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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

SOSTRATUS WINSTON: Not quite cryptid horse

The horse is a relatively well known animal all over the world now. True, there are countries that have only adopted them in the last few centuries - much of South America, if I remember correctly, was horseless till the Spanish arrived. However, since the CFZ is interested in conservation as well as the hunt for survivors of extinct species and more mysterious critters, I thought perhaps you might be interested in this.

The shire horse, I'm sure most of you are aware, is that singularly large breed that used to pull wagons and canal boats along the tow path before mechanisation. These monstrous (in the original sense of the word) beasts of burden can stand at as much as six feet in height (or seventeen hands in hippological parlance), weigh up to 235 stones (3300lbs), and are basically the brick-s**t-house of the horsey family.

Now, they are not an obvious contender for 'cryptid of the week' but shires are endangered. In fact, some experts fear the situation of the British shire horse is critical. These majestic creatures have been around in some form or another since William the Conqueror brought their ancestors over with the Norman invasion. They may not be necessary to industry as they once were, but they are a remarkable creature and it would be a dreadful loss if they were to die out completely. I have two of my own: Norbert and Hartland, and I can report that they are wonderfully docile.

UK-based charity The Rare Breeds Survival Trust, and the American organisations Equus Survival Trust and American Livestock Breeds Conservancy hope the decline in this species (and indeed the other animals they champion) can be turned around. Details of how you might help can be found on their websites. And please do think about it. We might just be able to stop a beautiful creature from going the same way as the dodo.


Retrieverman said...

The modern shire horse wase developed by Robert Bakewell, a great English agriculturalist who lived at Dishley Range near Loughborough in Leicestershire in the middle to early part of the eighteenth century. He perfected the method of scientific artificial selection of farm animals and was able to produce several improved livestock breeds. His system of breeding was called "in and in," and it simply involved breeding the best studs to the best dams under a ruthless selective breeding regime.

The horse that Bakewell "improved" was the heavy Old English black horse. He produced two different strains of his improved "Bakewell Black" English carthorse. One was the Fen or Linconshire type, which was quite furry, big, and heavily built. The other type was the Leicester or Midlands type, which was finer build but had more endurance. One of the horses from the Leicester-type named the Packington Blind Horse was the founding stud for the modern Shire breed.

The Shire horse is derived from crossing the indigenous black horse of England with Flanders and Dutch draught mares.

Bakewell was such a good breeder of livestock that he also created an important strain of sheep and an important strain of cattle.

He took the Lincoln longwool and improved it into the "New Leicester" or "Dishley Leicester." It was bred for meat, but it since has been absorbed into the English Leceister breed, which is used for wool.

His most famous improvement was the English longhorn cow, the first cow to be bred solely for meat. These are the big, square-bodied cattle you see in paintings from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. These cattle still exist, but there are very few of them left.


Only one herd exists in the US, but they were the basis of our early beef industry.

@eloh said...

You just solved a "personal" mystery for me. My grand dad's horses were just referred to as drafts. From that I had assumed they were Belgians... I have pictures and when I got older I always thought... they must have been the biggest Belgians on the planet.

My favorite picture is my dad (5'8") holding the reins with several inches gap between the top of his head and the horses nose.

They were still the farm machinery. From daily chores to skidding logs.

norman said...

That hugh horse in the picture doesnt look like a shire horse to me ! More a Belgian?
Shire horses are indeed beautiful and precious, my first job on leaving school was behind one! No troube as was the Percheron which ran off with me!

Plenty of Longhorns (british) at Houghton hall, Norfolk. Can be seen from the roads. Beautiful too!

Sostratus said...

Thank you to everyone for your comments on my 'blog'. It is very heart-warming to realise that people find the topic interesting.

Retrieverman, I didn't know the full history of the breed. Thank you very much for provide the extra information. And Norman, if I'm perfectly honest, to get the picture, I just typed 'biggest horses' into the search engine so you might be right.