Getting to Know the Shire Horse Breed

Shires are magnificent draft horses, usully marked with four white socks and a blaze.

Famous for its massive size and its gentle disposition, the Shire horse breed is a type of draft horse that descends from the Old English Black horses (Destriers) of medieval times. Despite their popularity during the days before machines replaced horses, Shires are fairly rare today, with the US-based American Livestock Breeds Conservancy and UK-based Rare Breeds Survival Trust placing them at critical levels. As interest in draft horses for pleasure riding and driving increases though, numbers are likely to go up – and that’s a great thing! Shires are wonderful horses.

Shire Horse Breed Characteristics

Looks may not be everything, but Shires definitely have them! These magnificent drafts are usually solid black, bay, chestnut, sorrel or gray. Dark-colored Shires typically have four white socks and a blaze. Other white markings are rarely seen.

Shires are among the largest horse breeds, with mares standing at least 16 hands, geldings at least 16.2 hands, and stallions at least 17 hands. Some individuals are 18 to 19 hands, and all are broad and muscular. The Shire horse breed on average features a long, lean head with wide, intelligent eyes, a slightly arched neck, and deep shoulders. A wide chest and short, muscular back offset long, wide hindquarters. The legs are proportionate to the body, with light feathering.

When it comes to strength, trust a Shire horse to have it! These drafts have incredible pulling capacity and are often seen at exhibitions.

Not surprisingly, the largest horse in recorded history was a Shire named Mammoth. Born in 1848, Mammoth grew to a height of 21.2 hands and weighed in at about 3,300 pounds. Goliath, a 19-hand Shire born in 2001, held the Guinness Book of World Records place as the world’s tallest living horse until his passing in 2001.

Shire Horse Breed Temperament

Like many draft breeds, Shires are typically calm, patient, and easygoing. When you meet a Shire, you’ll probably find that he is quite people-oriented, and if you ever ride one of these massive beauties, you’ll discover that the same steadiness and calm nature applies. As horse breeds go, Shires are among the most docile. If you’re looking for a large horse that is also kind and gentle, consider a Shire!

Shire Horse Breed Uses

Shires were developed to pull heavy loads, and were very popular with British breweries, who depended on their strength and steady nature to get costly barrels of ale to consumers safely. They were also used as coach horses, and were very popular for agricultural use. Today, many Shires continue to pull farm implements on non-mechanized farms, and they are also used by carriage companies.

Despite a strong and well-earned reputation as a pulling horse, the Shire breed excels under saddle. Willing, gentle, and with an excellent work ethic, these horses are beautiful movers, and once trained, are well-suited to almost all riders. They are very popular with stables offering riding lessons to beginners, and their kind, gentle nature makes them a good choice for therapeutic riding. For a large or tall person, a Shire has the ability to offer a smooth, effortless ride. The breed has become popular for use in Dressage, and Shire-cross warmbloods make excellent jumpers and eventers.