of 1 >avid II, there seems to have been no serious attempt made to increase the value of Scottish horses until James IV ascended the throne in 1488, but he soon began to do what he could to benefit horseflesh in Caledonia by importing sires from Spain and Poland, though these belonged rather to the light class of animal. King James V, however, seems to have recognized the desirability of increasing the size and power of the native horse, and issued a law that large-sized stallions and mares were to be kept by the upper classes, just as in England persons of quality were expected to maintain the position they aspired to by their patronage of the equine race, on lines defined by law.
What the breeding or stature of these large-sized stallions was, it is impossible to ascertain; but it is quite reasonable to infer that they possessed a great deal of Flanders blood, even if they were not clean-bred specimens of that variety, as large numbers of the blacks in question were constantly crossing the Channel at that time in order to improve the race of English horses, which, whatever their other great qualities may have been, were notoriously deficient in size. Most probably the Galloway of that period was the breed upon which the breeders who were attempting to effect an increase of size in the draught-horse of Scotland first set to work, and of these Galloways it was stated that they were fit for saddle, load, or draught, their strength and size having no doubt been increased by good breeding, and care in the selection of stallions, as the animals from which they sprang were certainly nothing remarkable in size, but rather the reverse. A very possible reason for the horse-breeders of Scotland not having exerted themselves to produce extra heavy horses, is to be discovered in the fact that most of the ploughing was done by oxen, whilst the unsettled condition of the country and the poverty that prevailed no doubt contributed to the curtailment of any sort of enterprise in breeding. At the same time, there are ample grounds for the opinion that some attempts, and satisfactory attempts too, had been made to improve the race of Scottish horses, it being more than probable that both Cleveland Bay and Flemish crosses were utilized for the purpose. Great credit is due to the "Society of Improvers" of Edinburgh, who, so far back as the year 1759, offered a prize of fifteen guineas for the best draught stallion, this being won by the bay entire horse Red Robin, the property of William Whyte, a tenant farmer of Polmont.