Shire Horse vs Clydesdale: What’s the Difference

You might be wondering what is the difference between Clydesdale and Shire Horse since they seem to be so alike. 

We agree.

There is a lot in common between the two breeds. However, what differs is the genetic makeup of the two. Both Clydesdale and Shire horses fall in the category of the draft horse but when we set out to compare the Shire and Clydesdale horses they seem to have a different set of characteristics. 

One of the distinctive features is that Clydesdale originates from Scotland while the Shires come from an English background.

In this article, we will cover all the aspects of the Shire horse vs Clydesdale debate so keep on reading!


There is no story complete without a foundation. Likewise, when talking about breeds, we need to trace back the history. 

As mentioned earlier, the major difference between Clydesdale and Shire horse is their origin. The Clydesdale horse originated from Scotland while the Shire comes from an English background.

Having said that, let’s dive into the history of the two:

The shire breed was bred in Britain over a hundred years ago. The first Shire horse originated in 1800. Breeding of the Shire started when the focus of stallions shifted from warhorse to agricultural horse. 

It was during this time that greater focus was kept on size and strength rather than speed; hence came the Packington Blind Horse. This black horse was the origin of the Shire breed. 50 years after the Packington, the Shire breed was a recognized breed. 

As reported, the shire breed’s number fell drastically during the 1950s. One of the reasons was the industrial revolution. It was at this time that the Clydesdales were brought in to crossbreed. 

Now, as the English focused on solid coloring and strong limbs in horses, the Scottish focused more on the silky coat, strong limbs, and bones.

This is where the difference between Clydesdale and Shire appears.

The Clydesdale breed came into existence after the Flemish stallions were mated with native draught mares of Clyde valet, hence, the name.

Since the focus at that time was on heavy horses, the Clydesdale gained popularity and a huge number of entries were recorded.

Color, Size, and Weight

As discussed earlier in the article, the Clydesdale breed was used to crossbreed when the shire breed took a hit. This made the difference between the two very minute.

However, there are a few differences between the two:

The Shire horse height is around 17 to 18 hands while Clydesdale horse height is 17 hands. 

Another important difference is that of the weight. The Clydesdale weighs around 2000 pounds while the Shires weigh up to 2500 pounds.

The obvious difference, however, is the color.

The shires are solid colored with little to no markings. They have a few white marks on legs and face. The Clydesdale, on the other hand, have marks all over their coat. They have more white hair and a silky coat. 

In addition to this, a key Clydesdale characteristic is that they have heavy featherings on their lower legs. The shire, however, does not.

Similarities Between the Shire and Clydesdale Horses

The shire and Clydesdale that we see today are very different from their original form. Since the Clydesdale were brought in to crossbreed with the Shires, they share a few similarities. 

Let’s look at the traits that both the horse breeds share. 

To start off, both breeds fall in the category of Draft horses. They were bred to be strong and lift weights. Even though the Clydesdale horse size is smaller than the shire, they have strong limbs and hooves.

Both the breeds have a calm nature which makes them ideal to work with. Since they were bred for the sole purpose of agriculture, both the breeds are hardworking and docile. 

These breeds are a work of art for sure. Both breeds have long strands of hair below the knees and hocks which gives them more of a majestic look. Moreover, they have high hocks which give them an additional height and strength.

FAQs Related to the Shire and Clydesdale Horses

Given the long history that these horses share, you still might have a few ambiguities. If that is the case, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

How long do Shire horses live for?

For the Shire breeds, the average lifespan is 20 years. This figure, however, varies based on various factors. First and foremost, the horse should be good health for a long life, obviously. The horse should be fed correctly and get vaccinated on time.

A horse’s lifespan depends greatly on the quality of life it lives. An average horse lives up to 25-30 years. 

Moreover, for a long life, the horses should be groomed thoroughly and given the right amount of exercise and workload.

Are Clydesdale horses good for beginners?

The Clydesdale characteristics make these breeds ideal for beginners. They are calm and forgiving in nature which makes them suitable for new riders. 

That being said, even though the Clydesdale horses are calm in nature, they are one of the largest horse breeds. This makes them hard to handle. Gearing up a Clydesdale can be tricky given their height and built. But a little bit of practice can help you work your way around them.

How can you tell a Clydesdale horse?

The Clydesdale have a silky coat with white hair spread all across their body. This is why they do not have solid colorings like that on the Shire. Another differentiating factor is height. The Clydesdale horse size is smaller than the Shires. they are shorter and have more refined built.

Finally, the Clydesdale have feathered hoofs which is not a very common phenomenon in horses especially the Shires.

The Shire and Clydesdale share a long history which makes it hard to differentiate between the two. However, there are a few distinctive features that have been discussed.

Are Shire horses good for riding?

The shire horses were bred specifically for riding farm equipment and vehicles. This is one of the reasons why they are an excellent choice for riding. In addition to this, the Shires are calm and cold-blooded in nature which makes them forgiving when it comes to beginners riding them.

Their height and size may create a concern for short heightened riders, apart from that they are an ideal choice when it comes to riding.

Is a Shire horse bigger than a Clydesdale?

The Shire Horse is bigger than the Clydesdale.

If we look at the shire and Clydesdale size comparison, the Shire horse is not only bigger but also bulkier. The height of the Shire Horse measures between 17 to 18 hands while the Clydesdale is up to 17 hands.

The shires, in general, are broader and bulkier than the Clydesdale. Their average weight is 1700 pounds and they have a broader hoof as compared to the Clydesdale.

Are Clydesdale horses good for riding?

Their gentle and forgiving nature makes them good for riding be it at any level of rider.

The original purpose of the Clydesdale is for agricultural work where they are involved in hard work that includes pulling heavy material. These horses are very calm in nature and do not mind putting in the effort. Their height and strong limbs make them a comfortable choice to ride on.

Are Shire horses rare?

As of now, the original breed of Shire is very rare and this is why the Clydesdale horses are priced lower than a Shires.

Shire horses have been around for over a century. Through this time they have been through a lot which has put this breed in danger time and again. Soon after World war 2 when industrialization took place, the number of Shire horses dropped greatly. 

It was at this time that they were crossbred with the Clydesdale.


The Shire horse vs Clydesdale horse debate can be dated many years back. Even though both the breeds come under the category of Draft horse they possess a few distinctive features that help differentiate the two. 

From the origination of the two to the history they share, looking at both breeds today, it can be safely said that neither one of them can be found in its original form today. However, there are a few distinctive traits such as physical traits and personality characteristics that still make them worth the hype and money.

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