What to concider before getting a Shire horse?

(Translated from the Swedish Shire Horse Society web page)

Do you have sufficient space and room?

The first to think of when getting a Shire horse is the size. A Shire horse is big, - really BIG. And you must therefore take special considerations about it. They need a quite big paddock/field to be able to move, and the stable need to have a sufficient ceiling height with huge boxes. Transporting a Shire horse can also cause problems if the hanger is too small, and it might be necessary to remove both partition wall and bar crossings in double hangers. The best choice can be a lorry/truck or special built hangers, if you are planning to transport 2 or more Shire horses at once. Please remember the allowed total weight of the car according to the Norwegian laws of vehicles.

How much does a Shire horse eat?

A Shire horse eats a lot, often 15-20 kilos of good hey each day if trained a lot. And do not even think about cutting down on it, and give the horse free amount of hey as far as possible. When speaking of grain you have to be careful, especially when giving it to foals, yearlings and youngsters to avoid them “growing apart”. A cold blooded horse like the Shire horse must not grow too fast, nor too slow. If it gets too rich nourishment during the first years growing up, they will get a too big and porous skeleton, which increases the possibilities of loose bone splinters and following health problems. At the same time you have to feed the horse so much that the growth does not restrain, and the horse can develop according to the Shire horse standards. This is why it is necessary to find the balance between the horses’ needs and the feed it actually gets. Certain diseases can cause certain needs, and might also be decisive if the horse can function as normal. (Look under diseases on the menu: EPSM)

Which type of Shire might fit you?

Like in other breeds, like the Norwegian Fjord horse, there are several types for Shire horses. Not all Shire horses are heavy and lumpy brewery draft horses! You can find relatively small and compact, tall and thin, big and heavy built or tall and muscular. The temper is approximately the same for them all; easy learned, good minded and calm as the day is long. And you can of course use them in much, much more than driving and farm work!!! In England and Sweden they have competitions and shows ONLY for Shire horses, something like the Norwegian Fjord horse Championship. And they compete in everything from jumping (not the tallest classes, though…), dressage, gallop (!), western riding, long-distance riding and (of course) driving. In the show ring it is very pleasant to arrive with a lighter type of Shire horse, since they are often more developed than the heavy built ones. But it is certainly just as fun to show a well built heavy and compact Shire, which really gives you the “majestetical” impression.

The height…

Even though the salesman (especially the English ones) announces Shires horses at 185 cm height, is this in many cases exaggerated. It is therefore a tip to measure the horse yourself. It is actually not so common that Shires are more than 185 cm, though many think so. When it comes to anticipating the height of youngsters, there are many different tricks and methods, but there are few that actually are reliable. Hereditary, environment, nutrition and general care are all factors that can play a part of this. All factors despites; tall horses can breed small ones, and likewise.

What about hoof care?

Before you actually buy a Shire horse, it may be useful to find out if there is a certificated blacksmith/ferrier to shoe your horse. Because they are so huge and heavy, their hoofs very often get too wide and unbalanced, if not trimmed often enough. Hoof crackers are unfortunately quite ordinary. It is therefore important that you provide for a competent hoof care for your horse that trims the hoofs often. Shire horses can function excellent as bare foot as well, but then it is very important with RIGHT hoof trim. (Link: www.barehoof.com) You also have to find out where to buy large enough shoes, since the Shire horse uses from size 5 and up. The size of the shoe can also vary from producer to producer.

Equipment size “elephant”…

Finding a saddle for your Shire horse should be pretty easy, as long as it is size x-wide. But it might be a problem finding a bellyband that is long enough. Halters and bridles must be size x-full or draft, and can be difficult to get. But luckily the availability is about to get better. The bits are also large; 15- 16,5 cm. And you can buy harness with certain producers in size shire/draft (www.nor-pol.no). Many wagons and carriages are too tight and short to fit a giant Shire horse, but if you are a bit handy it is possible to make it fit. Or you can hire someone to do it for you (www.bruvikvognfabrikk.no or www.hestogvogn.no). Tacks to avoid rain and bad weather can cause a bigger problem, since size 165 cm often is too tight. This varies of course for producer to producer and the building of the horse. You must therefore use the “try or throw away method”.

The temper

The Shire horse is actually a little dog wrapped in a huge body, and would rather sit on your lap being patted on the neck. Due to human health and natural causes, this must strictly be avoided… As written earlier it is easy learned, good minded and calm. They most certainly not jump around without reason, and take most new situations with total calmness. They are trusting and can be used to almost everything. They can also have a calming effect on other nervous horses in the traffic. The Shire horse is even calm despite having the weekend off, as long as it can come out in fresh air every day. (Remember the law on animal welfare) It is strong and can easily pull 5 tons and is pretty long-powered. But if you are looking for a good jumping horse to win lots of competitions, you should rather choose a different type of horse, though the Shire horse jump fences as well and do whatever they are trained to do like any other breed.

Then what?

If you have considered these points, you can start to actually look for the perfect Shire horse. The best tip will be to contact an experienced breeder. Unfortunately there are not too many registered Shires here in Norway, and it might be necessary to contact breeders across borders, approximately in Sweden, Germany or England. You can also call The English Shire Horse Society (0044 1733 234451) and order “List of breeders and exhibitors”. Look at as many horses you can before you make your choice. And try to meet the horse yourself and try it before you buy it. Get knowledge about parents and heritage. Has it been shown? What was the result? Has it been used in breeding? Does it have any certain problems you should know about? No questions are to dumb to ask, and if the breeder would be like to taken seriously, this should be obvious.

And remember:

When you meet the horse you must especially examine the body in general and the legs especial, and the tendons and muscles in particular. If you have no experience with this yourself, make sure to get someone who has to join you when you look at the horse. A veterinarian certificate must be taken before the deal is set, and approximately by a veterinarian that you advise to make sure that the salesman does not influence the result. It is also important to check how the horse reacts on handling, lifting feet, how it behaves amongst other horses, in the stable, at transport and study its moves. A Shire horse must always have full papers to be registrated as a full blooded Shire here in Norway. The horse must therefore have a passport. The papers must be approved to make the horse registrated at Norwegian Horse Centre it you are planning to use it in breeding. General care with deworming, dental care, hoof care and vaccination must have been fulfilled. X-rays of the legs can be necessary for stallions (to eliminate side bone) or expensive horses that are going to be used in breeding. This is to avoid future weaknesses in the heritage. You must also consider insuring the horse to make sure not to loose a lot of money if something should happen.

If there is anything else you wonder about, or just want to have a nice horse related chat, please contact us in the Norwegian Shire Horse Society. And remember: You don`t have to own a Shire horse to become a member. Everyone is welcome!