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Birth of royal Shire brings ‘sunshine’ to Hampton Court Palace

A new rare breed royal arrival has brought “sunshine into everyone’s life” at Hampton Court Palace.

On 10 June the palace welcomed a grey Shire colt, the first Shire foal to be born in London in living memory.

Andrew Liefooghe, director of Operation Centaur, the company that owns the Shires, told H&H the colt has been named Hampton Court George, after King George V, who was the last of the royal family to breed Shires, at the Royal Stud at Sandringham.

“We don’t normally breed because we are too busy with working the horses but we found a really good stamp of mare with George’s mum Bess, and the decision was made to put her in foal,” he said.

“We selected the stallion Double Trouble of the Landcliffe Stuff in Yorkshire. He was twice national champion and a very smart stallion, we thought we would get a very good foal, and we have.”

Andreas said George is already “taking after his dad”.

“There’s only 1,500 Shires left in the world, and less than 200 grey Shires so he’s a quite a special boy. He promises to be at least 18hh and he certainly knows he’s special,” he said.

“Everybody here at the palace is delighted, we couldn’t be happier and Bess has really taken to being a mother.”

George will make his public debut on 15 November at the palace’s annual Shire Horse Sunday event.

“It’s a very big day at the palace where we parade all the horses,” he said. “People can meet the Shires and this year we are expecting a lot of people to want to see George.

“The day is a magnificent spectacle. In 1540 Henry VIII’s created a law saying people should stop breeding with small horses because he wanted to create the big war horse, and now seeing these 18hh horses parade around the gardens makes you think Henry would have been pretty pleased.”

Andreas said the palace now has 10 Shires, including George, and they carry out various roles.

“They do the carriage work, are used to cut the grass and look after the wild flower meadows, and work in the royal parks carrying out harrowing and bracken rolling,” he said.

“We also use the Shires in equine assisted psychotherapy programmes for people with addiction and we’ve done work with anti-bullying campaigns for schools – they turn their hoof to many different things. The therapy work is good for the older Shires as they don’t tend to like retirement having always had a purpose in their life. They want to do something and are looking for that connection with people.”

Andreas said George will remain at the palace and once he is older will start his education towards becoming a carriage horse.

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“Everyone here is doting on him. After starting off shy now as soon as he sees people in the field he runs towards them and wants to make contact and play,” he said.

“After this period of lockdown he’s brought a bit of light and sunshine into everyone’s lives here and really cheered everybody up.”

For more information on Hampton Court Palace’s Shires visit www.operationcentaur.com.

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