History of the Shire Horse Society

SHS LOGOThe Industrial Revolution increased demand for goods, and although the railways limited the long distance work required by Shire Horses the demand for short haulage more than compensated.

Numbers of heavy horses increased continuously throughout the nineteenth century.

The English Cart Horse Society was founded in 1878, inspired from the start by the enthusiasm of the future King Edward VII. The Society worked hard to improve the quality of horses through its pedigree and show system.

In 1880 the Society held its first Spring Show, in the Royal Agricultural Hall in Islington, London. One hundred and seventeen animals were exhibited and the Champion was a stallion called Admiral 71.

In 1884 the name ‘Shire’ horse was established and the Society’s name changed to the Shire Horse Society of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

The Society also launched educational activities to transform the standard of management and treatment of working horses.

The early years of the Society encouraged the export of Shires and in 1888 issued a record breaking 1,400 pedigree export certificates. Shires were in strong demand in the USA, Canada, Australia, South America, Germany and Russia.

However, the mechanisation of transport, agriculture and industry bought with it a decline in numbers of Shire horses – and this decline accelerated rapidly after the Second World War. The 1958 Stud Book contained just five colts and eleven fillies.

By 1963 the Society faced a tough choice – was it really worth soldiering on with such small numbers of animals? The Secretary at the time was due to retire and the Society was struggling for money. Thankfully, there were a few stubborn stalwarts remaining, whose passion for the Shire over-rode practical considerations.

The Society’s National Show still takes place in March each year, allowing the best of Shires to be shown. Enthusiasts from all over the world to meet together along with general public to get close to and appreciate these magnificent creatures.

Interest in the Shire began to grow and it soon turned into enthusiasm. Membership and the numbers of breeders have grown with ever increasing momentum. Export of horses has not only resumed but steadily increased and today Shire horses are exported all over the World.

In July 2019 the Shire Horse Society moved to a new purpose-built office in the grounds of Rockingham Castle, Rockingham, Market Harborough, Leicestershire to allow it to continue its work.