Heavy Drafthorses in the UK

There are four different breeds of heavy drafthorses in the UK recognized:

The Shire Horse

Shire Horses ploughing


This is the tallest of the modern heavy drafthorses in the UK, their height reaches 18 h.h and they can grow even taller. Their weight is about a ton.
The world's tallest heavy drafthorse "Sampson", born in 1846 in Bedfordshire in England, was 21.2 hh (2.20m) at the wither and his weight was estimated for 1.5 tonnes.
The Shire Horse was developed out of the medieval Great Horse, which William the Conquerer brought to the British Islands in 1066.
By planned improvement of a heavy drafthorse breed called the Black horse or later the Bakewell Black, the Shire horse breed was formed.
The number of Shire Horses decreased considerably after the Second World War, because of a more and more motorised agriculture and haulage business.
Nowadays numbers of this particular heavy drafthorse breed are slowly raising again, because they are used for crossbreeding and showing.

Breed characteristics:

These heavy drafthorses are very tall.
The Shire horse has a dense and rounded body and a broad back. Its loins are strong.
It has got very powerful hindquarters and long legs with long, silky and often white feathering, flowing over the hooves.

The haircoat is usually black, brown, bay or gray.


In former times it was used for pulling heavy loads and for heavy farmwork. This heavy drafthorse breed was originally used to pull ale-delivery carts.
Nowadays it is still used as a brewery horse, e.g. the grey Shires of Samuel Smith Brewery in Tadcaster and the Tetley brewery in Leeds.
The Shire horse is also seen in competitions and shows for heavy drafthorses in the UK and worldwide.

They are used for crossbreeding with Thouroughbreds to produce a heavy hunter horse type.

The Clydesdale



This breed originates in the Clydesdale in Scotland, where it was bred and developed over the last 300 years.
It was used for heavy farmwork, pulling carts and in the timberindustry for pulling loggs. These heavy drafthorses have been exported all over the world.
The Clydesdale became like the Shire horse a victim of the motorisation and would almost disappear within heavy drafthorses in the UK, but it has regained popularity and its biggest population is now in the United States with yearly 600 new foal registrations.
Two stallions are recognized as the founders of the breed (Lord Darney and The Prince of Wales) and all Clydesdales nowadays originate from these two bloodlines.

Breed characteristics:

The Clydesdale is a very gentle and strong horse. It grows very tall and reaches up to 18 hh and can weigh up to a ton.
The head is large with a Roman-nose and a profuse forelock. The neck is straight, the back appears short and is a little curved.
The chest is deep and the shoulder is sloped and the body has got a rounded shape.
The legs are long and strong with feathering, and hocks coming close together is a wanted breed characteristic.
The hooves are very large they can be approximately twice the size of a Thoroughbred's hoof.

The coat color can be brown, bay, black, chestnut, roan and sorrel. They have got distinctive white markings on the face, the legs and underbelly.


Clydesdales have been used for heavy farmwork and today they are still used for farming and pulling loggs, where machines are not suitable to be used.
They have become fairly sought-after heavy drafthorses in the UK and worldwide.
They are a symbol for the Anheuser-Busch brewery (Budweiser).
And they are performing in shows for heavy drafthorses in halter and performance classes.
In performance classes the horse is judged on how it is behaving in harness, on how it is moving in the ring and its capability to work in a team, its responsiveness to the driver and on the quality of the horse and the equipment. See also here for "The Gentle Giant" in our modern world.

The Suffolk Punch


It is like the Shire horse a descendant of the medieval Great Horse.
The Suffolk Punch was developed in the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk in England and is one of the oldest heavy drafthorse breeds in the UK.

Breed characteristics:

This heavy drafthorse has got stamina and is very powerful. Its temperment is dolcile and it is wellknown for easy handling.
It reaches in average 16.1 hh.
It has got a very muscular, arched neck, a short strong back and strong, upright shoulders.
The hips are broad and the tail high in onset. The legs appear short and have no feathering.
The usual hair coat color is chestnut in various shades. White markings occur.


This heavy drafthorse breed was used for farmwork and pulling heavy loads in the past.
Today it still performs in competitions for heavy drafthorse breeds in the UK and is used for driving and showing.

See more info and photos of the "Chestnut-colored Giant" here.

See also:

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