Since their domestication over 4000 years ago, horses have continued to be a big part of human life. Throughout this relationship, breeding strategies have gone on to create hundreds of different horse breeds. That said, what is the biggest horse breed in the world?
Horses are generally big animals, but currently, the biggest horse breed is the Shire horse. The Shire horse has for a long time held this record thanks to its impressive dimensions and frame. It continues to be popular throughout many parts of the world thanks to the advantages its size provides.
Curious to find out more about the biggest horse breed in the world? Read on as we highlight and discuss more details about the Shire horse.
A Brief History of the Shire Horse
The year that Shire horses came about isn’t known exactly, according to available information however, they have been around since the early 17th century.
According to consensus in the equestrian world, the origin of the Shire horse can be linked to another horse breed, the Friesian. The Friesian originated in the Netherlands, and in the late 16th century, it was introduced in England.
Breeding practices with the Friesian and other available breeds in England eventually wound up creating the Shire horse.
The breed inevitably grew increasingly popular over the years after its emergence, thanks to several of its unique and advantageous characteristics as a draught horse. This fact led to the creation of an organization called the English Cart Horse Society in 1878 to maintain and control the quality of this breed. (The English Cart Horse Society later renamed to The Shire Horse Society in 1884)
As a draught horse, it was widely popular not only in England but in several other parts of the world like America. Its popularity and existence were however threatened by some world events.
These events were the increased regulations on the breed, the world wars, and the consequential rapid mechanization these wars brought about. The need for manual labor decreased in farms and transportation, and as such, so did the demand for Shire horses.
Hope for the breed was salvaged in the 60s and 70s due to a resurgence in public interest for the breed. Several horse breeding societies joined in and have continued to work since then to maintain the Shire horse.
Characteristics of the Shire Horse
The average height for an adult horse is within a range of about 14-16.2 hands (56-65 inches). For Shire horses, however, their height measurements are higher.
A standard Shire horse has a height range of 17.3 hands and upwards. The tallest horse ever recorded was a Shire that stood at 21.2 hands (84.8 inches).
Horses, on average, are on a weight class that’s within the range of about 800-1300 pounds (400-700 Kgs).
A Shire horse, on the other hand inevitably beats these margins by averaging around 1800-2250 pounds (900-1200 Kgs). The currently reigning record for the heaviest Shire horse stands at 3300 pounds (1650 Kgs)!
While their size may make them seem very intimidating, Shire horses are quite the opposite at heart.
They have a calm and receptive personality towards humans and seem to enjoy their company. Despite their strength and abilities, they aren’t aggressive. Their welcoming demeanor has allowed them to remain one of the best-loved horse breeds in history to date.
Looking at them in terms of coat color, Shire horses are commonly observed to have bay, black, and grey colored coats. They can also have a brown coat, as seen in some varieties.
Their legs and feet also display a distinct white color in spite of the overall coat color.
According to widely accepted equine practice, horses need to be fed food weighing around 1.8%-2% of their total body weight.
With that in mind, considering the average weight of Shire horses, we can calculate and see they need food, averagely weighing upwards of 33 pounds each day! (It’s recommended that half of the total horse diet be fiber)
What makes Shire Horses Exceptional?
Aside from their size and power, they have several other quality traits, some of which we’ve mentioned. Overall, Shire horses are also valued for their temperament.
They were mainly bred for use as draft horses, which means they had to get a lot of strenuous work done in partnership with their owners every day.
For such a task, a cool demeanor is necessary, which Shire horses have in plenty. They are some of the smartest equine breeds. This intelligence plays a role toward their much valued good personality.
This combination of size, strength, intelligence, mental fortitude, and personality that Shire horses have, remains a rarity that few breeds can match in the equine world.
Many refer to them as gentle giants, which in all truth is an honest appraisal! That, however, shouldn’t make you provoke them. This is because their intelligence can equally alert them that they’re being mistreated, forcing them to react.
I don’t imagine anyone ever wanting to deal with an angry Shire!
Highlighting other Big Horse Breeds
Hailing from Scotland, this breed gets its name from a similarly named county which lends it its name. No exact records of when they first appeared exist, but the few in existence about them can be traced back to the latter half of the 18th century.
Interestingly, this breed owes its existence partly to Shire horses since they contributed a little towards their emergence. That could explain how they are as big as they are! (They, however, don’t quite match up to all the dimensions shown by Shire horses)
Renowned for their incredible raw strength and power, they were utilized for several farming and forestry activities. They remain popular in some parts of the world today thanks to these traits.
The Percheron breed originates from France. It has a rich history whose origins can be traced back to the early 17th century.
They are well built and heavily muscled. These traits made them desirable for several types of work that required strength. Percherons were extensively used to pull stagecoaches thanks to their ability to comfortably handle hard work.
Originally, however, they were bred for use as war horses. They are intelligent horses with impressive mental fortitude and coupled with their impressive frame and strength, they were valuable war assets.
Nowadays, they continue to be used for draft work and crossbreeding. Percherons are also a favorite horse breed for many equestrian sports like show jumping.
The Belgian Draft
Hailing from Belgium, this horse breed is one of the most widely used draft horses. Its ancestry remains a subject of speculation, but some traces indicate it could have lineage dating back to the medieval age.
They were bred for use as workhorses in the farming and transport sectors. Today, they continue to be used for the same, but are also popular as pleasure riding and show horses.
The Dutch Draft
The Dutch draft horse is interestingly a result of crossbreeding the Belgian draft horse with Zeeland horses, which are native to parts of the Netherlands. They began appearing in the early 20th century, after the 1st world war to be more precise.
Their impressive strength, stamina, and calmness made them ideal for use as workhorses in various sectors. As mechanization progressed, however, their demand declined, and as of today, their population remains low.
Dutch draft horses are unique in this case, considering their heights average slightly lower compared to the other breeds mentioned here. That fact, however, doesn’t diminish the point that they are still one of the strongest breeds available.
The Suffolk Punch
According to available records on this horse breed, it originated in England back in the first half of the 16th century.
It’s a notable draft horse, thanks to a few unique traits it has. The first is that these horses are always chestnut colored. The other noteworthy characteristic is that they can live on minimal food without losing their frame or power.
Having enjoyed popularity since their availability, their use dropped as developments in the 20th century rendered them unfavorable for work possible with machinery. (e.g. farm work and pulling non-motor vehicles)
With them out of the picture, their population ended up dropping significantly, as is the case with some of the other breeds we’ve mentioned. Their case is slightly more serious since several horse breeding societies categorize them as being in critical threat of extinction.
Nowadays, they continue to be moderately used as workhorses and for stock improvement in breeding endeavors.
Getting a Shire Horse
Thanks to their favorable personality, Shire horses can be used by equestrians of all levels. They are available in several horse farms around the world where you can get to sample them.
If you plan to own one, remember to consider their dietary needs since they eat way more than the average horse.
The Big Shire…
Over the length of this article, we’ve discussed several details regarding the biggest horse breed, the Shire horse.
I hope it was an interesting and informative read, and you got to learn a bit more about this great big gentle giant of the equine world!