The working horse

Ardennes heavy breed horse pulling carriageHarness on carriage working horseCarriage ride with Ardennes working horseIn the late 19th century there were around 3.5 to 4.5 million working horses in Britain. In farm fields, forests, cities and even along canals, these large majestic animals toiled, transported and helped us.  And now?  Now many of the breeds of working horses are considered ‘at risk’ by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust. The Suffolk is actually an endangered breed with only about 300 or so of these working horses left in the country. I wasn’t aware of the plight of the working horse until we met some of them last weekend at Wakehurst Place in Sussex. They were brought to the Scythe and Cider Festival by the Working Horse Trust, a charity that supports and promotes the declining heavy breeds.

Shire working horseGrey Shire working horse grazingDrew is a handsome six year old Shire gelding weighing 800 kg and over 17 hands tall. There are only nine grey Shire horses left in Britain according to his handler. Once there were over a million black, brown, bay or grey Shire horses compared to about 3,500 at present. The Shire is believed to have evolved from the war horses of the middle ages.

Monty Ardennes working horseMonty is a veteran. He’s a 21 year old Ardennes – also known as Ardennais – who weighs 750 kg.  Just look at the size of him! But despite their size and strength, all these horses were very gentle.

Polly carriage working horse staringI went on a carriage ride with my twins and their friend pulled by Polly, an Ardennes filly. It was rather remarkable watching her strength as she carried us around a field. She’s only six, a mere 720 kg and still growing.

Shire horse at Wakehurst PlaceFor more information on these beautiful heavy breeds, visit The Working Horse Trust website.  You can also show them some support on their Facebook page.


12 thoughts on “The working horse”

  1. Wonderful photos. It’s so sad that these amazing horses are not more appreciated and great that you’re raising awareness with your post. #AnimalTales

  2. I know this will date me but in the mid 70s in Yorkshire we had a shire horse and cart that delivered the milk to our house, when they reached the top of the village they’d let me ride back on the cart to the dairy and drink the fresh, raw milk at the dairy. People outside of the UK often don’t believe me.

    1. Oh that’s so brilliant – what an amazing childhood memory too. Some of the breweries around the country still have Shire horses but more and more just keep them for shows and pr. For a long time local companies like dairies and breweries used Shire horses pulling carts as it was cheaper for local transport than petrol guzzling lorries. (Nothing better than raw milk too – there’s one place near us where we buy it)

  3. We recently went with the infant classes at school to meet some working Shire horses that come to Ham copse and common every summer to graze and help trim the grass and meadows. They are so huge and beautiful. The children loved meeting them and were very impressed. Popped over from #animaltales

  4. Great photos. I love the hearty workhorses. They are so sturdy. My daughter rides a little pony that looks a lot like one of these horses. Great photos. #PoLoCo

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