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The Shire horse is a breed of draught horse. The breed comes in many colours, including black, bay and grey. They are a tall breed, with mares standing 16 hands (64 inches, 163 cm) and over and stallions standing 17 hands (68 inches, 173 cm) and over. The breed has an enormous capacity for weight pulling, and Shires have held the world records for both largest overall horse and tallest horse at various times. Throughout its history, the breed has been popular for pulling brewery wagons delivering ale to customers. This practice continues today, with the breed also being used for forestry, leisure and promotional pursuits.

The Shire has an enormous capacity for pulling weight. In 1924, at a British exhibition, a pair of horses was estimated to have pulled a starting load equal to 45 tons, although an exact number could not be determined as their pull exceeded the maximum reading on the dynamometer. Working in slippery footing, the same pair of horses pulled 16.5 tons at a later exhibition.

The largest horse in recorded history was probably a Shire named Mammoth, born in 1848. He stood 21.2 hands (86 inches, 218 cm) high, and his peak weight was estimated at 1,500 kilograms (3,300 lb). At over 19 hands (76 inches, 193 cm), a Shire gelding named Goliath was the Guinness Book of World Records record holder for the world's tallest horse until his death in 2001.

During the 19th century, Shires were used extensively as cart horses to move goods from the docks through the cities and countryside. The rough roads created a need for large horses with extensive musculature.  In 1878, the English Cart Horse Society was formed, and in 1884 changed its name to the Shire Horse Society. The Society published a stud book, with the first edition in 1878 containing 2,381 stallions and records dating back to 1770. Between 1901 and 1914, 5,000 Shires were registered each year with the British registry. Around the time of World War II, increasing mechanization and strict regulations on the purchase of livestock feed reduced the need for and ability to keep draft horses. Thousands of Shires were slaughtered and several large breeding studs closed.

The breed fell to its lowest point in the 1950's and 1960's, and in 1955 fewer than 100 horses were shown at the annual British Spring Show. And although the UK Rare Breeds Survival Trust considers the breed to be "at risk", meaning that population numbers are estimated to be under 1,500 With the help of a small number of charities and associations the number of horses is once again slowly increasing.

For more information and further reading try  The Shire Horse Society

The Shire Horse
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