Want to own a Shire horse? Follow this guide to find the perfect one

  • If you want to buy a Shire as your next dream horse, then this advice on how to find the right one is a good place to kick off your search.

    Would a Shire horse suit me?

    Shire horses are adored across Great Britain and beyond. Their impressive stamp, calm disposition and kind nature has earned them a status as a gentle giant. However, as with all breeds, individual horses have specific temperaments and personalities, and not all are suited to ridden work or to being ridden or handled by an individual without some heavy horse experience.

    Emma Green has been involved with the breed for 25 years. Her passion began when she met her husband, Richard, who has worked on the Shire horse scene since childhood. Emma has produced Shires for ridden work for several years, and she is a regular face on the showing circuit. She has reigned at the breed show on several occasions and she won the ridden heavy horse of the year title at the Horse of the Year Show in 2022 riding Westfield Calendar Girl.

    “They are definitely weight carriers,” Emma begins. “While they are generally an amenable breed that is easily trainable, I don’t believe that all Shires would suit a novice, unless the horse had plenty of age on it. There is a lot of horse and power there, especially once the animal knows its own strength.”

    What should I look for when buying a Shire?

    When looking for a good example of a Shire horse, it is important to study the Shire Horse Society’s breed standard. However, Emma says that while good conformation is standard, the horses favoured by in-hand judges may be slightly different to those that would thrive under-saddle.

    “If I was looking for a ridden Shire I’d ideally want something that stands between 17hh and 18hh,” says Emma. “The breed standard says that mares can be 16hh plus, so you do find smaller ones, but irrespective of size they need to catch the eye. A horse that is too big may find ridden work harder, and it might be a daunting sit-on for a ride judge, too.

    “You should be able to tell what the horse is instantly. A Shire should have broad solid feet as they are carrying a lot of weight on them. They need to be put together correctly, with the head and neck in proportion to the size of the horse. I like a strong shoulder, nice straight forelegs, a good depth of girth, well-sprung ribs, and they should sweep upwards towards the hindquarters. Stallions and geldings should have a short, compact body, while mares can be slightly longer.

    “Way of going is obviously important for riding. They need to have plenty of power and use their knees and hocks. The poll should be held high, with the nose raised just in front of the vertical. They should also be looking through their bridle with a joyful expression. A horse of this size needs a powerful back end so they don’t move on the forehand with the head on the floor.

    “If you look at the Shire horses bred today compared to 50 years ago, a lot has changed. We no longer use them for what they were originally bred for and now their main purpose is for the show ring. This means some traits have been exaggerated, for example, the tying-in of the hocks. While close hocks may be a desirable trait for a breeder, it may not be so for the ideal ridden horse; it puts more pressure on the hocks and could mean they are weaker and can’t stand up to work.”

    How much should I expect to pay?

    The prices of Shire horses will vary depending on age and quality, as with all horse and pony breeds.

    “A good Shire can go for the same money as a good light horse,” Emma says. “If you were looking for a quality horse that is ready made to go out and do a job, you are looking at anywhere from between £10,000 to £20,000. Youngsters are also fetching good prices, anywhere from £6,000 onwards. As there aren’t many Shires around, they are in high demand. And with any horse, if you want something top-drawer, you should expect to pay more.”

    Where should I look?

    Shire horses for sale will be advertised at various times in the season on online platforms, including with Horse & Hound, powered by Whickr.

    Alongside approaching dealers who specialise in heavy horses, approaching long-standing breeders is the best approach, as Emma explains: “These people will know about the breeding lines, too. Initially, I suggest going to breed shows and getting in touch with The Shire Horse Society, who have a ‘for sale’ site on their website. The society does a lot of demos and talks, and they do a good job in providing training and education opportunities for members. They even hold an annual camp which is great to get involved with once you have found your Shire.”

    I’ve agreed to buy a Shire horse, what now?

    When you have found the right horse for you, then it’s time to arrange a pre-purchase vetting, something that is strongly recommended.

    The vet will assess the horse with the specific job you want it for in mind, so it’s important to let the vet know prior to the vetting what you want to do with the horse. If you want the horse for showing, the vet should pay close attention to any conformational faults which could impact its future career, even if they don’t impact soundness or performance.

    “It’s always worth getting a vetting, especially if you are going to be paying a certain amount of money,” says Emma. “Shires can be prone to a few issues so if you’re wanting to ride your horse and it’s going to have an active life then a vetting would be recommended.”

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