The Gentle Giants

30 Oct

I love all animals but I do have my favorites, among which are the Elephant and those beautiful Shire Horses whose history goes back many years.  It is the Shire horse I have chosen for this post because we should never forget the role that the Shire has played for hundreds of years both in the countryside and world wide.

First the Shire horse was used as a war horse carrying Knights in Armour and then it was the main source of power in agriculture for 250 years.

Beautiful White Shire Horse

Agricultural work for the Shire Horse.

Shire horse pulling Barge on the canal

Shire Horse pulling a barge on the canal

Again it became a war horse in the first and second world wars pulling the heavy artillery in appalling conditions, after which the Shire almost became extinct but for breeders like Alistair King who prevented it from disappearing from our countryside forever.

The War Horse WWl

The War Horse named Black Beauties WW l

The origin of the Shire horses dates back to a cold blooded heavy horse first mentioned in around l066 and most likely brought into England after the Norman conquest. From this developed the ” English Great Horse ” of the middle ages spoken of by Medieval writers. In Medieval times it was essential to increase the size and number of horses called “the Great Horse” in order to carry Knights in full armour.

From the end of the l6th century heavy horses were required to haul heavy wagons and coaches across the countryside at a time when roads were no more than deep rutted muddy tracks.

Both in commerce and agriculture Shire horses literally made the wheels of Britain’s industry go around. They worked in fields ,in  towns, on docks and quays, on canal towpaths, for mills and railways. There were literally millions of these wonderful Shires.

There was a huge demand for many, many years ; for massive horses such as these, with great muscular strength and an even temperament but not only that they were to my mind, Gentle Giants.


The formation Stallion of the Shire Breed is recognized as being the  ‘Packington Blind Horse’ who stood at Packington near Ashly de la Zouch  between l755 and l770. He was black and appears in the first Shire Stud Book because of the large number of horses claimed to be descended from him.


Was founded in l876 and published the first stud book two years later. In l884 it changed its name to the Shire Horse Society. At this time the Shire horse was still very much a work horse but was being shown extensively The fierce competition resulting in improving the breed further.

The numbers of horses( including Shires ) used for agriculture including mares for breeding fell dramatically from 550,000 in l939 to only 5000 in l972. The subsequent revival of the Shire owes much to a few determined breeders, exhibitors and Breweries using them for short haul work

Shire Horses delivering beer from a local Brewery

This picture brings back memories for me as a child. The brewery near where I lived was named ” Davenports Beer at Home ”  in Birmingham.One of the roads in fact was very steep where these Shire horses had to deliver. I used to stand and watch them carefully controlling the weight they were trying to hold and the lady, yes she was  one huge lady sitting way up on her seat steering the horses, we used to call her Nancy. She would whisper to them to go steady and you could see their ears moving back as they listened to her instructions . I was fascinated and I never ever saw these wonderful animals lose their grip even when raining.

An enquiring Shire.

An Enquiry.. I love this.


Posted by on October 30, 2013 in Uncategorized


7 responses to “The Gentle Giants

  1. Mark Hubbs

    October 30, 2013 at 6:56 pm

    I grew up around horses, but none were this big. Thanks for a very interesting post. The “Edwardian Farm” TV series that was on BBC spent lot of time discussing the history of the Shire Horses and used them on the farm a great deal. I also loved the movie “Warhorse.”


    • ritaroberts

      October 30, 2013 at 7:14 pm

      Hello Mark. Yes I love those horses. Glad you liked the post about them. I also enjoyed that film Thanks for reading and commenting.


  2. nutsfortreasure

    October 31, 2013 at 2:13 pm

    Gorgeous work horses. America fell in love with the team of Clydesdale that Budweiser beer owns we have many draft horses in NH who are still plowing fields and showing their strength at county fairs 🙂 Thanks for the history!


    • ritaroberts

      October 31, 2013 at 4:17 pm

      Hi Eunice, Yes they are magnificent animals. Thanks for reading.


      • nutsfortreasure

        October 31, 2013 at 4:34 pm

        🙂 got behind with baseball 🙂


  3. dorannrule

    November 1, 2013 at 8:38 pm

    Oh, I love this post. The horses are so handsome and powerful and your history gives even more perspective on how they have been used and misused. Thanks for sharing.



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