The Shire Draft Horse: All You Need To Know About This Gentle Giant


During my research on the coldblooded horse, I came across a draft breed known as the Shire. This huge horse is known for its gentle temperament and pulling ability and is seen in nearly every country in the world. These huge horses caught my attention because of their huge size and mellow personalities. This popular breed originated in England and has since spread all over the globe.

What Is The Shire Draft Horse?

The Shire is a draft breed that originated in the country of England. These horses are known for their tremendous size, pulling ability, and gentle temperament. The Shire is a breed that is classified as coldblooded and has a heavy muscular build. These horses are huge both in height and body structure and usually stand above 17 hands high. White markings on the face and legs are common, the most common being blazes and stockings.

How Big Can Shires Be?

The Shire is classified as a draft breed so these horses are large not only in how tall they are, but in their build overall.

The Shire stands at over 17 hands high, and up to over 18 hands high in some cases. These draft horses are one of the largest breeds in the world so this height is huge as compared to your average warmblooded horse.

This breed is extremely heavy thanks to its height and heavy muscular build. On average, the Shire weighs around one ton (2,000 pounds)! This is almost two times as heavy as an average horse!

What Colors Can Shire Draft Horses Be?

Shire draft horse can only be seen as the four base coat colors horses come in. This means that the only colors Shires can be are:

  • Bay
  • Black
  • Gray
  • Chestnut

Black is one of the more rare colors seen in this breed with bay being the most common.

The History Of The Shire Draft Horse

The Shire draft horse originated in the Fen counties of the United Kingdom known as Derbyshire, Leicestershire, and Staffordshire. Because these counties all have the ending of ‘shire,’ this is where this breed got its name.

Shires can be traced back to the bloodlines of the English Great Horse who was popularly used in the Middle Ages. In the 1600s, more horses were added to this breed to further develop it. These breeds include the Friesian and the Flanders Horse. The Ancestors of the Shire were famously used as battle horses because of their great size and strength.

The breeding of the Great Horse, the Flanders Horse, and the Friesian led to the creation of a horse known as the English Black. This new horse breed was bigger than the Great Horse, had the physical features of the Flanders Horse, and had the all black coloring of the Friesian. It was through this breed that the Shire is descended.

The founding sire for the Shire breed was a horse known as Packington Blind Horse. It is believed that this horse was the sire for the first stallions of the official Shire studbook of 1878.

Later, in the year of 1884, the Shire Horse Society was formed and this horse became an officially recognized breed. It was from the founding of the Shire Horse Society to the start of the Second World War that Shire horses were registered. Every year, more and more Shire horses were registered, until World War Two broke out. Because of England’s focus on the second World War and the use of horses in the first World War, the breed’s numbers dropped drastically like many other breeds of horses.

With the invention of tractors and cars, the Shire wasn’t needed like it was before which also contributed to the fall of numbers. The breed did however make a comeback thanks to different breweries who breed these horses and use them in shows, parades, advertisements, and demonstrations.

Today, the Shire is still seen pulling plows and carriages as it did back then. Today, the Shire is used as a show horse and parade horse. They are even used as drum horses in Europe for royalty and ceremonies.

How To Identify The Shire

Eyes

The Shire has soft eyes that give an honest look to the horse. The kindness seen in them is reflected in their personality and temperament. The eyes also appear to be intelligent, also reflecting the horse’s mental capacity. The eyes of this breed are set wide apart because of the great size of this horse’s head.

Legs

The legs of a shire are thick, hard, and strong with lots of feathering which starts just below their knees. The legs of the Shire are commonly seen to have white markings, the most common being stockings, or knee-length markings.

Head

The Shire has a long and large head that is more Roman in profile than other breeds. The most common facial marking seen on the head of this horse is a blaze.

Build

Because the Shire is a draft breed, these horses are built strong and heavy. The reason for this is the fact that this horse was bred to do hard labor. Heavy, strong limbs and a thick, wide barrel contribute to the horse’s heavier build.

Ears

In relation to their size, the ears of a Shire are relatively small. They are neat and pricked as well.

Neck

The neck of a Shire is thick and strong. It is also set nicely on their shoulders and has a well rounded arch and upright position. This gives this breed a powerful and elegant look.

Shoulder

The shoulders of this draft breed are well sloped and strong. They are heavy with muscle as this horse needs them to successfully do its job of pulling heavy carts, logs, and other things.

Hindquarters

The hindquarters of the Shire are huge and string. They are also well rounded are are met with a high-set tail. The Hindquarters are so thick and strong because the breed needs them to better pull and work efficiently.

Color

Unlike the Clydesdale, the Shire can come in four colors. These colors are gray, bay, black, and chestnut. Though the Clydesdale and the Shire may look similar in appearance, they can be told apart by the color of their coat.

Height

Sometimes, these horses can reach up to 18 hands high or higher in height. This is unique to the breed as not many other breeds can stand this high.

What Is The Shire Used For & Good At?

Pulling

Pulling is the most commonly seen task that the Shire will do. This is because this is what the breed was bred for and intended to be used for. Shires can pull carts, wagons, carriages, coaches, logs, plows, and more. These horses are incredibly strong and were built for the hard work of pulling.

Riding

Because pulling isn’t as commonly seen anymore, the Shire has begun to be used under saddle. The most common riding style that Shires are used for is English riding, though some are seen being ridden in the western style. Though this is growing in popularity for the use of this breed, pulling is still the Shire’s specialty.

How Long Do Shire Draft Horses Live?

Despite the breed’s huge size, the Shire is actually one of the longest lived draft breeds on earth. The average lifespan for this breed is 28 years though sometimes these horses, if well taken care of and in good health, can live into their thirties.

Fun Facts On Shire Draft Horses

  • If it wasn’t for breweries, this breed could have gone extinct
  • Despite their size, this breed is known for their gentle temperaments and personalities
  • The Shire is known to be able to pull up to 45 tons of weight! That’s equivalent to 90,000 pounds!
  • This breed is extremely rare and there are only believed to be around 3,000 left on earth. Some researchers believe the breed could be extinct in the next 10 years
  • Shires can cost up to $20,000 (USD) because of how rare and desirable they are

Hailey Johnson

Horses have been my passion ever since I can remember. At school, I was known as that weird horse girl, and I would read horse encyclopedias for fun. Over the years since those days, I have only learned more. My experiences with horses of a variety of breeds have taught me a lot. Now I want to share what I know with you!

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