The Shire

Get to know the Shire horse breed and learn about its history and characteristics.


Shire Horse History

The Shire is the most popular draft horse in the United Kingdom. The Shire made its first appearance on British soil in its original form of the Great Horse, which was brought by William the Conqueror in 1066.

Shire horses closeup
Photo by Barry Skeates on flickr/CC BY 2.0

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 the Great Horse. This resulting breed was called the Black Horse, and later the English Cart Horse.

Shire horse pulling a plow
Photo by richardghawley on flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0

The name was changed in the late 1800s to the Shire, possibly in honor of its development in the Fen country of Lincolnshire, and its use in the counties of Leicestershire, Staffordshire and Derbyshire.

Today, the horse is used to pull drays (carts) for pub deliveries and in parades.

By Just chaos – originally posted to Flickr as Shire, CC BY 2.0

Shire Horse Characteristics

The Shire is the largest draft horse, standing up to 19 hands high and weighing a ton. Its colors include black, brown, grey and bay with white feathers on the legs.

For More Information:

Further Reading:

This breed profile was originally published on December 15, 2006.


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