Reviving the Old Shire Horses of England
The name of the Shire horse breed can be a bit misleading for people who do not have knowledge of the breed. The mere mention of the breed name would most likely give you the impression that the breed is made up of small, mild mannered horses. Shire horses however are considered the biggest among all English horses.
Shire Horse History
The Shire horse is another old horse breed with uncertain origins. It is probable that the ancestors of the breed were not native to England. They may have instead been brought to England from other regions. In any case, the earliest known ancestor of the Shire horse is the Great Horse which appeared in English soil as early as the 11th century. These Great Horses indeed had massive bodies that ensured an impressive appearance and great strength. Since this was yet the time of knights and armored combat, these large horses were used primarily as war horses.
Like the rest of Europe however, England was not to remain in the middle ages forever. Changes and improvements in the art and technology of warfare eventually reduced the need for large horses. With the emergence of guns as a preferred weapon over swords, the new war horse had to be lighter and more agile. The ancestors of the Shire horse however did not disappear when they were no longer needed in battle. Like other large war horse breeds, their strength and size became useful in agriculture.
By the 1600s, breeders began breeding the direct ancestors of the modern Shire horse. It wasn’t until the second half of the 1800s however that Shire horses came to be named Shire horses. It was also around this time that a formal society was established to promote and ensure the purity of the breed. It seemed as if England had found the perfect plough and cart horse.
Unfortunately, the Shire breed went through the same path as other European draft horses. The beginning of the industrial period posed a threat to the breed. Mechanized farming and transportation became all the rage and the Shire breed seemed to have outlived their purpose. For a period in the 1900s, the population of the Shire horse dropped. Today however, loyal breeders who simply love the Shire horse have raised the numbers of the breed again.
It is enough to simply say that most Shire horses are around 17 hands tall with some going well over this height. Some horses weigh close to a ton. With height and weight figures as big as these, it is easy to imagine how a typical Shire horse would look like. They are large muscular horses from head to hooves. They distinctly carry leg feathering below the knees.
Sad as it may seem, the modern Shire horse has truly almost lost any functional purpose. Farms now typically prefer machines. There are however some breweries that continue to use these horses simply out of affection for the breed and tradition. Most Shire horses are now simply used for show and parade purposes.
(At Rice Creek Shires, we would disagree with the last paragraph! Shire Horses are wonderful animals that have just as many uses as any other horse.)