Is a Shire Horse Bigger Than a Clydesdale? Shire Horse Origin, Colors and Temperament

Is a Shire Horse Bigger Than a Clydesdale

Shires and Clydesdales are among the most popular horse breeds in the world thanks to their calm personalities as well as unmatched strength. These two breeds are commonly mistaken for each other as they share several similarities, which could be attributed to the fact that Shire horses were bred into Clydesdale stock while the breed was being developed.

Shire horses are bigger than Clydesdales. The average Shire is slightly over 17 hands tall, with some growing to up to 19 hands. Clydesdales, on the other hand, can reach just under 17 hands on average.

Is a Shire Horse Bigger Than a Clydesdale?

When it comes to comparing appearances in terms of size, Shires have a slight advantage over Clydesdales, in both height and weight.

The Shire is a tall horse, standing at an average of 16 hands (around 64 inches) to 18 hands (around 72 inches). Some Shires can even attain a whopping 19 hands (around 76 inches), but the average Shire is typically 17.1 hands. On the other hand, Clydesdales stand between 16 hands and 18 hands, though most of them are around 17 hands.

Shires typically weigh anywhere from 1,800-2,400 pounds, whereas Clydesdales weigh between 1,600-2,300 pounds.

Where Do Shire Horses Originate From?

The Shire is a British draught horse that is believed to originate in Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire, although its exact origins are unknown. It is thought to have descended from the English Great Horse, which was a popular war mount during the Middle Ages. In the 17th century, the English Great Horse was crossed with Friesians to come up with a strong draught animal that was referred to as the Old English Black Horse.

Nearing the end of the 18th century, the Packington Blind Horse, the foundation stallion of the Shire horse, stood at stud in Leicestershire. In 1878, a studbook was published by the English Cart Horse Society, and in 1884, the group changed its title to the Shire Horse Society.

The first few Shires were imported into the United States of America in 1853, with a significant surge in importation witnessed in the 1880s as the breed increased in popularity.

Shire Horse Cost

The cost of a Shire horse varies, ranging from about $2,000 to $20,000, depending on the level of training as well as the age and general health condition of the horse. Shires can be quite difficult to come across because of how rare the breed is.

The most reliable way of finding a Shire horse is by researching reputable horse breeders or rescues online, although it is highly recommended that you take the time to get to know a horse in person before deciding to bring it home.

When choosing a Shire horse, ask for full details of its history, health, and temperament. A reputable breeder or rescue will willingly provide you with all this information to help you find the right horse.

Shire Horse Colors

The colors that are associated with the Shire horse include black, brown, grey, and grey. They must not be roan, and while they may have white leg and facial markings, excessive white patches are deemed undesirable for the breed. In the UK, stallion Shires may not be chestnut, but this color is permitted by the US association.

Shire Horse Diet

The Shire horse eats a standard horse diet that includes:

  • Hay
  • Silage
  • Straw
  • Cereals, nuts, and mixes
  • Minerals and vitamins

Clean and fresh water should also be available at all times. Because of their size, the quantity of food (and water) that Shire horse requires is much higher than that required by the average horse. They also require a high-fat diet to reduce the risk of developing polysaccharide storage myopathy, a condition that causes the hind legs to spasm.

Shire Horse Lifespan

The Shire horse has an average life expectancy of 25-30 years. Other than polysaccharide storage myopathy, other diseases that may shorten the lifespan of the Shire horse include chronic progressive lymphedema, fibrosis of distal limbs, and hyperkeratosis. Because of the feathering on their legs, Shires also often suffer from a bacterial infection that is commonly known as mud fever.

Shire Horse Appearance

The Shire horse is a huge animal, with a variety of distinct features that include large hooves, a long mane, and unique feathering below the hocks and knees. This feathering is typically fine, soft, and not overly thick.

The head of this horse breed is long and lean, the eyes are large and docile, and the ears are sharp, long, and sensitive. The neck of the Shire horse is long and well-proportioned to the rest of the body, with a slight arch.

The shoulders are wide and deep, while the back has to be muscular and strong, but short. The back shouldn’t be dipped or roached. The hindquarters of this horse must have to be long and muscular, and the feet solid, wide, and deep, with thick walls.

Shire Horse Temperament

The Shire horse is known for its easy-going attitude, hence its reputation as a gentle giant. These horses are calm and laid-back, plus they are comfortable and friendly towards humans. You don’t have to worry about bucking, rearing, shying, or spooking with this horse breed.

Shire horses don’t mind being around children, plus they are also quite comfortable around other animals, such as dogs and cats. They can easily handle the kind of stimuli that would typically result in a meltdown in less tolerant equines, such as loud noises, water, thunder, cars, etc.

Shire horses are known for their eagerness to please, a trait that makes them easy to be trained and groomed. Generally, this horse has an easygoing personality and an even temperament that could be attributed to the fact that it was bred to serve as a warhorse. This required the Shire horse to learn to stay calm and tolerant even in the most chaotic situations, and these traits can be observed in modern horses.


Like all other horse breeds, the Shire horse needs to be regularly to ensure that the coat and skin stay in top condition. However, because this breed has feathering around the ankles, extra care must be taken during grooming, and high sanitation levels must be maintained to prevent the development of conditions such as pododermatitis.

Because of its towering height, you will need a sturdy stepladder or stool to access all the different parts of the horse’s body that need grooming. Use a curry comb to remove loose hair and dirt. You can also use a dandy brush to loosen hair, dirt, and mud from the coat.

It is recommended that you use a body finishing brush for sensitive areas like the face and legs. You can also opt to use a tail brush and mane comb specifically for these areas. A shedding blade is effective at removing excess hair, and a hoof pick will get rid of dirt and debris stuck in the horse’s large hooves.

What is a Shire Horse Used for?

The Shire horse has seen a resurgence in popularity in recent times, and with good reason. This breed horse can be put to use in a variety of ways:

  • Agricultural purposes

It is not uncommon to find horses working the fields today, although on a small scale. Small farms, market gardens, and small holdings are taking advantage of this robust horse. The Shire horse is increasingly being used for agricultural work, as well as a show horse and a draught horse.

  • Training purposes

Shire horses have also seen a resurgence in enrollment in modern activities such as timber snigging and skills tests, to mention a few.

  • Business purposes

This horse breed is also used to pull drays in parades and for pub deliveries. They are also commonly used as a promotional tool for some businesses, especially for modern-day beer brewers, some of whom have gone back to making deliveries by wagon and horse.

  • Social events

Some Shire owners make money by providing their horses for weddings and local carnivals. The Shire horse can also be seen pulling sightseeing wagons, a use that is still common today.

  • Forestry

The use of Shire horses in timber extraction has also increased. This could be attributed to the fact that horses are more environmentally friendly than tractors – horses’ hooves are a lot less damaging in an area that has sensitive fauna and flora.

Are Shire Horses Good for Riding?

Shire horses make great riding horses and can be used by riders at any level. These animals move effortlessly and under the guidance of a professional trainer, can make the transition from walking to trotting to a slow loping canter in a smooth, graceful manner. You can cover a lot of ground in a short time riding a Shire horse thanks to its long strides.

It is worth mentioning that the size of a Shire horse may cause some difficulties when riding, especially for people on the shorter side. Keep in mind that this breed is taller than average, so you will likely need help when it comes to stepping into the saddle stirrups.

Once you get on the saddle, your legs are spread wide. The width of this horse’s back makes a comfortable seat for tall people with long legs, but the average person may find the experience uncomfortable.

How Strong is a Shire Horse?

If you are looking for a horse that works hard, it’s hard to beat the shire for work ethic and strength. This horse, primarily used for plowing and driving, is suited to training for use as a riding horse. When properly conditioned, the Shire horse can work long hours in the field, under the saddle, or on the road.

Are Shire Horses Rare?

Like many other draught breeds, the introduction of machine use in agriculture following the Second World War negatively impacted the numbers of Shire horses. Previously, there had been slightly over a million Shire horses in the UK and USA, but by the 50s and 60s, only a few thousand of these giants were left.

The Shire Horse Society launched a campaign in the 1970s to save the breed by promoting the horses as willing and friendly mounts, rather than just draught animals. However, even now, the Shire has far from recovered in terms of numbers. According to the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, only 240 Shire foals were registered in the UK in 2017.

The Shire has witnessed a gradual but steady increase in interest thanks to a few determined exhibitors and breeders and breweries that use them for promotions and short haul work. This has contributed to their gradual but steady increase in numbers in recent years.

Can Shire Horses Jump?

With a lot of heavy horses, including Shires, there can be a stigma that they are too slow or too heavy, with limited agility, but with consistent and diligent training, this horse breed can be trained to do some jumping. That said, you may want to hold off on entering your Shire horse into a jumping contest simply because it lacks the stamina and speed that Sport breeds for such competitions possess.

How Much Can a Shire Horse Pull?

In 1924, a pair of Shire horses at a British exhibition was estimated to have pulled 50 tons (100,000 pounds). Working in slippery footing, these same horses pulled 18.5 tons at another exhibition. Within the same year, another Shire horse single-handedly pulled 29 tones (around 58,000 pounds). Based on these records, there is no question that the Shire can pull quite a few tons, and then some.

A variety of factors affect the amount of weight that a Shire horse can pull:

  • The fitness level of the horse
  • The type of load that is being pulled
  • The type of terrain the horse is working on
  • The shoeing used on the horse’s hooves

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