History & Characteristics Of Shire Horse Breeds – The Greatest British War Horse


Both in height and weight the Shire horse is the greatest of England’s agricultural horses and was used to a considerable extent in all large towns throughout the country. Its origin may be traced to a breed of heavy horse that was certainly in existence in Elizabethan times and was referred to by historians of those days as the Great Horse of England.

That a horse of bulk and great strength was required in those days is certain, when it is remembered that the war-horse was needed to carry men in armor weighing perhaps 30 stone. He had also to draw rough, heavy, springless carts over tracks, which is the best that can be said of the so-called roads of those days, or over country where roads did not exist. This, then, was the forebear of the Shire Horse, which some 250 years ago came to be known by that name.

In England, the horse is bred largely in the deep and heavy-soiled counties of Lincoln, Cambridge, and Huntingdon, where his enormous strength makes him popular as an agricultural horse. The best of the breed stands over 17 hands and is capable of pulling a net weight of 5 tons, and although perhaps the slowest worker of the heavy breeds, the Shire is a steady, level mover of great honesty.

Bays and browns are the predominating colors, while blacks and greys are less frequent, and all Shires have a considerable amount of white on the feet and legs.

In character, this great horse is of a docile nature, and at three years old it can be worked on the farms, soon becoming a commercial proposition. Representatives of the breed are to be found at most horse shows where agricultural classes are to be seen.

Description: Colour: predominating colors bays and browns, then blacks and greys. Height, 16.2 to 17.3 hands; average about 17 hands. Head leans in proportion to the body, neither too large nor too small. Forehead broad between the eyes. Nose: nostrils thin and wide, lips together and nose slightly roman. Ears, long, lean, sharp, and sensitive. Throat, clean-cut, and lean. Shoulders, deep and oblique and wide enough for the collar to rest on. Neck, fairly long, slightly arched, well set up to give the horse a commanding appearance.

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