In the mid-11th century, William the Conqueror brought large draft horses, called the Great Horse at the time, with him from France to the United Kingdom. During the 1600s, Dutch people came to England to help drain the marsh land. They brought with them Friesians and Flemish horses to help with their work, leaving them behind when the work was done. These horses were later crossed with descendents of the Great Horse, creating what was called the English Black.
These large, strong horses were initially used as war horses in the Middle Ages, when knights wore heavy armor to battle. When heavy armor was no longer used by soldiers, people began using the horse to pull carts, plough fields, and work in forests throughout the counties of Lincolnshire, Staffordshire, Leicestershire, and Derbyshire, naming the breed Shire in honor of that fact. In London, people used the strong, calm Shire to pull cargo and deliver beer from the breweries to local pubs.
During the early 1900s, the Shire became popular in the United States, and several thousand were imported. However, after World War II, when the use of horses for work decreased, the number of Shires quickly declined, dropping down to only a scant few thousand in the 1950s. People interested in the breed crossbred it with Clydesdales to save it from extinction, causing the breed to change a bit. Today, the breed is becoming increasingly more popular.
Breed Description and Uses
Shires, standing up to 19 hands high and weighing about a ton, are one of the world's largest draft breeds. They have big barrels and long legs with thick feathering and are usually found in black, brown, gray, and bay. Despite their large size, they are gentle and kind. Even today, they are often used for pulling carts and working on small farms. A brewery in London still uses them for their traditional use of transporting beer to pubs, as they have for several hundred years.