The Shire Draft horse is a massive and beautiful horse with an impressive stature. While the history of the Shire Draft horse is a bit ambiguous, it undoubtedly has a deep-rooted history.
The origin of the Shire Draft horse is believed to have come from The Great Horse and is thought to be its most unadulterated survivor. Historical records reflect that during King John’s Reign (1199-1216), a herd of about 100 stallions were brought to England from Flanders, Holland. These stallions were black with white marks on their faces and white feet nearly to the hocks. These stallions bred with a type of then common English mares and their offspring became known as “The Great Horse.”
The proliferation of large horse breeding continued with King Henry VIII. During Henry the VII’s reign (1509-1547) there is evidence of arbitrary orders restricting the breeding of smaller horses and encouraging the large pedigree. The Shire was developed in the English countryside specifically: Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Staffordshire. It is thought that King Henry VIII first named this breed in reference to Staffordshire.
Large horses were in demand and it is in the English countryside where the Shire found great utility. In times of war, large horses were required to carry heavy equipment and the knights’ attire. In addition, the Shire was instrumental in transportation of goods in the developing English countryside, carrying large loads long distances.
The Shire was also particularly used as a draught horse. The strong and massive Shire was able to navigate the shoddy and developing English infrastructure with its extreme pulling strength. The Shire was amenable to varied weather conditions also, making it a desirable and instrumental tool in that more rural agrarian time.
The pedigree of the Shire Draft horse can be traced to 1760. The original stallion is documented as the Packington Blind Horse (1755-1770). However, the first stud book for the Shire did not exist until 1878. In 1884 the first formal organization, The Shire Horse Society, was formed. It was also in the 1800’s that the Shire was first introduced to the United States where it was used similarly.
The demand for the Shire horse has waned since World War II especially with the advent of the Industrial Revolution. Before this time the Shire was in highly prized because of its massive capabilities particular to agricultural and industrial requirements.
By the 1960’s only a few thousand Shires remained. A small group of British breeders set about to rectify that situation. As a result, the Shires’ numbers have risen significantly. The Shire Horse Society in England hosts an annual spring show at the East of England Showground, bringing together the largest gathering of Shires in Great Britain.
Considered the “gentle giant,” the Shire is known to have an affectionate manner. Recently, there has been an increase in Shire registration. It is speculated that this is due to media representation of the Shire’s draught horse past in beer industry’s promotional campaigns. These cold bloods are used for driving, jumping, dressage and trail riding due to their trainability and calm demeanor. They can cost between $2500.00 (US) and $20,000.00 (US).
Similar in appearance to the Clydesdale, the Shire Draft horse traditionally is black, brown, bay, grey, roan, or chestnut. Any extreme white markings or roan is considered objectionable in competition. The feathering around the lower leg and hooves should be fine and silky.
Considered the tallest breed of horse today, the Shire mares stand at a minimum of 16 hands high and the stallion is at least 17 hands with an average being 17.2 hands. The ribs are hefty and cavernous and should never be flat. The back is squat, sturdy, and brawny and should not hollow or roach.
The shoulders are deep, sloping, and wide to support its enormous collar and chest. The chest is wide with stout legs directly following. The throat is lean and muscular with an extended and slightly curved neck. A proud head, neither large nor small, gives the air of confidence and a statuesque appearance.
The head is elongated and slender. The Shire has soft, large eyes that are set wide. The nostrils are trim, wide, and expressive. The ears are trim and alert.
The girth of the Shire is profound and in proportion to the whole body. The hindquarters are elongated and muscular for power. The hind legs are deeply marked with the hindquarters, and are well-developed, firm, and clean. The hooves are wide with exposed coronets.