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How Tall is a Shire Horse? Shire Horse Breed Facts.

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The first time I stood next to a Shire horse, it dwarfed me; I wasn’t sure if this particle horse was unusually tall or if all Shires are this massive. So, I decided to research the breed to learn more about its size and characteristics.

Shire horses are very tall horses; they average 17.2 hands. The Shire held the record for both the tallest and largest breed in the world. The largest horse ever was the Shire named “Sampson,” measuring 21.2 hands high and weighing 3,360 lbs.

Shires have many good qualities and might be the horse for you. But there is a lot you should know about the Shire breed before you decide to bring one home.

Picture of a Shire horse pulling.

Shire Horses are Big.

The average height of the Shire horse is 17.2 hands, and they weigh approximately 2,000 pounds. The head of the Shire is long and lean, with a long neck in proportion to the body. Their shoulders are deep and wide enough to support a collar. The girth of a Shire stallion can reach 8 feet. His back is short, strong, muscular, and not dipped.

A Shire’s girth can measure eight feet.

The Shire should exhibit a wide chest with hindquarters that are full of muscle. His feet are big, solid, and wide, with thick open walls. The Shire hair should be fine, straight, and silky. Hindquarters are long and sweeping, wide and full of muscle, well let down towards the thighs. When traveling, he should keep his head and tail erect.

Shires are taller than Clydesdales horses.

Shires usually are taller than Clydesdales. The average Shire is 17.2 hands tall, and the average Clydesdale stands 17 hands. There are Clydesdales taller than Shires, but generally, Shires are taller.

The popular horses used to pull the Budweiser wagons are Clydesdales. They are massive horses but not typically as tall as the Shire horse.

Clydesdale horses typically weigh more than Shires.

Both breeds are huge, Clydesdale horses are built stockier than Shires and generally weigh more, and both average weights are 2,000 pounds. However, a fit Shire looks tall and refined, whereas a fit Clydesdale is thick with shorter legs.

And although both breeds have feathering, the Clydesdale horse’s feathering is much more substantial. Feathering is the long hair around the ankles of horses. To read about the differences between Belgians and Clydesdales click here.

Picture of a pair of Shire horses pulling a wagon.

A pair of Shire horses pulled 50 tons.

50 tons. A pair of British Shires pulled a starting load weighing 50 tons, and a single Shire once pulled 29 tons. During the period of the Industrial Revolution, a nationwide canal system was developed in Great Britain.

The canal system allowed heavy loads to be transported over many miles. The Shire horse was ideally suited to pull the barges loaded with goods up and down canals to their destinations.

The Shire was also used to transport people in buses and trams before the development of the combustible engine. Draft horses are bred to pull, and no horse breed was better at the task than the Shire.

Shires Coat Colors.

The Shire Horse Society only accepts coat colors of brown, bay, or gray for registration. The horses are typically very dark, and most are black or dark brown.

The Shire Horse Society excludes roan and chestnut coat colors and does not accept horses with excessive white markings. To read about the various equine coat colors seen across horse breeds, read our article here.

The Shire Horse and Clydesdale have different coloring.

The Shire horse breed and the Clydesdale have a couple of things in common; they are both big draft horses that originated in Great Britain. But what are the differences?

The coloring of the two breeds is different: Shires are generally dark-colored horses, and they may have a small amount of white coloring. Shires can also be gray.

The standard colors for the Shire are black, bay, brown, and grey. Clydesdale Horses are often bay, but a can also be a roan, black, grey, or chestnut in color. Most Clydesdales have white markings on their face, face, feet, and legs and occasional body spotting. 

Shires Temperament.

Shires have a good temperament. Shires are often called the “gentle giants” of the horse world because of their large bodies and extremely laid-back attitude. They aren’t skittish and are comfortable around other animals, kids, cars, and loud noise. However, they do display signs of stubbornness.

The term temperament is used in the horse industry to describe the general attitude and personality traits a group or breed of horse displays. In choosing a horse for a particular purpose, it is important to understand the breed’s tendencies and personality, their temperament.

Shires are cold-blooded draft horses that share the common traits of strength, patience, and calm temperament. Horses are further grouped loosely as either warm-blooded, hot-blooded, or cold-blooded.

These terms indicate the characteristics a horse may display. Shires are cold-blooded horses, meaning they are typically calm, patient, and easygoing.

Shires are keen animals and want to understand their purpose. For Shires, respect must flow both ways, or they will refuse to move. When a massive horse refuses a command, the options to move him are limited.

However, they don’t turn aggressive; they just turn statuesque. The best remedy for this stubbornness is the carrot, not the stick. The temperament of a Shire horse is coveted by horse owners. They have the desire to work and are calm horses. They would be a great addition to anyone’s farm.

Picture of a Shire horse standing in a pasture.

Shire Horses are Descendants of the “Great Horse.”

The “Great Horse,” was most likely a destrier. During the medieval era, the destriers carried armored knights into battle and were famous for their power, size, bravery, and endurance.

These amazing horses are the foundation for many modern breeds, including the Shire, which is a product of crossing the “Great Horse,” with Friesians, and Flemish horses. To read more about the horses used in warfare throughout history, check out my article on the topic.

The Shire was originally named Lincolnshire Black.

In England, rural counties are called Shires and are traditional farming areas. The Shire horses were originally referred to as Lincolnshire Blacks, but over time the name was shortened to the Shire. The Shire originated in England. Native British horses were bred to be larger horses to provide sturdier mounts for armored knights in battle.

The Clydesdale originated in Scotland, where flemish horses were bred with local horses producing a new and bigger breed. To read about the largest horse breeds, click on the link.

Shire Horses are Endangered.

Shire horses are listed, in varying degrees, on the roles of the three major animal conservatory groups for at-risk breeds. The three organizations are the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, the Livestock Conservancy, and the Equus Survival Trust.

The Shire breed had a peak population of over a million. Shires were used to work fields and pull heavy loads; with the advent of machinery, their usefulness and population began to decrease significantly.

Thousand were sent to slaughter, and breeding slowed. By the 1960s, the numbers had dwindled all the way down to a few thousand. In the 1970s, steps were taken to help revive the breed.

Below is a YouTube video showing Shire horses used for riding.

Shires Participate in a Variety of Equine Activities.

Shires’ utility as a workhorse has passed. Today they are used for pulling and driving competitions, western pleasure, show rings, and recreational riding.

The Shire’s gentle nature and willingness to learn lend themselves to being trained in a variety of equine events. Shires are big, muscular horses that will never compete in the jumping ring on a scale with warmbloods, but they are horses you can enjoy spending time riding.

Shires Shine as Therapeutic Riding Horses.

Shires excel in pulling; that is what they were bred to do; however, they are also good riding horses. They have a good disposition, are athletic movers, and enjoy learning, making them ideal for almost any rider. These gentle giants are perfect for therapeutic riding and public riding stables.

Shires crossed with warmbloods work well as dressage and jumpers. Also, because of the calm demeanor of a Shire, they are used by law enforcement for a variety of purposes, but they are excellent for crowd control and search and rescue.

A Suffolk Punch is Not a Shire horse.

The Suffolk Punch is a breed itself. It is a massive draft horse from Great Brittian like the Clydesdale and the Shire. Although a Suffolk Punch is not as tall as either the Shire of Clydesdale, it is a stouter horse, and most weigh more than the Shire.

Shire Horses Have Long Lifespans.

On average, the Shire horse’s lifespan is 28 years. Even though this breed is one of the largest horse breeds, they often live as long as many smaller horse breeds.

Picture of Shires working on a farm.

Shire Horses Eat Hay, Grass, and Grains.

The Shire needs to eat carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. They get these nutrients by eating hay, grass, grains, or concentrated foods. The nutrients the Shire needs to maintain its health is the same for them as compared to other horses, but because of their size, they need much larger amounts.

If a Shire horse is being worked or in training, he can eat up to 44 pounds of hay a day. When feeding grain, you will have to monitor your horse. It is best to supply most of his dietary intake with high-quality hay such as alfalfa. It is also imperative to keep fresh, clean water available for the horse.

Water may be the most important constituent of all diets. The body of a horse is comprised of roughly 80 percent water. Because of this, fluids must be available to a horse on a constant basis.

Fresh grass contains a good deal of water, but horses need much more than they can get from grazing. Depending on the weather and the amount of work the horse is asked to perform, he may need upwards of 15 gallons a day.

It also is vital not to overfeed grain to a horse. Feeding too much grain often leads to digestive disorders such as colic. These disorders occur because of the overabundance of grain spills into the hindgut, creating large amounts of gas and acid.

Shires Shouldn’t Eat Too Much Grain.

The creation of gas and acid causes discomfort, colic, and sometimes laminitis. The Shire, like most other horses, should not be fed more than 1 percent of body weight from a grain source.

Supplying feed to young horses during their growing stage must be done with care. Too much grain can cause the horse’s bones to grow too fast and become porous.

Porous bones are brittle and can lead to many long-term orthopedic problems. On the other hand, you want to provide enough grain for the young horse to grow strong and healthy.

You should monitor your horse’s food intake and keep a log. Note how fast he finishes his feed, and the amount of hay eaten per day. You should contact a veterinarian if you notice he is not finishing his normal amount of feed or hay. Click on this link to learn about how to ensure your horse is eating correctly.

Below is a YouTube video that provides helpful information on the Shire horse breed

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