Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Shire Horse

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.

Shires pulling a brewery cart
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!)

Status : At Risk by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust
Location : Originated in England
Size : Shoulder Height around 17 hands (1.75m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Perissodactyla
Family : Equidae -- Genus : Equus -- Species : E. ferus -- Subspecies : E. f. caballus


  1. One of my most favourite animals, gentle giants. Diane

  2. I have always thought the strength of the larger breeds of horses to be much more attractive than the finer boned horses.

  3. They've long been one of my favorites as well. They're just so majestic looking.

  4. Had a shire horse with founder (inflammation of the hooves) in the horse hospital when I was a vet student, and treatment included walking him every half hour. Of course this was quite painful and horse didn't want to do it. Being a gentle giant, he finally told me he had enough walking by jerking me off my feet and carrying me, still hanging onto his halter, through the entire barn back to his stall...I thought my equine professor would die laughing at me.


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