The Shire Horse vs Clydesdales- Similarities & Differences

Last Updated on January 26, 2022

Although Shire horses and Clydesdales have many similarities, the two are distinctly different breeds. Read the comparison of Shire Horse vs Clydesdale. However, both are draft horses native to Europe. Draft horses, or draught horses, are large horses typically well-suited for intensive pulling labor. Less used terms to describe drafts include carthorses or workhorses due to their great pulling or hauling abilities for farm labor. The largest draft breed is actually the Shire horse!

The Clydesdale

Although Clydesdales are frequently referred to as the “Budweiser horses“, this amazing working breed does much more. Despite being used in conjunction with flashy patriotism in American parades, Clydesdales originate from Scotland in the 18th century.

Although most modern horses date back to a specific or set of foundation stallions, the Clydesdale dates back to a single mare! Clydesdales are now more popular in the United States than any other country. Although originally used for hauling coal and heavy pulling, modern Clydesdales are used for pleasure in addition to heavy agricultural work.

The Clydesdale

Like other animals, selective breeding has changed the Clydesdale over many years. They now stand between 16 and 18 hands tall, with heavy broad bodies. Clydesdales tend to have straighter facial structures with wide muzzles. The sabino gene often creates large white markings in addition to their signature feathered legs.

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The Shire Horse

The Shire horse is a British breed, and typically a dark color (bay or black), or grey. These are the largest breed of horse, and several Shires have held records for the world’s largest and tallest horse. Although similar-looking to the Clydesdale, the Shire horse is far less common. They too have large hooves, significant feathering, and typically run between 16 and 18 hands tall.

The breed was given the name for the British shires (or “countryside) where the breed was first developed. In 1878, the first Shires breed registry was created as the “English Cart Horse Society”. However, the breed made its way to the US in the mid-1800s. Although the breed was not very desirable in terms of farm labor, they were used to add size to current working-horses. Interesting fact: When Shires breed numbers fell in the 1950s, Clydesdales were crossbred to help increase the breed numbers.

The Shire Horse

Shire Horse vs Clydesdale- Similarities

  • Both draft breeds
  • *Typically* around 16 to 18 hands
  • Feathered legs
  • Up to 2,400 lbs
  • Strong and muscular builds
  • Strength for pulling
  • Kind disposition and used for pleasure

Shire Horse vs Clydesdale- Differences

  • Shires have more of a Roman nose
  • Excessive white is not desirable in Shires
  • Different countries of origin
  • Clydesdales are slightly smaller and more refined
  • Shires will be broader and have a heavier average weight
  • Usually a color differentiation

Modern Use

To this day, draft breeds are still used in place of modern machinery or tractors. Both breeds are used for pulling, tourist sightseeing, and many owners love drafts for pleasure use! These horses are cold-blooded with very easy-going temperaments, making them great family horses. Whether being utilized on a farm, trail riding, or pleasure driving, each of these breeds is still working and loved today.

Modern Use

Closing Thoughts

Do you think you can see the difference between a Shire Horse vs Clydesdale? Although they share many similarities, these two distinct breeds have several differentiating features.

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Is a Clydesdale a good first horse?

Clydesdales are easy to ride and do not require a lot of training. If you’re looking for a first horse, you might want to consider a Clydesdale. It is a gentle breed that requires little training. These horses make great pets because they are always calm and docile. 
Clydesdales are quite large though, which means that they are a bit difficult to fit properly into a saddle. They also tend to be quite heavy, so you may need to adjust your tack.

Can Clydesdales be ridden?

Formerly, the Clydesdale was a draft animal used to pull heavy loads such as grain or coal. Today, they are mostly used as family horses for pleasure and trail riding. 
The Clydesdale has long been popular with horse breeders. It is one of the most common breeds in North America. Characteristics The Clydesdale is considered a medium-sized horse, weighing between 1000 and 1800 pounds. Their height ranges from 16 to 18 hands. They have a long, strong neck and short head. They have a wide, arched back and are broad through the shoulders.
Clydesdales were bred as utility and pack horses, so they have great endurance, strength, and stamina. They are very hardy and can live in cold climates. They are known to be friendly, loyal, courageous, docile, and willing to work, making them suitable for ranch work and riding. Clydesdales are often used by farmers, ranchers, police departments, military units, and fire departments.

How big is a Shire?

The Shire was developed in the late 1800s by English horsemen who sought a sturdy horse with stamina and intelligence. These characteristics are reflected in the breed’s distinctive features, such as its strong hind legs, long, deep body, and muscular neck. An average shire stallion measures slightly over 17 hands in height, and weighs around 2,000 pounds (about 900 kilograms). Shires tend to be large and heavy, and their heads are rounder than other breeds. They have a high withers and a wide, arched back. Their hooves are black or brown, with some white markings. The breed’s most striking characteristic is its hair, which is long and thick. Shire hair is coarse and wiry, and is usually darker than other horse breeds. The Shire has been used in many films including The Last of the Mohicans, The Black Stallion, and The Young Riders.

Are Shire horses aggressive?

Definitely not! Shires are one of the most docile and easy going breeds in the horse world. They are very respectful, calm and gentle and are well-known for their loyalty and intelligence. Shires are naturally very loving and gentle animals. In fact, they are often described as being “gentle giants.” 

Are Clydesdale and Shire horses the same?

Shire and Clydesdale are two different breeds of horses. They look very similar but they’re not the same. Both of these horses have a long history of being used for farm work and are heavy, sturdy animals with a great sense of balance. Their bodies are heavier than most breeds of horses, so they tend to be a little slower on the hoof.
Shires are slightly taller than Clydesdales, they are also a bit bigger in size. Clydesdales are typically slightly smaller and more compact than Shires. They are a bit less broad but have very similar structure. Both, the Shire and the Clydesdale are ideal horses for trail riding and ranch work as they are calm and patient.