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English Breeds of Horse

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Shire




This magnificent looking horse is one of the largest horses in the world, originating in the Shires of England it is a descendant of the Old English Black Horse whose ancestors were the warhorses of mediaevil times, known as the 'Great Horse'. It was developed by crossing imported Flanders and Friesian horses with native stock, to produce primarily a military mount and later a farm and general draught horse. The introduction of the term 'Blacks' for heavy horses, is attributed to Oliver Cromwell, and may have originated to describe the imported Friesian horses (A small thick set horse bred in the Friesland district of the Netherlands) as they were always black.

The main breeding areas of the English Black were the Fen country and the Midland shires of Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Derbyshire and Staffordshire. There were regional differences in the breed in the early days, the Fen horse being slightly bigger and heavier than the Shire horses, plus the Leicestershire and Derbyshire horses were generally black and Staffordshire horses tended to be brown. One of the earliest records of a Shire stallion standing at stud was the Packington Blind Horse (1755 to 1770); he was named after the village Packington, near Ashby-de-la-Zouche. He and his progeny had a significant influence on the formative years of the breed.

The Shire is an immensely strong horse and stands at up to 18h.h. and may be bay, brown, black or grey in colour. The head is lean but wide between the eyes with a slightly Roman nose, it has large prominent eyes with a docile expression; long, slim, sensitive ears; fairly long, slightly arched neck; strong, sloping shoulders with plenty of width to support a collar; it is a big barrelled horse, with a short, strong, muscular back, a broad chest and wide muscular hind quarters with well shaped thighs; the limbs are clean and hard with plenty of bone (11-12 inches); broad deep flat hocks, set at the correct angle for leverage; plenty of fine, silky, straight feather; large solid feet with thick walls and open coronets.

In 1878 the Old English Cart Horse Society was formed, which changed its name in 1884 to the Shire Horse Society. After the formation of the society the breed was more commonly known as the Shire horse and it went from strength to strength, competing with great success in agricultural shows and attracting the interest of foreign buyers. It became popular all over the world and almost indispensable in Britain as a work horse; it was used for working the land, hauling timber and farm wagons; in the cities it became popular for coal carts, railway vans and brewers drays. With motorisation the breed became less important and it was not until 1960 that the Shire revival began. Today Shires are seen mainly in the show ring, though occasionally they may be seen ploughing the land or working in the cities.



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