The Shire horse is considered to be a draught horse or a draft horse. It is a breed that is relatively tall, standing between 16-17 hands on average, and have feathered feet that are similar to a Clydesdale horse. The name of the breed is a reflection of where the horses originated – right from the rural shires of England. Locations like Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire, offering 800 years of history for this breed, have proven that this is an adaptable horse that is just as happy working on a farm as it is hauling heavy loads or even performing as a war horse.
Here are some additional Shire horse facts to help you get to know this breed a little bit better.
#1. Shire horses are a family friendly breed.
Although Shire horses are often counted as some of the largest in the world, with many weighing over 1 ton, they are still very laid-back creatures. The Shire horse is also quite easy to train, with bucking or rearing considered to be an unusual behavior. Unlike other large horses, however, the size of the Shire was bred into them for war purposes, which is why they are believed to be so gentle. This breed has to be calm on a battlefield that was anything but calm.
#2. Henry II saw the potential of what the Shire horse could be.
During his reign, Henry II recognized the need to have a horse that could bear the full weight of a knight that was in heavy armor. The weight of the individual alone could be upwards of 400 pounds. Add in the weaponry and gear weight to that and many horses just couldn’t perform. The king looked for horses with specific characteristics that were needed, started encouraging selective breeding, and that’s how the Shire horse breed was born.
#3. A breed registry has existed since the late 1800’s.
The Shire horse is one of the few breeds where breed crossing only takes place on very rare occasions. This means that the Shire horse is one of the few breeds that is truly its own. It has been this way ever since the first breed registry for this draught and draft horse was established.
#4. Some communities still use Shire horses for their initial purpose.
Kingdoms and governments saw the Shire horse as a beneficial war horse. Farmers saw the Shire as a workhorse in every sense of the word. They would take the horses out to plow the fields, haul equipment, and take care of other farm work. Some communities, such as the Amish in the United States, still use Shire horses for their farm work. For the most part, however, many Shires are owned for showing or for pleasure. There gentle nature makes them excellent for recreational riding.
#5. Shire horses come in a multitude of color combination.
Shire horses come in all different colors, but not every color meets a specific breed standard. In the US, chestnut coloring is not allowed for Shire stallions – even though it is allowed in the UK. In general, most shire horses are either bay, grey, or black. Mares and some geldings may also be roan.
#6. Shire horses can pull an enormous amount of weight.
In 1924, during an exhibition in England, it was found that a pair of Shire horses were able to pull a starting load that was estimated to be 45 tons. No one knows for sure how much the pull weight actually was because the pair of Shire horses exceeded the maximum reading of the measurement equipment. In slippery footing, this same pair of horses were able to pull a documented 16.5 tons successfully.
#7. The largest horse ever measured in the world is believed to have been a Shire.
The measurement took place in 1848 for a horse that was named Mammoth. Although his breed was not officially measured, it was believed that Mammoth was a Shire based on the descriptions given. The official measurement put Mammoth at a height of 21.25 hands and with a weight of over 3,300 pounds.
#8. Shire horses were first documented for sale to perform farm work in 1145.
Documentation from Smithfield Market in London shows that horses were being sold that were “fit for the dray, plough, or the chariot.” This was even when many farmers were preferring to use oxen in order to manage their farms instead of horses, which goes to show the historical popularity of this breed in England and then later in the United States.
#9. Breeders used the Clydesdale horse in the 1950s and 1960s to improve the appearance of the modern Shire.
Although crossbreeding has been considered uncommon with the Shire breed, there was an effort by breeders to improve the look of the Shire by crossbreeding them with Clydesdales. This effort is notable for the fact that it changed the appearance of the feathering around the feet for the Shire breed from matted fur to silky fur that is similar to what a Clydesdale has.
#10. The US registry for Shire horses is extremely limited.
There are fewer than 200 new registries for Shire horses that are made in the United States each year. From 1950-1959, there were only 25 horses registered in the US – and by 1985, the number was only 121. The UK Rare Breeds Survival Trust considers this breed to be at risk and estimates that the total global population is less than 1,500. There may be more unregistered Shire horses in isolated communities that still use the breed for farm work.
#11. Many Shire horses are finding themselves getting back to work.
Many small scale farms in the UK are once again looking to use the Shire horse for the work that needs to be done to reduce the impact they cause on the environment. Forestry management services are also using Shire horses more frequently because their hooves cause much less environmental damage than modern equipment.
#12. Shire horses command top pricing for recreational horses.
A purebred Shire horse may command a price that is upwards of $15,000. Stud fees for Shire stallions are commonly advertised for around $1,000. Even mixed Shire breeds are advertised for prices that hover around $10,000. Although not everyone can handle a tall horse, many are finding or rediscovering that owning a Shire can be a highly rewarding experience in many ways.
Shire horses have long been one of the tallest and most majestic horse breeds on the planet. Today there are several charities that work hard to save this breed for future generations. Knowing Shire horse facts like these is a great place to get started if you want to join the efforts to save this magnificent horse.