Saturday, 30 July 2011

Heavy horses


Perhaps the highlight of Bingley Show for me was seeing these 'heavy horses' in the show ring.  Also known as shire horses, they were at one time very common in Britain.  In fact one of my great-grandfathers made his living as a blacksmith in Sheffield, shoeing these beasts.  They used to be used for ploughing, logging and as cart horses.  Immensely strong, they were also used to pull barges along our canals. A few breweries still use them to haul the drays used to deliver beer barrels to pubs.  The city of Bradford uses its team of heavy horses to pull a water cart, watering the floral hanging baskets around the shopping centre - and, when they're not working, you can see the horses at the Industrial Museum.

Sadly they are dying out as working horses, overtaken by mechanisation.  (It was recently announced that the Bradford horses are likely to be sold as part of budget cuts, though there has been quite an outcry about that.)  Most of the remaining horses are kept as pets - but at six feet tall at the shoulder, weighing as much as a family car and costing about the same to keep (about £80 a week and a new horseshoe alone can cost £60) they're not the kind of thing you can keep in your backyard.  They are considered to be at risk - there are said to be less than 1500 breeding mares alive today (globally I think that is, not just in the UK) but I gather that numbers have begun to increase again in recent years, thanks to a few specialist breeders here and in the USA.

15 comments:

  1. Presumably this is for those among us who were too big for yesterday's donkeys. Include me in.

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  2. Magnificent creatures. My grandfather worked with horses like these when he was little more than a child. I remember him showing me the places where he had been a plough-boy.

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  3. It would be sad to see them die out. They are so attractive. I saw some in South Australia being used to pull a tram like in the old days. It took tourist across a bridge to an island .

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  4. If I was rich, this is the kind of animals I 'd like to have and save; They're so beautyful and strong!

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  5. Lovely beasts, I remember two from when I was a young lad in the early 50s; Sugar and Flour, and I was allowed to drive the cart they were pulling.

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  6. Beautiful animals, Jenny. Thanks for the photo. My father had a pair of Belgian geldings when I was a child and I remember the great size of draft horses. Jim

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  7. How interesting and very gorgeous animals.

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  8. Funny you should mention it. My great grandfather had red hair, was the village blacksmith, and his horse brought him home unaided from the pub on Saturday Night!

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  9. Very interesting post, albeit a sad one. I haven't thought about the economics that is dooming these horses. In the US, the brewer Budweiser uses big horse like this to pull wagons at fairs, etc., but even that use is probably declining.

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  10. When I was as kid there were a few teams of Clydesdales or Percherons competing at the Fair. I loved watching them. I don't know of any teams locally these days.

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  11. They are gorgeous! The brother of a friend raises shire horses over there and the pics I have seen of them are so wonderful. Nice post.

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  12. So sad, but they are handsome.

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  13. Oh I love the look of these horses. We have a couple in Sorrento that look very much like these and they use them for logging. They just refer to them as "work" horses, but I don't know their breed. ~Lili

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  14. What beauties! And yesterday's donkeys were charming!

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  15. These heavy horses look HUGE next to the surprisingly tiny ones we rode in Inner Mongolia...

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