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History Of The Shire

The Shire horse is one of the rarest horses in Australia. There are less than 200 purebred Shire horses in Australia, however the numbers are slowly on the rise.

The Shire horse originated in the Midlands of England and takes its name from the districts it was bred, such as Lincolnshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire. It has been bred over hundreds of years and is descendant from the Old English Black and The Great Horse of Medieval Times. In Medieval England, the Shire was developed to be strong enough to carry a knight in plate armour and bearing heavy weapons and still be agile in combat. The Shire has carried Knights in full armour into battle and ploughed many paddocks.

During the 1800’s vast quantities of goods were shipped to and from English ports and the Shire contributed dramatically to the movement of these goods to and from the docks. At the same time farmers developed a need for a strong, docile horses which could work in the fields of either the flat marshy “Fen” counties or drier Yorkshire and Lancashire. The horseman of Britain bred Shire horses to fill these needs.

Standards of quality were established early on and records were kept. In 1878 the SHIRE HORSE SOCIETY was established. The majority of Shire horses in Australia are registered in England, with breeders keen to keep the link. The horses have a DNA sample and passport (sketch card) held by the SHIRE HORSE SOCIETY in England. The most common colours are black, brown, bay and grey, with white leg markings and a blaze, Grey is the most rare colour for Shires, as once it has been bred out, it can not accidently be bred back in. It is a popular colour for show teams. Chestnut and roan are not acceptable colours for a Shire horse.

The Shire horse has been bred by the English Royal Family for over 200 years, Edward VII and King George V bred them at Sandringham. In the 1920’s it was not uncommon to find King George V with his stallion competing in the show ring. Her Majesty The Queen is the patron of the Shire Horse Society.

The Shire very nearly became extinct in the 1950’s with the tractor and truck taking their place on the farms and roads. Thankfully a dedicated band of breeders kept the breed going and their numbers have increased in recent times to around 3,000 worldwide. There are many farmers overseas who still use the Shire horse as the workhorse it is. It is also favoured by some of the prominent Breweries in England and is used to pull the brewery drays to deliver beer to the pubs near the brewery. It is more economical for them to use the horses for these deliveries than to use small trucks. There are now a few wedding and funeral companies which use the Shire to pull the vehicles for these events. The Shire is a horse who loves human companionship and works easily off his owner’s voice.

Shire horses are the World’s tallest breed of horse, standing from 16.2 hands to over 18 hands. The average size is 17.2 hands to 18 hands. The Guiness Book of Records has in past years listed the great Shire horses, Ladbrook Invader and Boringdon Black King as the Worlds Tallest Living Horses, standing 19.2 hands both lived in England.

The Worlds Tallest Horse now is Luscombe Nodram, standing 20.2 hands, he was born and bred in Queensland by The Shires of Luscombe.

The Shire is a horse who breeds true and is a pleasure to work with. They are very gentle and docile for their size whilst being very agile and able to cover the ground with great speed when in full gallop.

Many European owners are successfully competing with their Shire horses in all levels of Dressage. The Shire is an ideal horse to cross with the Thoroughbred to produce top quality hunters or eventing horses. Or crossed with Australia Draught mares to produce quality working horses.

Shire Horses were the first heavy horse breed introduced into Australia. “The State of Agriculture and Grazing In New South Wales,” - by James Atkinson, published in 1826 states;

“Some stallions and mares of the English and Flemish cart breeds have lately been introduced. The purebred horses of this description are certainly too heavy for the climate, but it is probable that, by judicious crossing with the lighter kinds, a breed may be obtained with sufficient bone and strength, but yet not too heavy, for the purposes of draught in this climate, which, (Mr Atkinson added) seems peculiarly congenial to the breeding and improvement of horses.”

In Tasmania, the English dray horse appears to have predominated, Victoria, in its early days of settlement, secured its foundation in draught stock mainly from Tasmania and New South Wales, to be later followed by importations from England and Scotland.

English horses were also introduced into Western Australia late in the 1830’s and some were also imported to South Australia.

There can be no confusion as to this text representing the Shire Horse, remembering that at the time of its publication in 1826,  England and Scotland were two vastly independent Countries.

Shire horses are now enjoying the cheers from crowds at Horse Shows in Australia and Overseas. They are known as “THE GENTLEST OF THE GENTLE GIANTS”.

Luscombe Whats Wanted

(framed Limited Edition copies of this sketch are available for sale at $100.00 each. Please email me for details)