A Shire horse is a type of a draft horse. Shire horses are famous for being extremely large; the biggest horse on record, Sampson, was a Shire horse. Despite their size, Shire horses are extremely gentle and friendly, and they are famous for standing so quietly in their stalls that mice can nest in the straw, although this may be a bit of hyperbole. This breed of horse can be found in many parts of England and in some other regions of the world as well, where it is primarily kept as a show horse and pet rather than a working animal today.
The lineage of the Shire horse is quite old. These horses are probably descended from the so-called “Great Horse” which was introduced in England in the 11th century by William the Conqueror. These horses formed the foundation for Old English Black horse, a breed which emerged in the 17th century. Although the Old English Black is now an extinct breed, it established a lineage which later developed into both the Clydesdale and Shire horse breeds.
Like other draft horses, the Shire horse is extremely strong, with a compact, muscular body designed for pulling heavy loads. The hindquarters of the Shire horse are massive, providing the kind of power needed to pull heavy loads of beer kegs, timber, and other materials. Shires are also famous for their feathered legs, marked with streams of long hair from knees to ankles, and they have slender, Roman-nosed heads with broad set eyes which some people find quite appealing.
This horse breed has been refined over the centuries to have a very even temperament. Shire horses are incredibly patient, and they are willing to stand for extended periods of time in harness while people make deliveries and load cars. It takes a lot to upset a Shire horse, as well; these horses can work in a wide variety of situations and they are not easily startled. They are also gentle and calm enough to be handled by very young riders and drivers.
Because of their size, Shires are actually a bit challenging to ride. Most Shires are driven, rather than ridden, taking advantage of their centuries of breeding for this very purpose. While it is possible to ride a Shire horse, an extremely wide saddle is needed. Lanky riders sometimes enjoy riding Shires, and they are sometimes used as drum horses in parades and other ceremonial events, in which case they are ridden. A drum horse, as you might imagine, is a horse which carries drums in a parade, along with a rider to play them.