Shire Horse

Shire mare & foal

Key Characteristics

The Shire is a strong character with a placid nature.


  • Originally referred to as the Great Horse, the Shire was of enormous importance in Medieval Britain carrying knights into battle.
  • As armour became lighter the need for a strong battle horse declined and the Shire instead became a valuable agricultural workhorse.
  • Before the introduction of steam engines and tractors to work the land, Shires were essential for the farm. The breed was also a familiar sight in the towns and cities where it was used by hauliers and breweries.
  • Forced into decline by agricultural mechanisation it survived due only to the support of a small number of individual breeders and breweries.


  • It is the largest British draught horse, standing over 17.2hh in height, and a mature stallion can weigh almost one tonne.
  • They can be black, brown, bay or grey in colour, and roan is acceptable in mares.
  • The breed has a muscular frame, sloping shoulders and well sprung ribs.
  • It has a profusion of fine silky feathering on the legs.



The Shire's great size and strength makes them well suited for draught work. Shires, are still used in some areas by breweries, and for promotional work. Some have also begun to use horses to work the fields again, although on a small scale. Ploughing matches, using Shire horses are still popular across the country. Some animals are used to pull carriages for weddings or carnivals. 

Did you know?

Shire horses are often used in 'Snigging' competitions, where a horse is used to pull a log around a course. 

The Rare Breeds Survival Trust is the leading national charity working to conserve and protect the United Kingdom's rare native breeds of farm animals from extinction. We rely on the support of our members, grants and donations from the public to raise the £700,000 a year needed to maintain our conservation work with rare UK native breeds of farm animals. Visit to see how you can help.

Breed Societies

The Shire Horse Society

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