Ahead of Lingfield Park's heavy horse race (6 June), Horse & Hound's Garry Ashton-Coulton took one of the Shires for a spin up the track to get a feel for these gentle giants

The other morning I had a strange equestrian related problem in the shape of an affliction I had not suffered for some considerable time.

My jaw muscles were in the grip of a vice-like spasm, not I must hasten to say from an over tightening of the chinstrap on my hat, but from a surfeit of grinning, laughing and whooping.

The reason for this was that I had just ridden a horse around Lingfield Park racecourse, and in an assault of drumming hooves and flying sand, I hadn’t had such a blast since galloping a Spanish horse along a cliff top path in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

‘A towering hairy-legged mountain of a Shire’

My mount, Jack, was not however a prancing, hot-blooded racing machine, but a towering hairy-legged mountain of a Shire, with the body of a builders van and feet the size of a greedy man’s dinner plate.

Yet in his own gentle, stoic way he is no lesser an athlete than his thoroughbred counterpart.

With his huge ground-eating gallop and enormous, willing engine, he eats up the all-weather track like a hungry freight train.

Think of it as the difference between driving a frantic high-revving sports car, and a big diesel Range Rover with enough force to pull up an oak tree, fast and powerful, but with the comfort of a well-upholstered sofa.

The jaw crushing grin started the minute we were led around the Lingfield collecting ring and out onto the pristine all-weather track.

shire race

‘A big rolling walk’

It was like sitting atop a double decker bus with a big rolling walk.

I could imagine the race-day punters in amazement at the unlikely pairing before them, wondering when I would put on the armor and ask them had they seen the Black Knight.

Accompanied by Pat, Jack’s slightly more streamlined Clydesdale field mate we set off at a comfortable walk down the long straight. On turning at the bottom for the return run, the two great beasts needed no encouragement to blast away from the line like a couple of hairy rockets, and judging by the eagerness and pricked ears they where having just as much fun as I was. After that it was a case of rinse and repeat.

If you fancy watching these gentle giants in action visit www.lingfieldpark.co.uk or if you feel like riding one yourself visit www.hurstgreenshires.com.

The Shires vs Clydesdales race is on 6 June 2015