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Shire

Shire 1
© Leanne Hoagland

 

History

The origin of the Shire breed is lost in the mists of antiquity, as is the case with many breeds, but we do have a pretty fair notion from whence he cometh.

Shire 2
© Leanne Hoagland

Sir Walter Gilbey, an early authority on the breed, had this to say on the introduc¬tion to Volume 1 of the stud book.

"The Shire horse is the purest survival of an early type which was spoken of by medieval writers as the 'Great Horse.' If this horse did not originate in England, this country at a very early date acquired a wide¬spread reputation for producing it. Indeed, the English 'Great Horse' seems to have been a native development of that British 'War Horse' whose strength, courage and aptitude for discipline are spoken of in high terms by the -chroniclers of the Roman legions at their first landing upon these shores."

"There are good reasons for believing that in the English Great Horse, modern Shire horses were originated. It really seems to be true that the most powerful animals now existing in England, for the advance of ag¬riculture and commerce, (i.e., the arts of peace) are the direct descendants of the horse which, when Julius Caesar arrived here, attracted his attention for its efficiency in the assistance which it rendered to our forefathers in the pursuits of war."

Shire 3

                                                   © Leanne Hoagland

The destiny of the Shire and of England is inexorably entwined. In the period between the reign of Henry II, 1154, and that of Elizabeth (commencing in 1558), it seems to have been a constant aim of the government to increase the size and number of horses called "The Great Horse." Little wonder --the weight of many horse soldiers in armor was upwards to 400 lbs. for rider and armor.

During the reign of King John, from 1199 to 1216, we have particulars of the im¬portation into England from the lowlands of Flanders, Holland, and the banks of the Elbe, of a hundred stallions of large stature. It is from that blending some 800 years ago of these animals with the English breed that some strains, at least, of England's heavy horses must date their origin.

Another writer describes these Flemish horses as being, for the most part, black with white markings on face and feet, and frequently with all his legs white up to the knees and hocks. He was tall, rangy, muscular, well developed at the vital points, and stood on broad, flat, cordy limbs which were strongly jointed both above and below, and the backs of which were heavily fringed with long hair from the fetlocks to the upper end of the cannon.

noahd (2) (c)Leanne Hoagland
© Leanne Hoagland

During the reign of Henry VIII, from 1509 to 1547, special attention was directed to the raising and breeding of strong horses. Several laws were passed with that in mind. Acts were passed in 1535 and 1541 forbidding the use for breeding of horses under 15 hands in height, also prohibiting all exportation, even into Scotland.

War then is the ancient heritage and role of the Shires. But if The Great Horse was useful in war, he proved to be even more so in peace. Turning his attention from battle to commerce and agriculture in a nation that takes both very seriously indeed, the Shire became nothing less than a national treasure in the 1800s. Big Shire geldings moved the commerce of this most commercial of all nations off the docks and through the streets of her cities. Over badly paved streets and on rough roads, weight was opposed by weight. There was a dependable and extensive demand, decade after decade, for massive horses with great muscular strength. Both qualities were neces¬sary to enable them to move the commerce of this nation. It was the sort of situation that called for the breeder's skills, and the English have never been lacking in that respect. For whatever type of domestic animal they have needed, they have developed.

And so, it was with this breed of horse. The needs of empire and the temper of the times called for a horse of enormous bulk, prodigious muscular strength, and docility. Hence, the stockmen and farmers of England responded with one of their finest living creations-the Shire horse.

 

Shire 3
                                              © Leanne Hoagland

The marshy fen counties of Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire lay claim to having exerted the earliest beneficial influence upon the breed, and it was from these counties that sales were first made for the improvement of draft horses all over England. Leices¬tershire, Staffordshire, and Derbyshire were the first to benefit from these counties, and, thus, the Shire slowly spread over virtually the whole of England.

There were differences. The Shires coming out of their historic home, the fenlands of Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire, tended to have more bone and hair than those of their neighbors. Yorkshire and Lancashire, for instance, were noted for horses of a finer texture and more endurance. The rugged demands of the Liverpool market, where thousands of stout geldings were used, certainly contributed to correct type, soundness, and great strength in the case of northern breeders-as London did to the south.

So, when the demand for draft horses developed in our country, the Shires of England became one of our primary sources for the improvement of our equine stock.

An American horseman from that period, a dealer in several breeds and an ac¬knowledged expert, had this to say about the Shire.

"I have had opportunity for extended personal observations and in¬quiry as to the result of crossing them on Native American mares, as well as on the grades and crosses of other breeds, and the evidence is of un¬qualified satisfaction. They have been found competent to transmit and impress their own characteristics with remarkable certainty, and the name "Shire Horse" had become a synonym for strength, constitution, energy, and endurance. "

 

Breed Standards

billyside (2) (c)Leanne Hoagland.
                                                    © Leanne Hoagland

Stallions:
• Color: Black, brown, bay, grey or chestnut/sorrel (rare) are the preferred colors. Excessive white markings and roaning are undesirable.
• Height: Minimum 16.2 hands and upwards. Average 17.1 hands
• Head: Long and lean, neither too large nor too small, with long neck in proportion to the body. Large jaw bone should be avoided.
• Eyes: Large, well set and alert. Wall-eyes should be avoided if possible.
• Nose: Nostrils thin and wide, lips together and nose slightly Roman.
• Ears: Long, lean, sharp and sensitive.
• Throat: Clean cut and lean.
• Shoulder: Deep, oblique, wide enough to support the collar.
• Neck: Long, slightly arched, well set on to give the horse a commanding appearance.
• Girth: Deep, with adequate width in proportion to the rest of the body.
• Back: Short, strong and muscular. Should not be dipped or roached.
• Loins: Standing well up, denoting constitution.
• Fore-end: Wide across the chest, with legs well under the body and well developed in muscle, or action is impeded.
• Hindquarters: Long and sweeping, wide and full of muscle; well let down toward the thighs.
• Ribs: Round, deep and well sprung, not flat.
• Forelegs: Should be straight as possible down to the pastern.
• Pastern: Fairly long and sloped at about 45-degree angle.
• Hind legs: Hocks should be clean, broad, deep, flat and wide when viewed broad-side; set at the correct angle for leverage, and in line with the hind·quarters. Should be of heavy bone; "puffy" and "sickle" hocks to be avoided. The leg should be clean cut, hard, and clear of short cannon bone.
• Feet: Moderately deep and wide at the heels; coronets open.
• Feather: Fine, straight and silky.
• He should possess a masculine head, and a good crest with sloping, not upright, shoulders running well into the back, which should be short and well coupled with the loins. The tail should be set well up, and not what Is known as "goose-rumped." Both head and tail should be carried erect. The ribs should be well sprung, not flat sided, with good middle, which generally denotes good constitution. The most essential parts of a stallion are his feet and joints; the feet should have open necks, big around the top of the coronets, with plenty of length in the pasterns. When in motion, he should go with force, using both knees and hocks, which the latter should be kept close together. He should go straight and true before and behind.

Geldings:
• Geldings should conform to stallion standards, with the exception of the thick, masculine neck.

Mares:
• Mares should conform to the stallion standards, except that they may be slightly smaller with a feminine and matronly appearance. A mare should have plenty of room to carry a foal.

The Breed Today

Shire 4
© Leanne Hoagland

 

The Shire today is used in many facets of life across America and the world.

Shire 5

© Leanne Hoagland

 

The versatility and disposition of the Shire lends the breed to be very versatile in the modern horse world. The Shire has made a big mark in the horse industry as a pleasure horse, not only in harness but under saddle. The heavy horse of the past is now working in dressage, western pleasure, trail competitions, and even jumping and reining.

Shire 6
© Leanne Hoagland

 

If you can do it on a light horse, horse owners today are doing it on the Shire at some level. The Shire is still working as a work horse in pulling contests and farm fields across the country, as well as in the show ring in the fancy 6 horse hitches and halter classes.

Shire 7
© Leanne Hoagland

 

The amazing Shire Sport Horse has become more popular in the past 20 years since its induction into the Shire Studbook in the 90's. A Shire Sport Horse is half Shire and light horse. These horses are often seen participating in eventing, dressage, trail rides, jumping, and general horse events. The most common cross is the Shire with Thoroughbred and Shire with Quarter Horses.

Additional Information

For additional information contact:

    American Shire Horse Association
    PO Box 829
    Silt, CO 81652
    (888) 302-6643
    [email protected]
    www.shirehorse.org

 

Shire 8
© Leanne Hoagland

 

Shire 9
© Leanne Hoagland

 

Shire 10
© Leanne Hoagland

 

Shire
© Leanne Hoagland
(c)Leanne Hoagland
(c) Leanne Hoagland

 

Shire 12
© Leanne Hoagland

 

Shire 13
© Leanne Hoagland

 

Shire 14
© Leanne Hoagland

 

(c)Leanne Hoagland
© Leanne Hoagland

 

© Leanne Hoagland
© Leanne Hoagland

 

© Leanne Hoagland
© Leanne Hoagland

 

© Leanne Hoagland
© Leanne Hoagland

 

© Leanne Hoagland
© Leanne Hoagland

 

© Leanne Hoagland
© Leanne Hoagland

 

© Leanne Hoagland
© Leanne Hoagland

 

© Leanne Hoagland
© Leanne Hoagland

 

(c)Leanne Hoagland
© Leanne Hoagland
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