A slightly Roman nose, soup-plate feet and the strength to pull a plough — perhaps not the qualities you’d associate with an athletic racehorse.
But Lingfield Park in Surrey is hosting its first ever shire race to raise awareness for the endangered breed, which is on the Rare Breeds Survival Trust’s “at risk” list, because there are so few breeding mares.
The Flying Feathers race will take place on 15 June, as part of Lingfield’s annual Countryside Raceday.
Up to eight shires — standing between 17.3-18.2hh and weighing up to 1,100kg — will race on the all-weather track over a distance of two furlongs, ridden by professional jump jockeys.
“Heavy horses are always shown working or ploughing — society doesn’t see them as ridden horses, which is why they’re in decline,” said Sonia Hayles at Hurst Green Shires, the centre providing the horses.
“We want to change people’s opinion of the breed,” she said, adding that the horses are having extra hacking in preparation for their big day.
David Crosse is one of the jockeys taking part.
“I was surprised how nimble they are — in a much slower way, of course,” he said after a practice, where he needed to use a stepladder to mount.
“I can’t wait for the race — it will be quite a sight.”
Each horse will be sponsored by a local company, with money going towards the Countryside Alliance Foundation, the CA’s educational programme. And punters will have the chance to place a bet on their favourite gentle giant.
Nicky Adams at Lingfield said the horses were “the most well-behaved creatures” during the trial.
“Obviously, they are very different to thoroughbreds, but they adapted really well.”
Next stop Royal Ascot?
This news story was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (2 May 2013)