On arrival, Maria Carrick, niece of Stephen Carrick, owner of the Shires’ farm, called two mares, Queenie and Winnie, over to meet us. They easily poked their large and imposing heads over the field gate.
Imposing they may be, but we felt no fear or fright from these two beautiful creatures. Quite the contrary, we felt welcomed and experienced a feeling of friendship. We were six in number and all of us are well rounded in years. We have all had many life experiences over time, but this experience was truly elevating.
Shires are a very ancient breed, deriving from the Old English Black Horse that was bred to carry medieval knights into battle dressed in their shining steel plate armour.
The Shire was later bred to be bigger and heavier to suit agricultural requirements such as pulling heavy loads and they had some thoroughbred blood added to give them their present majestic appearance.
The Shire is the world’s tallest and strongest horse breed. In 1924, at the Wembley Exhibition, a pair of Shires were recorded pulling a weight of 50t from a standing start. They can measure up to 17-18 hands high with black, grey, brown or bay colouring.
The farm has 12 Shires in total. To breed, the Shire brood mares are transported to Trem Y Wyddfa Stud at Caernarfon, near Snowdonia National Park in Wales. Here they are covered by the resident Shire stallions and, once confirmed to be in foal, return home to Balleally. Six of the mares are currently in foal and will deliver in spring 2021. The average gestation period for the mares is eleven months.
Stephen and Maria are endeavoring to preserve the Shire breed which has diminished in numbers from over a million to just a couple of thousand.
Thankfully, there is a burgeoning market in the UK and Ireland as the popularity of the breed is increasing. When the farm sells a Shire, they track the horse’s progress in its new home, monitoring conditions, diet and veterinary care.
If you are seeking to have a superb experience a visit to Balleally Shires is strongly recommended to meet the gentle giants for yourself.