Biggest Draft Horse In The World

Last Updated on January 12, 2023

Draft breeds are the largest type of horse, and also some of the most gentle, but amongst these what is the biggest draft horse in the world? Almost all draft horses grow to intimidating heights, but the Shire is the largest breed. Let’s take a look at this beautiful gentle giant.

Shire Horse History

The Shire horse originates in England and descends from the Great Horse. The Great Horse is at least as old as the Norman Invasion of 1066 when it first arrived in England. A Great Horse is a heavy cold blood horse that carried heavily armored knights and is originally a warhorse.

After its arrival in 1066, this warhorse developed into the English Great Horse. These were big, strong horses, and by the reign of Henry VIII in the first half of the 1500s, laws forbid the breeding of horses under 15 hands tall. The laws also did not allow any of these horses to leave England.

Shire Horse History

As the battle gear of the mounted soldiers changed, so did the type of horse. Heavy horses were no longer desired, and the English Great Horse shifted into work on farms and pulling heavy loads across the countryside. At this time, in the late 1600s, Friesan and Flanders horses arrived in England.

The Great Horse was bred with the Friesan and Flanders horses to help refine it, and here we have that start of the Shire horse. In the mid-1700s, the progeny of these breedings reached the counties of Derbyshire, Leicestershire, and Staffordshire. This is where the name Shire comes from.

The Shire was an essential cog in English life during this period. They literally kept the country running, and there was a huge population of Shires. 

Stud Book

In the mid, to late 1700s, pedigrees of the Shire took shape with Ashby de la Zouch considered as the foundation stallion. After playing a large role in the World Wars, the Shire almost went extinct due to new farming machinery. But with hard work from breeders and breweries, the breed managed to survive.

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Biggest Draft Horse In The World

The tallest horse on records is the Shire by the name of Sampson. Born in 1846, in Toddington Mills, England, Sampson was an amazing 21.2 ½ hands tall. Sampson weighed 3,359 pounds.

More recently, a Belgian draft horse took that tallest horse in the world record. In 2010, a horse named Big Jake measured 20.2 ¾ hands tall taking the record. Big Jake was living at Smokey Hollow Farm in Poynette, Wisconsin.

Big Jake’s parents were average-sized Belgian draft horses. He weighed 240 pounds when he was born. As an adult, Big Jake weighs 2,599 pounds.

Prior to Big Jake, a horse named Remington held the record for the world’s tallest in 2009. Remington is a Clydesdale who stands at 20 hands tall and weighs 2,905 pounds.

In 2000, the biggest horse in the UK was the Shire named Goliath. Goliath stood 19.5 hands tall. This stunning black horse sadly died in 2001. He worked on a team for Young and Co. brewery.

Shire Horse Characteristics

The Shire horse weighs between 1,800 and 2,400 pounds. They range in height from 16 to 18 hands but tend to the taller side of this. It is one of the strongest horse breeds.

A report from the 1920s states that a pair of Shire horses pulled a 42-ton load; pretty incredible! The Shire horse has a calm temperament and is incredibly strong. The majority are black, bay or grey in color.

Like the Clydesdale, the Shire has thick leg feathering and enormous hooves. Its body is compact and heavily muscled. 

Other Large Draft Horse Breeds

Close to the Shire in size come several other draft horse breeds. The Percheron, which hails from France, ranges in height from 15 to 18 hands. The majority of Percherons are grey.

The Clydesdale is the most famous draft breed due to its use by Budweiser. A Clydesdale stands as tall as 18 hands and originates in Scotland. They have the heaviest leg feathering of all the draft breeds. 

Other Large Draft Horse Breeds

The Belgian draft horse, like the Shire, is a descendant of the Great Horse. On average, they stand 17 hands tall, but as you can see, Big Jake far surpassed this. 

Draught Horse Conclusion

On average, the Shire is the biggest draft horse in the world. However, compared to all horses, drafts horses are always bigger. Even if the draft is the same height as another breed, such as a Thoroughbred, it has much more body size, muscle, and bone.

Where do Shires originate from?

The Shire Horse more likely originates from a heavy cold blooded horse, who was brought into England after the Norman Conquest. From this heavy breed the “English Great Horse” of the Middle Ages was developed. Later, in the 18th century, the Shire horses were developed in the United Kingdom to be both warhorses and working horses. The breed has been used in both the cavalry and carriage industries for hundreds of years and it is still highly popular today.

How much do Shire horses sell for?

A Shire horse can cost anywhere between $5,000 and $12,000 depending on the bloodlines and how good a potential buyer thinks the animal is. Horse’s age, bloodlines, training, conformation, show record, and color can heavily affect the price for the individual horse.  Some top stallions and show horses can easily cost $20,000 and up. 
According to the Livestock Conservancy, Shires are a threatened breed. With less than 3,000 of Shire horses in the world today, some breeders estimate they could go extinct in only about 10 years.

How big is a Shire?

The Shire horse is the tallest horse breed in the world. In average they stand between 16-18 hands tall, while some of these horses can even reach 19 hands or more in height. As with most horse breeds, the stallions are usually taller than the mares. The weight of Shire horses normally ranges from 1,800 to 2,400 pounds.

Can Shire horses be ridden?

The Shire horse has been bred to be gentle, patient and responsive, and because of that this is a great breed for riding. Once a Shire is trained correctly, they can be ridden by a rider with any level of experience. Their moves are very smooth and in combination with their friendly character they make a great choice for therapeutic riding.

What do Shires look like?

Shires are a breed of horse that is generally dark-colored. They may have a small amount of white coloring. Shires can also be gray but most common colors for them are black, bay, brown and grey. 
Shire is known to be the tallest horse breed in the world. They have convex profile with relatively long neck and long, sloping shoulders. Their back is short with sloping croup. Legs are heavily feathered below the knee. The head is large and well proportioned. Their mane and tail are thick and flowing. 
Shires are generally known for their intelligence and trainability. They have a gentle disposition and are easy to handle. They can be calm, quiet, and placid. They have excellent endurance and are very good with children. 

Are draft horses easy keepers?

Many draft horse breeds, such as the Shire, are easy keepers. But, they are susceptible to obesity and other health problems, including laminitis and metabolic disorders if they are overfed with too rich a diet. Draft horses are usually large, strong animals. They have long legs and big bodies that give them great strength and stamina. Draft horses can be very intelligent and trainable.
The first draft horses were developed in the 18th century, and they were used for pulling wagons. This gave rise to the term “draft horse.” Today, draft horses are used in a variety of jobs, including pulling heavy loads or equipment, driving plows, and for farm work. Draft horses are also used for horse shows and racing.