Saturday, 30 July 2011
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.