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The Shire Horse - a gentle giant of the equine world

Shire horses were first used in wars when knights wore heavy suits of armour. The smaller, lighter native breeds could not carry the weight in battles so larger, heavier horses were imported from the Continent. After the wars, the big horses took over heavy work on farms which had been done by oxen, such as ploughing and pulling carts.  Shires were also ideal for hauling barges, drays and trams. When the railway and tractors came along, the days of the Shire Horses were numbered and the breed went into a decline.  According to the Shire Horse Society website, Shire horse numbers fell from over a million to only a few thousand by the 1960s. Nowadays, however, owners who love this gentle, placid giant of the horse world are using them again as working horses and for riding. For more information visit: http://www.shire-horse.org.uk/

Jack the Shire and Mandy - Mandy Bennie
What does a Shire eat?

As Shires are such huge horses (Mandy Bennie's Jack was already 18hh as a 3-y-o), you would expect them to eat an enormous amount of food.  We asked Mandy what she feeds Jack: ‘I give him three scoops of sugar beet, two scoops of coarse mix, two scoops of apple chaff and chopped carrots.  He also gets three squirts of Good to Go Parsley, garlic and linseed oil.  He has ad lib haylage.'

‘It won’t be as much as what other people feed their Shires but Jack is a slow eater, taking up to 30 minutes to eat, then he’s had enough. Jack is on the chubby side, shall I say!’

Cleaning a Shire's legs

Keeping a Shire's legs clean requires regular brushing and washing. Mandy Bennie shows us how in this photo shoot she took of her own Shire, Jack.

Mandy's Shire, Jack, with clean legs - Mandy Bennie

This is how I clean my Shire's legs

I used fairy liquid and hair conditioner as Granny soap flakes have been discontinued in the supermarket. The hair conditioner makes it easier to brush the hair afterwards. Use a towel to towel dry and a small hoof brush to scrub legs. Use hair brush afterwards.

Cleaning the legs took from 09.30 to 12.05 pm and his legs still were not dry as this was done in the winter. If I have soap flakes, it takes a bit longer as it stays on his legs for 15 minutes and is then rinsed. In the summer it takes longer again as he has a full body wash when the weather is hot.


Photo 1 - Start of getting legs clean                           Photo 2 - First brush loose dirt out                             Photo 3 - Get the legs wet


 Photo 4 - What to use                                               Photo 5 - Apply washing up liquid & scrub with hoof brush                Photo 6 - Fairy liquid on legs


  Photo 7 - Rinse and apply conditioner                        Photo 8 - Hopefully a good result                                Photo 9 - Use a hair brush afterwards

Thank you to all for having a look at my photo shoot for Horse and Pony Info readers.

Photos © Mandy Bennie 2011

More tips for keeping a Shire's legs looking good

  • Wood flour helps to dry the legs. (Becky Boyles)
  • After washing legs, you can massage pig oil into the feathers to help prevent mud or dirt sticking to them. I wash my Shire x cob's feathers every weekend to check for sores as it's always a good idea to have a check through because you never know what's going on under all that hair. (Ashleigh Thornton)
  • Pig oil is a medium mineral like baby oil. It stops mud sticking to the feather. Mixed with sulphur, it can help against lice, sweet itch, stop feather snapping due to mud and wet and it also encourages hair growth. Wood flour is a finely pulverized wood and has a consistency like sand and sawdust. It helps dry feather more quickly. One supplier is Matthew Burks Shires. He supplies lots for the big breeds. (Mandy Bennie)




The Working Shire Horse DVD

'A specially commissioned programme, we spend the day at Dan-Yr-Ogof Shire Horse Centre in the knowledgeable company of manager Sara Jane Price as she expertly explains living and working with these gentle giants and demonstrates them working in the traditional manner.' (Product description from Amazon.co.uk)

The Shire Horse - a History of the Breed, the Society and the Men - BOOK by Keith Chivers. Foreword by HRH Prince Philip

Published by J.A. Allen & Co Ltd. Hardback, illustrated edition, September 1976. 872 pages.