The Shire Horse - Horse breeds, horse breeding and types of horse.   
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Champion Stallion Toc Hill Sir Alfred owned by J. R. Richardson, S. Yorkshire, UK
 The Shire Horse

The Shire Horse is the most numerous and largest of the heavy horses found in Great Britain. The recognised colours in the breed are black, bay, brown and grey. The height of the stallions should be 17.2 hands at maturity with mares a hand smaller. However, many of the leading prizewinners are up to and over 18.00 hands. The characteristic of the Shire is the nice silky feather on the legs, obtained from crossing with Clydesdales in the early 50's to alleviate the grease problems in the older type Shire. More recently the market pressures are wanting white legs to make the best use of the action and presence of the breed in the show ring, particularly in turnout classes.

The history of the breed goes back to the medieval "Great Horse" used in time of war to carry knights in armour weighing up to 400lbs. In the 1800's the horse was to become the main power in agriculture and commerce particularly the docks and railways. For this they required massive horses with great muscular strength. In 1878 a selection of the best types of heavy horse was made from the old English carthorse and the Shire Horse Society was formed. The marshy fen counties of Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire laid claim to having exerted the earliest beneficial influence upon the breed and it was from these counties that sales were first made for the improvement of the draft horse all over England. Leicestershire, Staffordshire and Derbyshire were the first to benefit from these counties and thus the Shire slowly spread over virtually the whole of England.

 The horse and the Society continued to prosper up to the late 1930's when the tractor appeared on the farms. In the late 1950's and 1960's the level of registrations dropped to 80 a year and with only 16 stallions being used. The breed was in danger of being lost but due to the dedication of a few breeders, the threat was overcome and the breed prospered again. By the 1980's over 400 registrations were taking place annually and up to 100 stallions in use horse
Champion Mare Archid Rosemarie owned by A. Bull, Cheshire, UK
One of the reasons for this upsurge of interest was the introduction of stallion premiums, which are awarded at the annual breed show in March each year from monies given to the Society from the Horse Race Betting Levy Board. To this day over £35,000 a year is received. The other reason is the increase in markets particularly abroad. In recent years over 100 Shires per year are exported to all parts of the world. Active Societies have been formed in Germany, France, Holland, Canada, and the USA. The Society have taken horses and promoted the breed at shows on the continent and North America. As a result of which new markets have been found. These markets continue to prosper, with horses being exported to Sweden, Belgium, Holland, Germany and America.

To help breeders in far flung areas such as Australia, frozen semen has been used for AI with successful results.

This article and photographs were kindly provided by the Shire Horse Society
The Shire Horse Society  The membership of the Society stands at about 3,000 of which 1,000 are actively involved with horses. Supporting the Society are some 4 Local Societies. The Society organises an annual breed show in mid March at the East of England Showground, Peterbrough, where 250 horses may be seen both in-hand, pulling turnouts and in farriery competitions.

Further details on the breed, show, and membership from the Shire Horse Society, East of England Showground, Peterbrough, PE2 6XE Tel 01733 234451 - John Ward

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