The Shire Horse Society is calling on the public to realise the potential of the threatened breed after the success of the first ever Shire horse race at the weekend.
The Society, which is the only charity dedicated to the protection and promotion of the breed, says the Shire is as versatile as any horse but its future depends on the public unlocking its potential.
Once a breed that dominated the British countryside, the Shire horse now features on the Rare Breeds Survival Trust’s (RBST) ‘at risk’ list – meaning there is less than 1,500 left in the UK today. Last year 318 foals were produced in the UK.
David Ralley-Davies, secretary of the Shire Horse Society, said: “For centuries Shire horses have served man, taking him into war and working the land, but of course nothing lasts forever and advances in technology meant numbers dwindled dramatically towards the middle of the 20th Century.”
Although Shires seem best placed in a field, last weekend the breed was seen as never before when eight Shire horses competed in the world’s first ShowerKing Flying Feathers Maiden Stakes over two furlongs during the annual Countryside Raceday at Lingfield Park, in Surrey, in a bid to raise awareness of the threatened breed and raise funds for the Countryside Alliance.
The event attracted more than 8,000 spectators and was won by professional jump jockey Mark Grant and Shire horse ‘Joey’. All horses in the race were provided by neighbouring Hurst Green Shires.
David added: “The success of this event proves what a versatile animal the Shire horse really is and is a great example of how our members are working to highlight this.
“People tend to think of the Shire horse in its traditional role – pulling ploughs and transporting heavy goods, which still does exist in small pockets up and down the country.
“However, our job is to promote and protect the future of the breed so we have to be forward thinking and will encourage anyone who can help us highlight the diversity of the Shire and inspire the next generation of Shire horse breeders.”