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The shire

The origins of the Shire are found in ancient time. It seems the Romans already during their first campaigns in Britain, told about achievements of this huge and powerful horse. It is told that the Shire had several appellatives such as great horse, horse of the war, horse of the car or Black English horse.

.: Ancestor of the shire
.: The development of the breeding
.: The first exports
.: After the First World War
.: Breeding history
.: Historical pictures


ancestor of the Shire
haroldThe year 1068 it seems to be the first time there is some talk of the forefather of the shire like pack-horse. During the reign of King John, from 1199 to 1216, a hundred stallions of high stature and great size (Flemish German horse or Belgian draft-horse) were introduced in England from the present Holland and from the lands of Elba. From that moment on, more than 8 hundreds years ago, the crossbreed of these animals with the local English breed gave birth to an English draft-horse.
During the period of time between the reign of Henry II (1154) and that one of Elizabeth I (from the middle of XVI century) they started to pay attention to improve the high stature and size, and the character of the great horse. As a matter of fact Henry VIII, at the end of the XVI century, introduced the name Shire.
Paintings of the epoch describe these Fleming horses with the majority cloak black and with white spot on the head and on the feet, often they had all the feet white up to the hocks. Besides they were high, slim, muscular, thrust well, with solid articulations and strong legs that were long-fringed hairy from the clogs to the high part of the metatarsus and metacarpus.
It was Henry VIII to introduce strict laws to preserve the selection of this breed; for example it was forbidden to use horses lower than the 150 cm high in the crossbreed, and it was forbidden the export of stud mares and stallions, thus restricting the commerce to the gelding only.
Even though the ancient function of the Shire was the war, in the XVII century it was discovered much more useful for heavy jobs: it was precious in the road transport and for works such as reclamation and in the woods.

(into photo: Clansman, champion into 1917)

The development of the breeding
The swampy zones of the counties of Lincoln and Cambridge were the first to develop the breeding of the Shire that only after started to spread in the counties of Derby, Norfolk, Nottingham, Leicester and Huntington that are practically all the Midlands. Hitchin ConquerorDepending on the origin county, different species of the same breed could be seen: in fact the horses no more in the birth lands, were inclined morphologically to being sturdier and with a longer mane; those of the Yorkshire and the Lancashire instead were well seen for their incredible resistance.
Even if the request for these horses increased remarkably, it had not been yet defined a Breed standard of breed. In the eighteenth century the improvement of the roads and the increase of the carriage brought the use of the Shire in the cities. In this period Robert Bakewell improved the already high Breed standard of this breed, classifying it like Leicestershire Cart Horse, introducing one line of blood of the best Dutch horse, the Frisian.
In 1878 the first official registry of SHIRE HORSE SOCIETY was created.

(into photo: Premier (1880-1892))

The first exports
In 1836 the first exemplars were exported in Canada, few years after some more exemplars were exported in the United States, even if not all the exemplars were enrolled to the English official registry. In America it was appreciated to point that the request of these exemplars exceeded the English production so much that the English were obliged to export exemplars of minor quality.
In 1885 to preserve the purity of the breed the A.S.H.A was instituted. (American Shire Horse Association) followed by the C.S.H.A. (Canadian Shire Horse Association) in the 1888. With the beginning of XX century the Shire saw the greatest diffusion this breed has achieved, overcoming in importance some other draft-species such as the Percheron. Thanks to the heavy stature and the reactivity the Shire had a main role in the American urbanization process, in fact from 1909 to the 1911 6700 exemplary had been registered of which approximately 80% were native.

After the First World War
Halstead  Royal DukeWith the end of the First World War and the advent of industrialization the Shire began to be replaced by truck, bus. In the country smaller and less expensive horses in the maintenance were preferred because the Shire was replaced in its job by trucks. The draft-Belgian and the Percheron began to take control of draft-horse markets restricting the use of the Shire to the zones of the west especially in California.
Between 1940 and 1950 the number of the exemplars registered decreased; between 1950 and 1959 only 25 exemplars were registered. During the last few years the interest for the Shire had increased thanks also to the profuse efforts of the Shire Society Horse

(into photo: Castlereagh)

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