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.
‘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.