A draft horse breed, the Shire horse was developed by horse breeders in the English countryside, as they needed tall and strong horses. Today, they are typically used for forestry work, driving, and even riding. This mystical breed holds world records for being the tallest horse breed in the world.
Shires had a peak population in the 19th century—at one time, there were millions of Shires around, notably in England and the United States. They were very helpful in pulling heavy loads, but as the use of machinery increased, the demand for Shires decreased. Many were slaughtered, and their breeding was slowed down. In the 1960s, only a few thousand of this mystical breed were left. In the 1970s, campaigns were organized to save this endangered breed.
There’s a lot more to know about this horse that most people don’t know. Let’s get to the details!
It was assumed that this breed is originated in Lincolnshire and Cambridge Shire, but like other old breeds, its exact foundations are still a mystery. It is believed that, like all other big horses, this breed is also descended from the English Great Horse, which was used to carry knights on the battlefield.
Later in the 18th century, the need for warhorses and destriers declined, as the cavalries turned to lighter mounts and also because of the invention of gunpowder. As their use in war subsided, they were utilized in agriculture, as they were—and are—capable of pulling heavy loads. This led to the up-gradation of the Shire horses into draught and farm animals, becoming the British farmers’ favorite plow horses.
From Great Britain, Shires were taken to other countries, notably the United States, Canada, and Australia. But as agriculture became more sophisticated and machine-oriented, their demand took a nosedive. Their breeding either stopped or happened at a very slow pace—they are now on the list of endangered breeds in the U.S., U.K., and Canada.
Shire Horse Size
Since Shires are famous for their power and size, you must be wondering what their size and weight would be! Let’s find out!
Shire Horse Height
Shire horses are one of the largest horses around the globe. Their stallions are generally taller than mares. The average height of a grown stallion is 17.2 hands (5 ft. 7 inches), with a minimum of 17 hands (5 ft. 6 inches).
The geldings should stand at least 16.2 hands (5 ft. 4 inches). The mare’s height should not be less than 16 hands (5 ft. 3 inches).
Shire Horse Weight
Shires are popular for their incredible strength and huge size. On average, they weigh between 1800 to 2400 pounds, approximately 850 to 1100 kg. As they are known for pulling heavy items, they’ve made several records for being the strongest horse breed. 1924, at a British exhibition, a pair of Shire stallions made a world record of pulling a load equal to 50 tonnes—around 110,231 pounds.
Shire Horse Girth
The girth of a Shire stallion can reach 8 feet because of the wide chest with long and sweeping hindquarters.
Biggest Shire Horse Ever
Sampson was the biggest Shire ever recorded in 1846 in England. His withers height was 21.25 hands. This means that he stood up for more than 7 feet which is truly an astounding feat. Sampson was not just the tallest Shire but also the bulkiest Shire ever existed. He weighed 3,360 pounds (1,524 kg).
Sampson was later named “Mammoth” at the age of 4 years old.
Not just Sampson but another Shire named Goliath was the tallest horse in Great Britain of his time, measuring over 19.1 hands (6 ft. 4 inches) high.
Are Shires Taller than Clydesdales?
Yes, Shires are taller than Clydesdales and heavier as well. A Shire stallion normally stands more than 17.2 hands, but a Clydesdales usually measures under 17 hands. You may see some Clydesdales bigger than Shires, but usually, Shires are bigger than their Clydesdale counterparts.
Shire Horse Features
Shire horses are one of the prettiest and most charismatic animals around the globe. They are not just popular for their size but also their impressive looks. Below are some of the features that make them look royal.
- Shire horses have large and bright eyes.
- They often exhibit a slightly roman nose.
- Their head is long and lean.
- They are muscular with wide and deep shoulders.
- The long and arched neck compliments their body.
- Their back is short but strong and not be dipped.
- While traveling, Shire keeps its head and tail erect.
- Their massive hindquarters are loaded with muscles that well let down towards the thighs.
- These horses have enormous hooves, and their ankles are wider than other breeds.
- Fine, silky white feathering enhances the beauty of their lower legs.
Shire Horse Colors and Markings
Shires horses are typically black, bay, brown, or grey. Roan is acceptable in mares and geldings only. Chestnut or sorrel can also be seen in Shires, but they are extremely rare.
White markings on the face and legs are common in Shires, but extra white markings are unwanted in the breed.
Shire Horse Temperament
Shires are well known for their good temperament, patience, and relaxed and calm nature. They aren’t skittish and are comfortable around other animals, kids, cars, and loud noises. Despite being huge, Shires are easy to tame because of their obedience.
They offer respect before receiving it; otherwise, it would be arduous to handle them. This breed owns an ability to deal with situations that would cause a meltdown in less calm breeds. They are also referred to as “gentle giants” by many, but they also have certain limits.
Shires have a desire to understand why a particular direction is issued to them, what are they doing, and why. They do trust their owners and handlers, but you may see a stubborn Shire when they find it hard to understand his owners’ directions.
Shire Horse Food
Shire horses can eat any food that other horses eat. But the most tempting food for Shires is oats, pellets, carrots, and apples. Furthermore, hay can also be a good addition to a Shire’s diet, but its quality should never be compromised as it can cause several health issues for horses.
It is a common presumption that grass is the best food for horses. It is, no doubt, a good—and can be a sole— source of nutrition for horses, but it should be fresh and alive. Fresh grass can provide a great part of nutrition only in spring and summer. On the other hand, dried grass should better be avoided because Shires can get colic after eating it.
Shire Horse Price
Shire horses’ average price ranges from $2,000 to $15,000, but some top-rated stallions and shows horses can cost upwards of $20,000. There are a few factors that can play a vital role in setting the price. Let’s have a look at them!
Like all animals, bloodlines are the most important aspect that determines a horse’s capabilities and temperament—and thus its price. Horse owners tend to seek Shires with champion pedigrees. The concept behind carefully choosing the bloodline is that the horse will be as successful as its parents. Breeders ensure that they do enough research on the bloodlines to breed a high-quality Shire because the higher the bloodline, the higher will be the price tag.
Considered one of the strongest horse breeds, Shires compete in many competitions, such as pulling contests, driving, and riding contests. Because of the demand to compete, Shires require training by professionals multiple times a week to keep them in shape. This professional training is expensive for the owners. This means a horse that is in show training will cost more as compared to one that only gets ridden or driven a few times a month.
As mentioned earlier, Shires take part in many competitions, and their tall, muscular builds and elegant feathering on legs make them stand out in a crowd of horses. The Shire with a show-winning streak can easily cost more than $15,000.
Shires that fall within the color standards are sold for more than many. Excessive white markings are undesirable among the buyers of Shire; such markings can reduce the price to its minimum.
The prime age of a Shire is when it is between 5 to 14 years old. At these ages, horses are their most fit for riding and driving. Horses in their late teens or early 20s will typically sell for significantly less.
Shire Horse Lifespan
Shires are a long-living breed, making them a valuable asset for their owners. These equine lives a full life for about 25 to 30 years, but with proper care, they can live well beyond their 30s. Old Billy, a Shire stallion, lived for 62 years (1760 – 1822)
They are usually powerful and healthy but keeping a check with the vet is still a necessity.
Shires are a well-mannered and docile horse breed. When it comes to choosing a Shire horse, it’s a wise decision for everyone because of its distinctive features are calm behavior. You can have them as your help on farms, or you can just keep them as pets. They can become your best friends if tamed well.