Tuesday, April 6, 2010
Occasionally when I'm not working on something of my own fictional creation, I spend time putting together the stories and history of my family. I recently came across a photo from the 1940s of a Shire mare and her colt, belonging to my grandfather. I have always been in awe of these great horses when we go to the State fair each year. I look forward to a walk through the horse barn just so I can stare at their massive size and envision my grandfather handling them on his farm.
It's hard to imagine being able to control something so huge, but they have a reputation for being incredibly gentle for their size. An average saddle horse is around 15 hands. Compare that to a Shire that can be upwards of 18 hands. In case you're wondering what a "hand" is in horse measurement, it's 4 inches. This measurement is taken at the horse's withers.
The Great Horse of England, believed to be the precursor to the Shire, was originally a war horse in medieval times. It had to carry up to 400 pounds for rider and armor, which didn't necessarily include the weight of the rider's clothes, nor the horse's gear such as saddle and bridle.
When the war horse slipped into the realm of history, the Shire continued on as a draft horse. It became an American national treasure in the 1800s and even into the 1900s. Shires were my grandfather's draft horse of choice. He took a great deal of pride in his horses. His animals were fed and watered in the morning before he ate his own breakfast.
Like many men of his generation, he never became proficient with automobiles and tractors. He tried to keep pace with the times, though. He bought a car and built a garage for it and took driving lessons from his sons, but the first time he tried to park in the new garage, he drove right through it and out the back end, hollering, "Whoa, you son of a bitch, whoa!"
My imagination makes me laugh every time I picture that moment, but what I wouldn't give for a video of it just the same.