The origins of the Shire Horse are shrouded in the mists of England, tracing its roots to large horses brought to England after the Norman Conquest. During the Middle Ages England was in need of strong horses to carry knights into battle. To gain an advantage over other armies, laws were passed forbidding the breeding of smaller horses and prohibiting the exportation of large horses outside the country. The English created a large horse that could carry the weight of a knight and armor while remaining calm in the face of combat. When lighter cavalry became the norm these giants continued to play valuable roles on the battlefield by moving the heavy war equipment and supplies needed by the armies.
Decorated Harness Class in England
The English recognized the value of such a strong, durable and calm steed. The horse then known as the “English Black” became invaluable to the economic development of England in the 16th and 17th Centuries. Great teams of these horses were the best mode of transportation in the country and moved products, people and equipment throughout England. Their size and strength made them invaluable work partners in one of the greatest civil engineering projects in history – the draining of the Fens – turning these marshlands into arable farmland to support England’s growing population.
The versatility of a ShirePaint QH X is demonstrated here doing Barrels
These horses remained in the Fens. Sales of these horses became popular in Leicestershire, Staffordshire and Derbyshire and so from the Shires of England developed the Shire Horse. Shire Horses continued to serve man through the agricultural era, working in fields, towns, on docks and quays, canal towpaths, and for the mills and railways. Exports to Scotland led to the development of the Clydesdale horse. They were imported to the United States and helped drive the development of this continent as well.
Shires loving to work smartly
After the industrial revolution, the mechanization of agriculture and the development of the internal combustion engine, there was no longer a need for large work animals to drive the economy. The Shire Horse reached the point of extinction in the 1950’s and 60’s and it was only through the dedication of a few breeders that it was not lost forever.
Shire Stallions at a Regional ASHA show
Shire mares at a Regional ASHA show
The Shire Horse is a rare breed, with only approximately 5,000 animals in the worldwide population. It is on the “critical” list of the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy and is considered “at risk” by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust in Great Britain.
Shire foal resting