Shire Horse

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Shire Horse

Breed: Shire Horse
Temperament: docile
Cost: $5000-$8000
Lifespan: 20 years+
Recommended for: hobby farmers, enthusiasts


The exact history of the Shire horse is sketchy. Names associated with the breed include the Great Horse, English War Horse, English Cart Horse and Large Black English Horse.

Its ancestors wore armour and carried heavily armoured soldiers into battle, so it’s no surprise that in England breeding and raising strong horses was a high priority for hundreds of years. With the invention of gunpowder the heavy war horse became a farm worker, because smaller, faster horses were needed for battle. Shires were first brought to Australia in the early 1900s, but gradually died out. Helene Scarf imported new stock in the 1980s to re-establish the breed.


Shires are the largest and heaviest of the draught breeds. Stallions stand up to 19 hands high and mares up to 17 hands, and on average they weigh around a tonne. They are immensely strong with massive bone structure, a fine head, prominent docile eyes and stylish feathering below the knees and hocks. They come in black, brown, bay and grey, often with a white blaze and socks.


Shires are renowned as having one of the most placid temperaments of any breed. This trait is necessary in draught horses because sometimes they need to stand quietly in harness for hours while carts are loaded. They are adaptable to training and make good (but very big) pets.

Health and lifespan:

Being such a large horse the Shire can develop problems in the joints at the lower limbs. Their feet must be trimmed regularly otherwise the hooves will flare out and start to crack. The end result is a dropped sole, with the horse taking weight on the sensitive sole rather than on the hard hoof wall. Shires live for 20 years plus.


Feeding requirements vary depending on the horse’s workload and where it is kept. They may need supplementary feed during winter or other times when paddock grass is low.

Costs and ideal owners:

Most Shires today are kept for special duties or by enthusiasts. These gentle giants make wonderful pets, and are ideal for farmers on small acreages who don’t want to buy a tractor.

Grooming and maintenance:

Helene Scarf says that grooming and bathing a Shire is like washing down a barn! Helene gives the feathers (the long hair between the hoof and fetlock of most heavy horse breeds) a good wash, and uses fat or lard on them to stop them becoming brittle. Maintenance can be expensive, because the horses are so big that everything has to be tailor made for them. Shoes cost at least $5 each, and a nail trim is about $35.


Most Shires today are bred for show, farm work and promotional purposes. They have been used in Australia and New Zealand to pull brewery carts, and they look wonderful in full harness on ceremonial occasions.


The breed’s popularity declined with the advent of mechanisation, but in recent times there has been a revival of interest in Shires. Although the Shire is the most popular heavy horse in England, there are still less than 3000 in the world and only about 70 in Australia.


We filmed our segment with Helene Scarf who operates The Cedars weekend cottages at Kangaroo Valley. For details phone: (02) 4465 1147. For further details, contact Helen Kuiper, Shire Breeders Australia, phone: (02) 4681 8537.

For heavy horse enthusiasts there is an open weekend on 9-10 October 1999 at Belgenny Farm, Elizabeth Macarthur Avenue, Camden, off Remembrance Drive (the old Hume Highway), NSW. For enquiries phone: (02) 4655 9651.