The largest breed of draft horse in the world is the English
Shire Horse, which originated in the central shires of England.
Members of this breed have been recorded up to 23 hands high
or 7.5 feet tall measured at the withers and weighing nearly
3 tons. The Shire has been known by many names, such as the
Great Horse, Giant Horse of Lincolnshire, English Cart Horse,
War Horse and Large Black English Horse.
The origin of the Shire breed is lost in the mists of antiquity,
which is true for many breeds, but it is believed that it
is a descendant of the Old English Black Horse whose ancestors
were considered the 'great horses' during medieval times.
During the period between the reign of Henry II in 1154 and
that of Elizabeth in 1558, the British government was constantly
seeking to increase the size and number of horses called the
Great Horse because the weight of a horse soldier in armor
was nearly 400 pounds. During the reign of King John, from
1199 to 1216, one hundred stallions of large stature were
imported from Flanders, Holland, and it is from the blending
of these animals with the English breeds some 800 years ago,
that some strains of England's heavy horses trace back to.
But the Shire Horse's history in England is not that simple.
A direct ancestry could not be determined until the mid to
late 18th century and up to that point it is still sketchy.
The earliest suggested ancestor was the English War Horse
that was used for jousting and cavalry purposes, but although
these horses had size they did not have the traditional characteristics
of the Shire today. With the invention of gun powder, the
War Horse was not as valuable to the army and the cavalry
wanted smaller, faster horses to ride, so the Great Horse
was now turned out to pasture and to work on the farms. Horses
declined in numbers during this time, but farmers were still
breeding the remaining animals for size. Many believe this
is where the Shire was really bred from: the horses of the
Flanders and the smaller black Friesians.
Eventually there was a need to organize the breed as its
own, so in 1878 the English Cart Horse Society was formed.
But it was not until 1880 that the first copy of the stud
book was actually published with 376 entries. The Society
changed its name to the Shire Horse Society (SHA) in 1884.
The first Shire Horse Show was held in 1890 and the breed's
popularity soared. By 1905 there were 3781 entries in the
The Shire started out in Canada and the United States at
roughly the same time. The new found popularity for the Shire
was not only in England, but had spread to America. There
had been importing of Shires since the mid to late 1800's.
The information before 1850 is sketchy, but there was a stallion
named Tamworth described as a Shire that was brought to Canada
by British troops in 1836.
The creation and promotion of the English Shire registry
in the U.S. was partly due to Americans wanting registered
stock, and of course, they wanted to continue with keeping
records once the horses arrived on American soil, as well
as having the desire to improve the quality of the breed.
Since it was in the best interest of the SHA to insure a quality
animal in the U.S. in order to continue their exports and
fill an ever increasing demand, the British contributed funds
to help organize the registry in the U.S. and in 1885, the
American Shire Horse Association (ASHA) was incorporated.
Therefore, there have been close ties and good relations between
the Shire Horse Society in Britain and the American Shire
Horse Association, much more so than with the other draft
breed associations. However, in the late 1900's, with limited
knowledge and a spirit of independence, some of the American
breeders appeared to resent those ties, so a continued effort
for unity has been an ongoing topic of concern by the leadership
of both associations.
Between 1900 and 1918 almost four thousand Shire Horses were
imported to the United States, but when horses were replaced
by cars, this led to a decline in demand for draft horses
and then following World War II, this ancient horse was almost
lost when the invention of the modern farm tractor nearly
made the breed extinct. The low point came in 1950's. The
1960's saw a resurgence in the draft horse business as Americans
rediscovered its usefulness. The Shire breed became so popular
that in 1971 the National Brewing Company of Baltimore assembled
an eight horse hitch of Shires for publicity purposes and
traveled to two hundred and seventy three parades between
1971 and 1973 promoting the company and the breed.
The Shire Horse is an animal of enormous size, standing from
16.2 and up to 19 hands or more, with 17.1 being average for
the breed. The tallest horse on record is a Shire that stands
approximately 23 hands at 4 years old, and he's still growing.
This behemoth weighs nearly 3000 pounds, but the average Shire
horse tips the scale at a mere 2200 pounds, with mares and
geldings being slightly less massive. The traditional Shire
Horse today can be black, bay, brown, or grey in color. Any
horse that is roan, chestnut or splashed with white is not
considered to be a true Shire Horse.
The head of the Shire Horse is long, lean and masculine,
neither too large nor too small with the nose being slightly
Roman. It has a long, slightly arched neck with a good crest
that is in proportion to the body and that gives the horse
a commanding appearance. Geldings tend to have a thicker,
masculine neck. The eyes are relatively large, wide set and
alert, with the ears being long, lean, sharp and sensitive.
Shoulder should be deep, oblique, and wide enough to support
a harness collar with the horse also being wide across the
chest. The Shire Horse's back is short, strong and muscular
and should not be either dipped or roached and the body has
a substantial barrel. The tail should be set well up and both
head and tail should be carried erect. The legs are long and
the abundant feathering should be fine, straight and silky.
Mares may be slightly smaller with a feminine, matronly appearance
and should have plenty of room to carry a foal.
When in motion, the Shire should move with force, using both
knees and hocks, with the latter being kept close together.
A 1 ton Shire is capable of moving a 5 ton load, yet it is
one of the gentlest of horses.
Today the Shire horse is flourishing all over the world.
There are approximately 3000 Shires in England and 1000 in
the U.S. with the Canadian population at 130 horses and the
popularity of the Shire has begun to grow again. The Shire
is still one of the major breeds in Great Britain and will
probably remain so for many years.
Author Resource:-> Crystal is a writer for http://www.HorseClicks.com,
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