Shire horse numbers have dwindled to just 3,500 from 6,000 over the last 10 years, and unless a breeding program is introduced the breed could die out, Ken Young of the UK Shire Horse Society warns in a Daily Mail news report.
“The extinction of British shire horses is a distinct possibility–we have to do something now rather than wait until it is too late, which could be within 10 years.
“Another breed of horse, the Suffolk Punch, suffers from the same problem,” Young continued. “It is all but extinct and if we don’t do something about the Shire horse, that is where we are going. People are even discussing the possibility of a frozen sperm bank for Shire horses, to try to keep the breed going.”
Young added, “The UK is producing 200 breeding-age female Shire horses per year when 300 are required to replace those too old to breed. We have 1,800 breeding-age female shire horses in the country–down from 3,000 10 years ago–out of a total of 3,500 shire horses.”
About the Shire Horse:
Versions of the Shire horses made their first appearance on British soil around 1066, when William the Conqueror brought his big mounts (called Great Horses) to the country for medieval warfare.
In the early 17th century, Dutch contractors, who were helping drain the fens in the east of England, brought with them their native horses, the Friesian and the Flemish Horse. These horses remained in the area and were bred to the descendants of William the Conqueror’s horses. The resulting breed was called the Black Horse, and later the English Cart Horse. The name was changed in the late 1800s to the Shire horse.
During the mid and late 20th century, Shire horse numbers dwindled due to a decline in the use of heavy horses for work. While some Shires are still used for farm work, most a bred for hobby today.