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Shire Horse Breed: A Workhorse Favored By Royalty!

shire horse

Shire Horses are a British heavy draft breed capable of pulling immense amounts of weight. They have been used in England for over 300 years as workhorses, and their ancestors have been a royal favorite since the sixteenth century. The Shire Horse breed is regal and versatile, and this guide will teach you everything you need to know about these stunning steeds.



Shire Horse Characteristics

The Shire is a cold-blooded horse like the Icelandic horse or Clydesdale. Shires share many characteristics with Clydesdales, possessing large and muscled bodies. This is due to early crossbreeding between the first Shire Horses and Clydesdales. The Shire’s head is long and its neck is moderately arched.


Shires have large eyes, deep shoulders, and a wide chest. Their back is short and their hindquarters are long. A Shire Horse does not generally have much feathering on its lower legs, though some can occasionally be seen.


Shire Horse Size

Shires are one of the largest horse breeds in the world. The average Shire stallion stands 17 hands tall and weighs 1,800-2,400 pounds. Geldings are generally 16-17 hands in height, and the minimum requirement for mares is 16 hands. A gelding typically weighs the same as a stallion, and there is no weight standard for mares.



Shire Horse Personality

Shire Horses are renowned for their massive size, but equestrians also love this breed for its calm personality. Easy-going and kind with people, the Shire takes instruction and training well. This breed’s gentle nature and eagerness to please its owner have made the Shire an outstanding show horse in recent years.


Related: Suffolk Punch Horse: The Ultimate Draft Breed Guide



black horse with bridle



Shire History

The first Shire Horses didn’t appear until the mid-seventeenth century, but their ancestors were used in England well before that time. The Shire is a descendant of the English Great Horse, which carried armor-clad knights into war. The Great Horse was even a favorite of King Henry VIII.


The Shire breed officially started in the mid-eighteenth century with the Packington Blind Horse. In 1878, the English Cart Horse Society formed and changed its name ten years later to the Shire Horse Society. They published the first Shire studbook in 1878.


These hard-working horses astounded the world with their pulling capabilities. Shires were brought from England to the United States in 1853, and the American Shire Horse Association was established in 1885. However, after World War II, the demand for draft breeds diminished.


The number of registered horses in the United States hit an all-time low in the 1950s. The Shire is still considered a rare breed today, but its struggle to survive in the 1950s resulted in the modern adaptation we see today. During that time, the Clydesdale helped breed the Shire as we now know it.



How to Care for a Shire Horse

Proper care is vital for horses, whether they work on the farm or give pleasure rides. High-quality hay, appropriate exercise, and regular grooming are necessary for horses, no matter what they do. Your horse doesn’t have to be a world champion to be treated like one!


Regularly search your Shire’s body for signs of infection or inflammation. Feel their joints for excessive heat, as this can indicate joint disease.


Shire Horse Training

Longeing is the practice of walking your Shire around in circles while attached to a lengthy rope. It is an integral part of training. Here’s how to get your horse to longe:


  • First, fix a longe line of 30-40 feet to the bottom ring of your horse’s halter.
  • Then, raise your right hand and pull left on the line.
  • Once the horse starts moving left, give the line some slack.
  • Try moving the horse right while raising your left hand, then repeat.


Ideally, doing this once a day and several days a week will teach your equine to obey your commands without even needing to tug on the reins.


This breed has a history of hauling, and exercising that skill is an excellent way to train the horse and teach them basic obedience. To teach your horse to haul, start with longe exercises, walking your horse along a fixed path. Next, attach a harness and get them hauling! For horses that may get nervous during coaching, owners are using CBD horse pellets to help create a sense of calmness that is perfect for training!


Related: Scared Horse: A Simple Guide to Reduce Equine Fears & Phobias


Nutrition and Feeding for a Shire Horse

Just like an athlete requires a large number of calories to replenish those that they’ve burned, heavy draft breeds need plenty of nutrition. Their massive bodies need enough fuel to function properly. Feed your Shire 1.5 – 2 pounds of hay per 100 pounds of body weight.


Your horse may also need a protein, vitamin, and mineral pellet to ensure they receive all of the proper nutrition. Grain supplements can also target a specific nutritional need of your Shire. Many heavy draft breeds cannot maintain their weight without grain. A veterinarian can help determine what type of grain your horse requires if they need any at all.


Coat Color And Grooming

The Shire Horse has fine, straight, silky hair. Their coat can be bay, brown, or black. The most common color is a shiny, all-black coat. While white markings were not favored on Shires in years past, the breed standard accepts them today. However, excessive white markings are not desirable.


Routine grooming can be a great bonding experience for both you and your Shire. This breed does not have an abundance of hair to wash, so cleaning your horse won’t take too much time out of your training schedule. If your Shire does not compete in shows, you should only bathe them as needed.


Clean your horse when it is noticeably dirty, but be careful you don’t bathe them too often. This can dry out their skin’s natural oils, leading to dry and flaky skin. Show horses, on the other hand, should be bathed before every event.


After exercise or training, hose your horse off to reduce sweat, which can attract flies. You can wash a Shire’s feathers similarly to the way one would clean their own hair. After applying and rinsing shampoo and conditioner, massage the hair and legs for 3-5 minutes. Use a blow dryer to remove all moisture from the feathers, as any trapped water might cause skin irritation.



strong black horse pulling carriage



Shire Horse Health Problems

Shires are susceptible to chronic progressive lymphedema, and all horses may suffer from an equine condition known as colic.


Progressive Lymphedema

This condition is caused by a buildup of lymph fluid in the horse’s lower legs. Chronic progressive lymphedema can result in swelling and hardening of the skin.


The most notable symptom of this condition is the thickening of the skin surrounding the horse’s legs. This swelling shows itself as large, golf-ball-sized growths that can inhibit the horse’s movement. Chronic progressive lymphedema can be prevented by proper maintenance of your Shire’s feathers.



Colic is another word for abdominal pain in horses, and it is usually indicative of an underlying condition. It can describe mild stomach aches or life-threatening gastrointestinal issues. Consultation with a veterinarian as early as possible is crucial.


Colic symptoms include pawing at the ground, frequent attempts to urinate, increased pulse, fever, and general restlessness. The horse might also turn its body to look at its abdomen, and this is known as “flank watching.” Colic is a wide-ranging condition, so prevention involves healthy nutrition, constant access to water, and regular exercise.


Related: Appaloosa Horse Breed: The Beautiful, Intelligent & Lovable Equine



How to Get a Shire Horse

You can purchase Shire horses from EquineNow and eHorses, two of the best resources for buying and selling horses. Their search filters allow you to find the perfect equine for your lifestyle. Shires typically cost around $6,000.


Register your horse with the American Shire Horse Association for breeding information and all the latest news on Shire events.



More About This Horse Breed

The massive yet calm Shire is a heavy draft horse with a long history and a strong work ethic. Their gentle nature and hauling abilities cause them to be favored by those that still use workhorses, such as the Amish. These horses can handle just about any task, so go get to know the Shire Horse!

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