The Power of the Horse

Just a century ago, draft horses were almost everywhere, providing a dependable power source for pioneer-era industries such as agriculture, railway building, and road construction. Before 1910, the vast majority of public works, agriculture, and resource industries relied on “horse power” to complete jobs both large and small.

For centuries crops were produced manually by sowing seeds and using a scythe to harvest the crops. Innovations in farm equipment increased the productivity of many farmers. Double-width harrows, steel plows mounted on wheels, mowers, binders, threshers, and combines reduced the need for manpower, while dramatically increasing the horse power required to operate them. The western market for farm equipment created a demand for stronger and larger horses to power the new equipment.

The last half of the nineteenth century saw draft horse breeding become both essential and profitable. Many of Canada’s original working horses were of unspecified stock, a mix of whatever breeds were available. Where there was a selection of registered breeds, the farmers, and contractors were decided about their preferences. As Grant MacEwan described it, “Nobody was neutral; either a man favoured the flat-boned, hard-hocked, big-footed Clydes with [their] straight and bold action, or Percherons or Belgians with their powerful muscles.” Historically the big breed Clydesdale was used for farming but was powerful enough to work in coal mines. The Clydesdale is Scotland’s heavy horse, dating back to the beginning of the 18th century when Flemish stallions were brought to the Clyde Valley of Lanarkshire. The Canadian Clydesdale Horse Association was formed in 1886.

Opening day at Fort Whoop-Up is Sunday, May 14 from 1–5 pm. On Mother’s Day take a step back in time at Fort Whoop-Up. Admission fees apply. Admission includes a self-guided or guided tour and a complimentary wagon ride pulled by our team of Clydesdale horses. For more information visit or call 403.320.3777 during business hours.