All The Farm That Is Fit To Print

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Shire Horses

Shire Mares

Once upon a time we talked about one of the smallest breeds of horse, now let's talk about the largest. The Shire Horse is a massively large breed, with males standing close to six feet tall at the shoulder! Shires can come in black, brown, or gray (and roan in females) and have characteristic feathering on their legs.

These giants have a pretty amazing history that goes back nearly 1,000 years. After the Norman conquest of Britain, huge horses were brought over and developed into "the English Great Horse." These mounts were used in warfare because their size and strength could support the heavy armor of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. During the reign of Henry VIII special care was taken to breed more large horses. Horses under 15 hands could not be bred, and exportation of the breed was strictly forbidden.

Once heavy cavalry went out of style, the Great Horses found a new niche in agriculture and industry. They were used on farms, in factories, and for transportation. Their proliferation into society led to the modern breed, which was first was noted at the end of the 18th century, and the first studbook appeared in the 1880s.

Shires went back to their roots during WWI and WWII, and were used to pull heavy artillery. After WWII, however, the breed began to dwindle, and almost went extinct. Luckily, the breed had endured, but is still considered At Risk by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust. They have found continued use within brewery settings.

One of the largest horses to have ever lived (and perhaps the largest) was a Shire named Sampson, who stood 21.5 hands high at the shoulder! (That's 7.2ft or 2.2m!)

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