Shire horses served Britain in its time of greatest need, hauling supplies to the frontline line during the First World War, and powering agriculture before rampant mechanisation put paid to their traditional uses.
The breed’s very survival has been at risk for decades, with just 240 pedigree Shire foals registered in the UK in 2017, and so the arrival of a male Shire foal at the Sledmere House estate, near Driffield, is a pleasing event for Laura Clark, the manager of Sledmere Farm Park.
It is the visitor attraction’s first Shire foal and its recent early hours arrival from a nine-year-old mare means there are now four Shire horses at the farm park. First introduced at the site around 18 months ago as part of the farm park’s growing legion of rare breed animals, the Shires are put to work pulling visitors around the estate’s grounds in a Wolds wagon.
The wagon is owned by the Wagoners’ Museum at Sledmere House which is dedicated to telling the story of the horses’ invaluable wartime contribution more than 100 years ago.
Miss Clark said: “We bought the mare in foal about two months ago from Mark Richardson, a Shire horse specialist in Bewholme and one of the best breeders in the businesses. The foal’s arrival was very easy. We only had one night up with the mare.”
She said the breed is “an absolute dream” to look after.
“They are big but generally very docile and you get really good bonds with them. Our foal is just finding its feet so it’s got a bit cheeky!”
Shires are on the Rare Breed Survival Trust’s watch list, along with a number of other species kept at Sledmere Farm Park, including Leicester Longwool sheep, Oxford Sandy and Black pigs, and Golden Guernsey goats.
“This year we are aiming to get some British White cows too,” Miss Clark said. “Rare breeds are really special. People love to come and see them, especially the horses. You don’t often get the chance to get up close to a big Shire horse.”