The Shire Horse

The Shire Horse


The Shire horse is descended from a horse of the medieval period called the Great Horse, which was later
renamed as the English Black. The Great Horse was created by crossing imported Flanders and Friesian horses
with the native stock to produce a military mount and a farm and general draught horse.

The creating of these horses is attributed to Oliver Cromwell and the term ‘blacks’ was probably used to
describe the imported Friesians, which only come in the colour black. The main breeding grounds of the
English Black were the Fen country and the Midland shires of Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Derbyshire
and Staffordshire.

It was from all the ‘shires’ that the breed eventually took its name. In the early days of the Shires’
breeding, the horses showed regional differences. The horses bred in the Fens tended to be bigger, heavier
and rougher than the horses that came from all the ‘shires’. Even among the ‘shire’ horses, there were
differences. The ones from Derbyshire and Leicestershire were mainly black, while the horses from Staffordshire
were generally brown.

Only in the late ninetieth century did the breeding of the Shires become formalized, following the
publication of the first stud book. In 1878 a breed society called the Old English Carthorse Society was
set up. Its name was changed in 1884 to the Shire Horse Society. From then on, the horse was known as the

After the breed society, the Shire just went from strength to strength, competing in the leading
agricultural shows of the time and attracting a huge amount of attention from foreign buyers. Soon, Shires
were being exported as far away as North America, South America, Russia and Australia. They also
became a vital part of everyday life in Great Britain.

The Shire horse has the great qualities of strength, stamina, soundness and amazing temperament. They are
gentle giants and can be seen ploughing the land, hauling timber and pulling things such as farm wagons,
railway vans, brewers’ drays and coal carts.

Although, like with all breeds, mechanization took its usual toll, a Shire ‘revival’ began in the 1960s
and you can still see them working on farms, at shows and pulling brewers’ drays in cities. Shire horses
stand at about 16.2 to 17.2 hands if they are a stallion and 16 to 17 hands if they are a mare. They come
in the colours of black, brown, bay and grey.

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