One of the largest horses in the world, this breed originated in the 'Shires' of England and is a descendant of the Old English Black Horse whose ancestors were the 'great horses' of mediaeval times. It stands up to 19 hands, and may be bay, brown, black or grey in colour. Immensely strong, big-barrelled, and with long legs carrying much feather at the feet, it nevertheless has a fine head in comparison to its overall size. Despite its great size and strength (an average Shire will weigh 1 tonne and is capable of moving a 5-tonne load) it is the gentlest of beasts and is a good worker in agriculture and as an urban draught horse.
With the ever increasing mechanization of the twentieth century, the Shire among other heavy breeds, began a decline and came close to dying out. Fortunately, a revival of interest took place in these magnificent animals, and no show classes are more popular with spectators than those for the 'heavies'.
Shires still work the land in some parts of the country and several brewers use them to pull drays in the city streets of the UK. In the US they are used principally in Draft shows and as foundation sires for the new American Warmblood breed.