10 Fascinating Things You Probably Didn’t Know About The Shire Horse

The majestic Shire horse is famous for its extreme strength and imposing height. In fact, it holds records for one of the strongest and largest horse in the world according to various books on horse breeds. But there’s a lot more to this horse than what most people know.

Check out some of these fascinating facts about the Shire below:

1. The Shire Was The Staple Breed Used To Deliver Ale From Breweries To Public Houses

shire horse worked in breweries

The Shire was extensively used to pull carts to deliver ale from breweries to public houses. Before the First World War, these glorious horses were commonly used as farm horses to pull wagons and work on farms.

When coal was the major source of light and heat, the Shire was employed to haul enormous loads of coal over the rough terrains. Today, they are still popular for pulling sightseeing wagons, and modern-day brewers still use them for making deliveries.

2. The Shire Is One Of The Tallest Horse Breeds

shire horse is tallest horse breed

Standing at about 17 hands high, the Shire is believed to be one of the tallest horse breeds in the world. The standard requirement for a Shire should be at least 16.2 hands high, and stallions can go up to 17.2 hands high.

Before he met his death, a Shire named Goliath was the world’s tallest horse in the Guinness Book of World Records. He stood at a whopping 19 hands high.

Similarly, the world’s largest horse was a Shire named Mammoth, who stood at 21.25 hands high and weighed over 3300 pounds.

3. The Shire Horse Can Pull Up To 45 Tons Of Weight

In 1924, during an England exhibition, it was found that the Shire was able to pull a load of over 45 tons. No one knows for sure how much weight was pulled because the horses exceeded the maximum reading on the scale.

In slippery ground, this same pair of horses was able to pull a load of more than 16.5 tones without any difficulties.

4. Despite Their Size, Shire Horses Are Very Docile

In spite of their imposing height, Shire horses are perfectly calm and docile, which is a trait typical for most cold blooded horses (e.g. Ardennes horse that I wrote about here).

They are known for being laid-back, easy to train and therefore a great breed for beginners. Shying, spooking and rearing are uncommon behaviors of a Shire horse.

Generally, they aim to please and don’t mind kids, dogs or even loud noises. This calm temperament is often attributed to the fact that they were originally used as war horses, a job that required them to remain calm in chaotic situations.

5. There Are Less Than 1500 Shire Horses In The World Today

In the era before machines became the workhorse of agriculture, the Shire was well known for its immense pulling strength. Now that horses are no longer needed to pull drafts, the Shire has joined the list of endangered horse breeds in the UK, US and Canada.

Today, it is estimated that there are less than 1500 Shires globally, and the breed is one of the endangered species of animals in the world.

6. If You’re Looking for A Working Horse, Look No Further Than The Sheer Horse

shire horse is working hard

It is hard to beat the sheer strength and work ethic of a Sheer horse. He learns very fast and wants to please at all costs. This docile draft horse, suited to ploughing and pulling, is so easy to train as a riding horse. Well conditioned, he can work for long hours in the fields or on the road.

7. Shire Horses Command Top Dollar As Recreational Horses

shire horse is expensive

A pure Shire horse may command up to $15,000. Stud fees for Shire stallions are usually advertised for over $1,000. Even mixed Shire breeds command prices upwards of $10,000.

Although not many people can handle a horse as tall as the Shire, most people find that owning a Shire can be one of the most rewarding experiences ever, especially for heavy riders!

8. The Shire Horse Requires Extra Grooming

The beautiful feathering on the shire’s ankles requires proper brushing and regular grooming. The main reason for this is to avoid a notorious bacterial infection commonly known as mud fever or dew poisoning.

It causes painful, crusty scabbing on the horse’s ankle area. The best way to avoid this common infection is to keep your Shire dry and promptly treat any signs of infections with antibiotics.

9. Their Name Is A Reflection Of Where They Originated From

shire horse origin

The name Shire is a reflection of where this breed came from – right from the rural shires of England in locations like Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire.

10. Shire Horses Come In A Variety Of Colors

shire horse color

Shires come in many different colors including gray, bay, black and chestnut. The UK breed does not however allow for chestnut colors.

Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions
1. Is The Shire Horse Good For Riding?

Despite their massive size, a Shire horse makes a good riding horse (provided you can mount that it!) They are docile and calm, with a set of rolling gaits that makes them ideal for all levels of riding ability.

2. Is A Shire Horse Bigger Than A Clydesdale?

Although they look very similar physically, a Shire horse is generally slightly bigger than its Clydesdale cousin. Both stand between 16 and 18 hands high, but the Shire tends to be heavier, broader and stockier.

3. Is A Shire Horse A Rare Breed?

Although they are instantly recognizable, the Shire horse is actually considered a rare breed, with an estimate of less than 2,000 individuals worldwide. They were more common before the advent of modern farm machinery, when they would have been commonly used for heavy work around farms.

4. What Breeds Make A Shire Horse?

It is widely believed that Shire horses are descended from the English Great Horse, popularized during the reign of Henry the 8th, and crossed with with Friesian horses from Holland around the 16th century.

5. How Much Do Shire Horses Cost?

As with all horses, the price will vary depending on the horse itself, its experience and its breeding. A well bred Shire can cost anywhere up to $20,000, but can be as low as $2,000. A Shire cross will generally be less pricey than a full bred Shire.

7 thoughts on “10 Fascinating Things You Probably Didn’t Know About The Shire Horse”

  1. I’m riding a Shire for a dear friend of mine. He is without doubt the largest horse that I have ever sat on (18.2hh) but the gentlest kindest most special darling I have ever worked with. Normally thoroughbreds and warmbloods are what I have ridden. But King Arthur is the absolute best

    • Thanks Tracy, and I agree with you – Shire horses are, to me and to many in the equine world, very special animals. -Nicky

  2. Lovely to find out more about shire horses.
    I have just bought a 17.2 shire cross and he is everything it says about shires even though he is a cross breed

  3. Facts are wrong.

    There is 1500+ shires in the states alone. Tallest horse is an old 1930-1940’s comment, not true today. Pricing is off, most on the high end sell for $8500.

  4. Hello, i will like to make an oil painting of a shire horse, they are just wonderfull!! i would like to know if it would be possible using one of yours images for that purpose. Thank you


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