The Shire horse is the most familiar and numerous of the heavy horse breeds in Britain.
The Shire is a descendant of the Great Horse, used in medieval warfare and bred from crossing a large native horse with heavy horses imported from Flanders and Holland. To rationalise breeding activities and improve the qualities of the Shire, the English Cart Horse Society was formed in 1878. Later, the society changed its name to the Shire Horse Society. Its aims were to establish uniformity of type, character and appearance and to keep authentic records. The first volume of the Shire Horse Stud Book contained the records of 2,381 stallions going back to 1770.
Conformation, Colour and Characteristics: Enormously strong, intelligent and courageous, it is a patient and docile animal. It often exceeds 17hh in height and can weigh over a tonne. In colour it can be bay, brown, black or grey, (roan is acceptable as a colour in mares but not in stallions) ideally with white on all four lower legs and the characteristic long silky hair, or ‘feather’ over the fetlocks. The modern Shire differs greatly from the traditional horse used in the heyday of the breed, the 1920s-1930s. During the late 1950s and early 1960s, the influence of the Clydesdale in cross-breeding was evident in changed conformation and the mass of coarse leg hair and its associated problems largely becoming a characteristic of the past.
Uses: Today Shires are being used in forestry operations, on farms, for promotional work, for weddings and funerals, at tourist attractions and for recreational riding (especially in Europe). As a working horse, the smaller type of Shire is preferred – up to 17hh. There will, however, always be a strong market for the horse of 18.2hh and over for promotional and show purposes. For more information, please contact the Shire Horse Society on www.shire-horse.org.uk