The Shire is a British breed of draught horse. It is a tall breed, and Shires have at various times held world records both for the largest horse and for the tallest horse. The Shire has a great capacity for weight-pulling, and has been popular throughout its history for pulling brewer’s drays delivering ale to customers. The horses may also be used for forestry, for riding and for commercial promotion.
A bay-coloured Shire, showing Clydesdale influence in colour and markings
A grey Shire employed in forestry
In 1878, the British organisation now known as the Shire Horse Society was created, with the American Shire Horse Association beginning in 1885. The breed was exported from Britain to the United States in large numbers during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but popularity fell as mechanisation increased, reaching a low point in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Popularity began to increase again in the 1970’s and after. However, population numbers are still considered to be at critical levels by both the UK-based Rare Breeds Survival Trust and the US-based American Livestock Breeds Conservancy.
The Shire has an enormous capacity for pulling weight. In 1924, at a British exhibition, a pair of horses was estimated to have pulled a starting load equal to 45 tons, although an exact number could not be determined as their pull exceeded the maximum reading on the dynamometer. Working in slippery footing, the same pair of horses pulled 16.5 tons at a later exhibition.
The largest horse in recorded history was probably a Shire named Mammoth (also known as Sampson), born in 1848. He stood 21.2 1⁄4 hands (86.25 inches, 219 cm) high, and his peak weight was estimated at 1,524 kilograms (3,360 lb).
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