Prepare to be captivated by the mighty and massive Clydesdales and Shires – two beloved breeds of the horse world that share the title of being one of the largest horse breeds in the world.
These two breeds have stood the test of time, making a lasting impact on history and earning well-deserved respect and admiration as highly esteemed horses today.
But while they can look like the same breed at times, Clydesdales and Shires have some striking differences that make each of them stand out.
In this Shire vs Clydesdale showdown, we find out what sets these two wonderful horse breeds apart!
Understanding Draught Horses
Both Shire horses and Clydesdale horses are draught horses. And before we get into their other characteristics, it’s important to know what a draught horse is.
Draught horses (a.k.a draft horses for our US readers) are larger and heavier than other types of horses. They’re extremely strong and muscular and are therefore well-suited to farm work and other work that involves pulling heavy loads.
Draught horses are also often referred to as “cold-blooded” horses. But we’ll get into that a bit later.
The Background Of Shire Horses And Clydesdale Horses
Shire Horse History
The Shire horse originated in England and has a history that dates all the way back to 1066! However, a breed society wasn’t formed until 1876.
Being one of the most powerful horse breeds around, it was used as a war horse and would carry knights in heavy armour into battle. As they were needed less for wars, Shire horses took on roles such as farm work and other power work.
They were eventually exported to various parts of the world and became quite popular. However, by the 1960s, people didn’t need horses as much as before for work and transport and their value and population declined. It was around this point in time when breeders started to crossbreed Shires and Clydesdales.
Clydesdale horse history
Clydesdales have a very similar history to the Shire horse. They too were used as war horses and later moved on to become more of a farm horse.
They originated in Lanarkshire, Scotland in the early 18th century when breeders crossed Flemish stallions with local mares. However, the name “Clydesdale” only came about in 1826 and the Clydesdale Horse Society of Scotland was only formed in 1877.
While the Clydesdale horse population grew in the 20th century as they became more popular across the world, their numbers ended up declining too, as horses were not needed as they were before.
Today, Clydesdales are listed as a vulnerable species by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust. However, George Skinner has been working to promote and grow this once-endangered breed. He is also the honorary president of the Clydesdale Horse Society and used Clydesdale horses to work the land on Strathorn Farm in the 1940s and 1950s.
The Characteristics Of Shire And Clydesdale Horse Breeds
Now that you know a bit about the history of Shires and Clydesdales, we can move on to all their characteristics – which can be used to identify each breed.
As we’ve already established, both Shires and Clydesdales are large horses and can be very intimidating to stand next to simply due to their size.
The Shire breed is the larger of the two breeds and a Shire horse named Sampson (aka Mammoth) has held the record as the largest horse in the world since the 1850s. Sampson weighed a whopping 1,524 kg and stood 21.25 hands tall (which is about 215 cm tall).
On average, Shire horses don’t get quite as big as Sampson did, but they’re still the largest horse breed. They usually weigh between 800 kg and 1,100 kg and stand 16 to 18 hands tall (163-183 cm).
Clydesdale horses weigh slightly less than Shire horses. Their weight is usually between 700 kg and 1,000 kg. And when it comes to their height, while they can also be 16 to 18 hands tall, they are more likely to be on the shorter end of that range.
Shire horses usually come in black or bay colours, but you can also find them in grey and chestnut. Chestnut Shires, however, are only recognized in some regions of the world.
The Clydesdale breed is most often found in a bay colour, as this is the most sought-after colour for these horses. However, you can also find them in black, grey, chestnut and roan.
Both of these horse breeds can have white markings on their face, body, and legs but you’re more likely to see these in Clydesdales because white markings are preferred in their breed. Shires are preferred to have no white markings on them.
Similarly, both Clydesdales and Shires tend to have feathering (the longer hair at the bottom of their legs that stretches around their hooves) around their front and hind legs.
We went over the Shire breed and Clydesdale breed’s uses when looking at their background. So you already know that they were both used in war and on farms to pull heavy equipment. They were also commonly used for pulling carts.
Today, they can still be found doing farm work, but they have become more versatile in what they’re used for. Both the Shire horse and Clydesdale horse breeds are commonly used as riding horses and in shows and events. Clydesdales are also frequently used in parades – talk about a showy horse!
Do you remember earlier we mentioned that a draught horse is cold-blooded? This doesn’t mean that they need to warm up in the sun like a lizard but instead refers to their temperament.
Cold-blooded horses have a very steady temperament and don’t spook easily. This is why they were so useful in wars and why they do so well in modern stressful environments such as parades and horse shows.
Other horse breeds can be warm-blooded or hot-blooded. Hot-blooded horses get spooked the most easily out of the three and warm-blooded horses are somewhere in the middle.
The calm nature of the Shire and Clydesdale horse breeds, along with their intimidating size, has many people referring to them as gentle giants.
Clydesdales tend to have a lower life expectancy than most other breeds. As a result, you can expect a Clydesdale to live up to between 20 and 25 years old.
A Shire horse, on the other hand, lives around about the average lifespan of most horses. You can therefore expect a Shire to live up to between 25 and 30 years old.
What is the most powerful horse breed?
The Belgian draught horse is one of the strongest horse breeds in the world. It comes from Brabant, in Belgium, and is commonly used on farms, in pulling competitions, and for other heavy work.
What are the disadvantages of Shire horses?
Shire horses can be expensive to keep. Firstly, they require more nutrition than many other types of horses. Secondly, they are usually higher maintenance than other horse breeds. This is due to their size and weight putting more stress on the hooves (meaning they need to be maintained more). It’s also a result of their feathering, which needs to be kept clean.
Do Shire horses like to be ridden?
Shire horses are very calm and gentle, despite their size. They’re also one of the easiest horse breeds to train. These attributes make them great riding horses since they’re willing to listen to the rider and won’t get spooked very easily.