Service Book List

To see a list of stallions that have been issued with a Service Book in 2014, please click here.

Breed Standard & Points of the Horse

A scale of points for the breed has been carefully drawn up and this has been amended when necessary, to meet modern requirements.

For instance, years ago, a great characteristic of the Shire was the wealth of hair, or feathers, on the legs.

Today the demand is for a cleaner legged horse, with straight fine, silky hair.

The standard of points laid down by the Council is as follows:-



Black, brown, bay or grey. No good stallion should be splashed with large white patches over the body. He must not be roan or chestnut.


17 hands (173 cms) high at maturity. Average about 17.2 hands (178 cms).


Long and lean, neither too large or too small, with long neck in proportion to the body. Large jaw bone should be avoided.


Large, well set and docile in expression. Wall eyes not acceptable.


Slightly Roman nostrils thin and wide; lips together.


Long, lean, sharp and sensitive.


Clean cut and lean.


Deep and oblique, wide enough to support the collar.


Long, slightly arched, well set on to give the horse a commanding appearance.


The girth varies from 6 ft (183 cms) to 8 ft (244 cms) in stallions of from 16.2 (168 cms) to 18 hands (183 cms).


Short, strong and muscular. Should not be dipped or roached.


Standing well up, denoting good constitution (must not be flat).


Wide across the chest, with legs well under the body and well enveloped in muscle, or action is impeded.


Long and sweeping, wide and full of muscle, well let down towards the thighs.


Round, deep and well sprung, not flat.


Should be as straight as possible down to pastern.


Hocks should be not too far back and in line with the hind-quarters with ample width broadside and narrow in front. “Puffy” and “sickle” hocks should be avoided. The leg sinews should be clean cut and hard like fine cords to touch and clear of short cannon bone.


Of flatbone 11 inches (28 cms) is ample, although occasionally 12½ inches (32 cms) is recorded – flat bone is heavier and stronger than spongy bone. Hocks must be broad, deep and flat and set at the correct angle for leverage.


Deep, solid and wide, with thick open walls. Coronets should be hard and sinewy with substance.


Not too much, fine straight and silky.


A good Shire Stallion should stand from 17.0 hands (173 cms) upwards, and weigh from 18 cwt (900 Kg) to 22 cwt (1100 Kg) when matured, without being overdone in condition.

He should possess a masculine head and a good crest with sloping, not upright, shoulders running well into the back, which should be short and well coupled with the loins. The tail should be well set up and not what is known as “gooserumped”.

Both head and tail should be carried erect. The ribs should be well sprung, not flat sided, with good middle which generally denotes good constitution. A Stallion should have good feet and joints; the feet should be wide and big around the top of the coronets with sufficient length in the pasterns.

When in motion, he should go with force using both knees and hocks, which latter should be kept close together, he should go straight and true before and behind.

A good Stallion should have strong character.




Black, brown, bay, grey, roan.


16 hands (163 cms) upwards.


Long and lean, neither too large nor too small, long neck in proportion to the body, of feminine appearance.


Large, well set and docile in expression. Wall eyes are acceptable except for animals Grade A and B register.


Long and slightly arched and not of masculine appearance.


5 ft (152 cms) to 7 ft (214 cms) (matured) according to size and age of animal.


Strong and in some instances longer than a male.


Short, with short cannons.


9 (23 cms) to 11 inches (28 cms) of flat bone, with clean cut sinews.

A Mare should be on the quality side, long and deep with free action, of a feminine and matronly appearance, standing from 16 hands (163 cms) and upwards on short legs.

She should have plenty of room to carry her foal.




As for Mares.


16.2 (168 cms) hands and upwards.


From 6 ft (183 cms) to 7 ft 6 ins (229 cms).


10 (23 cms) to 11 inches (26 cms) under knee, slightly more underhock and broadside on, of flat hard quality.

A Gelding should be upstanding, thick, well-balanced, very active and a gay mover.

He should be full of courage and should look like and be able to do a full day’s work. Geldings weigh from 17 (850 Kgs) to 22 cwt (1100 Kgs).



Uses of the Shire Horse Today

The Shire Horse Society is working hard to halt the decline in Shire numbers, and this means finding new uses for the breed.

Although the heyday of the Shire horse may well be over, the horse is far from redundant, and indeed undergoing a resurgence.

More and more, younger people now feel the draw of working with these wonderful creatures, and the demand is there for traditional, experienced horsemen to pass on their knowledge to the next generation.

Horses are working the fields again, albeit on a small scale. Small farms, small holdings and market gardens are finding a place for the horse – especially those concerned with the environmental impact of their activities.

Forestry and timber extraction has been one area that the use of draught horses has increased. Horse’s hooves are far less damaging in area of sensitive flora and fauna.

Organisations such as The Royal Parks are once again employing heavy horses to work the land.

Agricultural shows and ploughing matches are the most visible face working horses, and an ideal opportunity for the public to interact with both horses and their owners.

Ploughing matches had all-but disappeared by the 1960s, but along with those determined not to loose the breed, there were many determined not to loose the skill of the ploughman. Now, ploughing matches are a popular day out across the country and many include classes for novices.

Shire horses are also competing in more modern activities, such as skills tests and obstacle driving, plus cross country trials and timber ‘snigging’ (an obstacle course completed with a log being towed by the horse!). All of these activities demonstrate the abilities of the working horse in a social, if competitive, environment.

There are also a number of Heavy Horse Centres, working farms and rural life museums around the country, many of whom feature Shire horses working, and allow the public, especially children to get close to the horses.

The rise in traditional leisure activities has also seen heavy horses pulling ‘gypsy style’ caravans and canal barges for holiday makers.

The traditional role of the brewery horse pulling the dray has been retained by many of the traditional brewers, primarily as a promotional tool.

A few local authorities use heavy horses for jobs such as park maintenance and promotion.

Horse owners can often find work for their animals providing horse and wagon for weddings or local carnivals. They can also find work harrowing sports grounds and river beds, where the horse does far less damage than the tractor.

This resurgence in the popularity of the working horse of all breeds maybe small compared to the past, but it is vitally important. It is preventing many of the old skills being lost, not only in horsemanship, but also harness makers, heavy horse farriers and other associated trades.

Uses of the Shire Horse through History

Horses have been domesticated for many thousands of years. Indeed, late bronze age grave goods have included bits and bridles. They were used for riding and as pack animals, although it was nor clear when they were first used in agriculture. Oxen were the traditional draught animal, as they were more readily available than horses.

By the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries horses had become more common, especially for pulling carts and transporting goods. These animals had to be strong to cope with the appalling nature of medieval roads, although they were considerably shorter in height than the giant Shire we know today.

The seventeenth century saw a great deal of development in horse breeding. An increased demand for travel by coach, culminating in the development of coach springs in 1690led to the breeding of a large and powerful horse, that also had the capacity for speed.

By the eighteenth century the improvements in carriage design and road surface meant that lighter faster horses were used for long distance driving, whereas the heavier, slower horses found a role for themselves on the farm.

Eighteenth century changes in the technology of farming implements, such as Tull’s Seed Drill, made the horse the animal of choice on the farm, replacing the ox. These horses were by now of a height and stature recognisable as a modern Shire.

The second half of the Eighteenth century saw the construction of a nationwide system of canals which enabled heavy loads to be transported long distances. The Shire horse was the ideal beast to use as a Barge Horse, pulling the barges along the canals. They were also used to haul large wagons, drays, omnibuses and trams.

Although the Shire might now seem to us most at home in the fields, it must not be forgotten that up until the last half of the twentieth century, the horse was also the main urban means of transport, too.

The rise of urban living throughout history has always fuelled a demand for goods from the countryside. The coming of the railways is often thought to have signalled the beginning of the decline in horse-drawn traffic, but in fact horses were in great demand for transporting goods to and from the railway yards. In fact, in 1893, the railway companies ‘collecting and delivering goods to the metropolis have amongst them a stud of 6,000 (horses).’ These horses would have need to be capable of pulling large loads and so would have been Shires or a similar breed.

Carrier firms had around 19,000 horses in London alone, while the Capital’s rubbish collection would have employed another 1,500 horses, all of whom would have been draught breeds.

Also in 1893 it was estimated that London’s brewers used around 3,000 horses, many of which were Shires. Indeed, some brewers still use Shires today, not only for promotional purposes, but also for local deliveries.

The transportation of coal, the vital source of heating and cooking fuel, had to be done by horses, and with wagons weighing up to 3 tons, this was definitely a job for the heavies!

From the 1920s onwards the use of motorised transport rose rapidly and the need for the horse declined. Tractors replaced horses on farms and lorries replaced horse drawn wagon. Finally more and more road vehicles were powered by engines and the Shire horse’s days soon seemed numbered.

Shire horse numbers fell from well over a million to just a few thousand by the 1960s and the breed was in serious trouble. A small group of dedicated breeders came to rescue though and the Shire is seeing a resurgence in popularity both as a working animal and a riding horse.

For more information on uses of the Shire horse today, please click here.

About the Shire Horse

The Shire Horse as a breed has had a fascinating history, and its development had been inextricably linked the development of the Society we know today. You can find out much more about the Shire’s development and subsequent decline, and the future of the breed in this section of the website.

"The Shire horse: A magnificent animal - tall, gentle, noble and immensely strong - loved by many."

Because Shire Horses are so calm and placid, we do not think that they would be good in wars. However, it is because of war that the Shire horse came into being.

Native British horses were quite small and light, like the ponies you can still see in wild in places like the New Forest, Dartmoor and Exmoor. When knights started wearing heavy suits of armour the horses were unable to carry them.

Heavier breeds from the Continent (especially Holland, Germany and Flanders in modern day Belgium) were introduced to Britain and the Great Horse (also known as the War Horse) first came into being.

Eventually warfare changed and soldiers no longer wore heavy suits of armour, but this did not mean that the Great Horse was no longer needed. It was soon recognised that their great strength and placid nature would make them useful on the farm and for pulling heavy loads.

They soon took over the jobs previously done by oxen on farms, such as ploughing. Horses were faster and more intelligent than oxen and could also work in forestry.

The Industrial Revolution saw the construction of a nationwide system of canals which enabled heavy loads to be transported long distances. The Shire was the ideal horse to use, towing the barges along the canals. They were also used to haul large wagons, drays, omnibuses and trams.

Soon however, technology developed and the need for the horse declined. The first blow was the rise of the railway, meaning less goods were transported by barge. Then came the tractor, replacing horses on farms. Finally more and more road vehicles were powered by engines and the Shire horse’s days soon seemed numbered.

Shire horse numbers fell from well over a million to just a few thousand by the 1960s and the breed was in serious trouble. A small group of dedicated breeders came to rescue though and the Shire is seeing a resurgence in popularity both as a working animal and a riding horse.