Jim Yates has been involved with Shire horses all his life. Here he writes for ITV Central on the role they have played across the Midlands.
My first memory of a Shire horse was showing a gelding at Ashover Show in Derbyshire. It was 1954 and I was 12-years-old, but I’ve been around Shire horses all of my life as my father and grandfather had them working on the farm.
My dad was also a trader. He used to work the farm in Derbyshire with young horses but he would buy and sell, and always had a horse ready for the brewery.
Shire horses have played a huge role in the history of this country over hundreds of years in both rural and urban areas.
They pulled barges, carts and wagons - transporting coal, goods and other items to quite literally keep the wheels of industry turning.
They hauled trams, omnibuses and cabs to keep people on the move, and they provided the horse power for agriculture.
The Midlands was a real breeding ground for Shire horses, and Derbyshire in particular was always a strong breeding ground. We used to sell horses to London, Liverpool and other large cities to go to work there.
But times changed and just a few decades ago the Shire horse was in danger of dying out – the victim of mechanisation and motorised transport.
In the 1960s the breed was in serious danger and the number of Shire horses had fallen to just a few thousand.
I’ve been a committee member of the Shire Horse Society since 1974, and as a group we’ve worked hard to build up the numbers of breeding Shires.
Thankfully, the situation is now looking much healthier for the breed, one of the four breeds of heavy horse.
New uses have been found for the Shire horse. We now see them helping to farm sensitive areas, such as heathlands, and involved in practices like logging.
They are used for promotional and tourism purposes, and for weddings and funerals. And of course a number of the breweries have retained their horses and drays for local deliveries.
More recently, there’s also been a resurgence in riding Shire horses and last year, for the first time, the Horse of the Year Show had a ridden class for heavy horses, including the Shire.
There’s been interest from overseas too, and Shire horses bred in the UK are being exported to other countries.
Having said that, fewer than 500 Shire horse foals are registered every year, so it’s still very much a breed that is at risk.
And that’s one of the reasons why it’s important that we organise events like our national show at Staffordshire County Showground.
Visitors love to come along and see the Shires. I think the public like the heritage. It’s a bit of old England.
- Shire Horse Society National Show: Stafford County Showground: 17th – 19th March 2017