History & Characteristics
of the Shire Horse
We should never forget the role that the
Shire has played for hundreds of years world
wide. First it was used as a war horse carrying knights in armour
and then it was the main
source of power in agriculture for 250 years.
Again it became a war horse in the 1st & 2nd world wars pulling
the heavy artillery in appalling conditions.
The Shire Horse nearly became extinct after the
2nd World War and it is only through the dedication
of breeders that has prevented it from disappearing from our countryside
The origin of the Shire Horse dates back to a
cold blooded heavy horse first mentioned in around
1066 probably brought into England after the
Norman Conquest. From this developed the "English
Great Horse" of the Middle Ages who was essential to carrying
knights in full armour.
During the reign of Henry VIII, from 1509 to
1547, special attention was directed to the raising
and breeding of strong horses, and several laws
were passed with that in mind. Acts
were passed in 1535 and 1541 forbidding the use
for breeding of horses under 15 hands in height,
also prohibiting all exportation, even into
It is from this heritage as a War Horse that
the Shire Horse of today was originally bred.
Both in commerce and agriculture Shire horses
literally made the wheels of Britain's industry
go round. They worked in fields, in towns, on
docks and quays, on canal towpaths, for mills
and railways. There were millions of them. There
was a huge demand, for many, many years, for
massive horses with great muscular strength
and an even temperament and the breeders applied
their skills in developing these important traits.
The Shire again played an important part in the
1st & 2nd World Wars pulling the heavy artillery After the 2nd
world War with the improvement in mechanism the
Shire was no longer needed in either industry or agriculture and in
the 1950's was nearly
doomed to extinction.
Numbers of horses (including Shires) used for
agriculture including mares for breeding fell
dramatically from 550,000 in 1939 to only 5000
on 1972. The subsequent revival of the Shire
owes much to a few determined breeders & exhibitors and Breweries
using them for short haul work and promotions
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