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The actual foundation stallion of the Shire Horse dates back to between 1755 – 1770; however, the great English horse spoken of by Medieval writers dates back to around 1066. By the end of the 16th Century, heavy horses were required, large numbers of Flanders and Friesian horses were imported from Holland. By the early 17th Century, these horses were used for drainage of the Fens. Once work was finished, they were kept for breeding, hence came the breed – the Shire from the Shires of England.
The Shire horse was the most dominant breed of heavy horse, working within the fields, towns, docks, towpaths, mills and railways. The demand was high, and there became millions within England over the years. However, after the 2nd World War, for which Shire Horses played a massive part within the artillery, their numbers dwindled to a point in the 1950’s they were near to extinction. A comparison of figures shows that in 1939 there were 550,000 Shire Horses against 5000 in 1972.
As with all breeds of Heavy Horse, the total dedication of both breeders and the Shire Horse Society has maintained the breed. And even though they are still registered on the Rare Breed watch list – they are steadily increasing in numbers.
Today you can see Shire horses being not only driven but also ridden and many breweries in the country still use them for promotion and delivery.