The heavyweight grafters of the equine world were the backbone of industry for centuries, yet are now fighting for survival. Ellie Hughes discovers some working horses bucking the trend with renewed, sustainable purpose
If you chanced upon Nobby on one of his average working days you could be forgiven for thinking you had stepped back in time. The 18.3hh Shire is a common sight criss-crossing central London’s parks and green spaces, often dragging a set of harrows behind him. He is one of a team of eight working Shire horses that make up Operation Centaur – an organisation set up to promote working horses in urban spaces in modern times.
Working horses – the heavyweight grafters of the equine world – include many of our most-treasured heavy horse, draught and native breeds. From the Shires and Suffolks that pulled ploughs and fought battles to the coal horses and pit ponies that powered the industrial revolution, these horses have shaped Britain’s physical, cultural and economic landscape for centuries. But as machines took over and jobs for horses dwindled, so the numbers of some of these breeds, especially the heavier ones, have slumped alarmingly.
According to the Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST), which monitors the fortunes of endangered farm animals, the Suffolk is on the priority list in category one (critical), the Clydesdale is in category three (vulnerable), while the Shire is category four (at risk).
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