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Shire vs Clydesdale Horse Breeds: Similarities & Differences

Shire vs Clydesdale Horse Breeds: Similarities & Differences

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Shire Horses and Clydesdale are some of the most loved horse breeds in the horse world. These gentle giants are known for their incredible strength and calm dispositions.

The two often get mistaken for each other as they are quite similar. However, there are some key differences that set these beautiful horses apart.

Shire horses and Clydesdales are both draft horses, but they are different breeds. Clydesdales originate in Scotland, whereas Shires are from England. Shires tend to be taller, more muscular, and have thicker coats compared to Clydesdales.

Shire vs Clydesdale History

There is a good reason Clydesdales look so much like Shires, as Shires were bred into Clydesdale stock while the breed was developing.

First recognized as a breed in 1826, Clydesdales got their name from Lanarkshire county, which used to be called Clydesdale, in Scotland.

The Shire was founded as a breed in the 18th century, however, their origins go back even further. This British breed of horse was developed over hundreds of years and once had numbers in the millions.

However, their numbers drastically fell by the 1950s and Clydesdales were crossbred in to help bring their numbers back up.

Shire horse

Other Shire and Clydesdale Differences

It is easy for one to confuse a Clydesdale for a Shire Horse, as they have similar appearances. However, once you learn the difference between the two it’ll be easier to tell them apart.


Both Shires and Clydesdales are large, with strong, muscular builds and have feathers on their legs. However, Shires tend to have bigger, broader builds, whereas Clydesdales tend to be slightly smaller, with a more refined build.

They are also one of the horse breeds with feathered hooves.

Shires have a short, back with a deep shoulder, slightly arched neck, big hooves and well-muscled legs. They should have long, lean heads, large eyes with a slight Roman nose.

Clydesdales have a muscular yet arched neck, moderately sloping shoulders, deep chest, short back, powerful legs and large, round hooves.

Their heads should be wide, yet proportional, with a flat face or occasionally a slight Roman nose and expressive eyes. They generally have docked tails, whereas Shires typically have natural tails.

Shires can come in different colors including black, bay, brown, grey and on rare occasions chestnut. Though Clydesdales are more often bay, they can also be roan, black and brown.

Clydesdales often have white markings, but white markings are typically considered to be undesirable in Shires and are not as common.


When it comes to size, Shires have a slight advantage. They can range anywhere from 16 hands to a whopping 19 hands, though the average is 17.1 hands.

Clydesdales can stand anywhere from 16 hands to 18 hands, with most being about 17 hands. Clydesdales weigh anywhere from 1,600-2,300 pounds. Shires, on the other hand, weigh between 1,800-2,400 pounds.


Considered one of the best horse breeds for beginners, Shire horses are known for their docile, easy-going temperaments. They are hardworking horses, which has made them excel as a cart and farm horse.

Thanks to their gentle nature and willingness to work, they are still used for farm work, driving, logging and even riding.

Being a cold blood horse breed, Clydesdales are known for their calm yet active, gentle temperaments. They tend to be more animated in their movement than other draft breeds.

Today, they are used as driving and riding, for both show and pleasure, as well as participating in parades.

Shire horse saying hello to another horse

Interesting Shire and Clydesdales Facts

The Shire horse is known to be among the strongest breeds of horses in the world. In fact, they have set world records for the amount of weight a horse can pull. Also, discover how much weight these horses can carry here.

At a 1924 British exhibition, a pair of Shires pulled an astounding 100,000 pounds. That same exhibition, a single Shire pulled an incredible 58,000 pounds. No horse since has been able to beat this feat!

As we mentioned in our biggest horses guide, the Guinness World Record for the tallest living horse also once belonged to a Shire.

In 2000, Goliath the Shire won the record standing at just over 19.1 hands high. To give you more perspective, he was 6 feet five inches at the shoulder!

Clydesdales are most well known for driving the world-famous Budweiser hitch. Eight Clydesdales pull each Budweiser hitch and they are accompanied by their mascot, a Dalmation dog.

However, not just any Clydesdale can become a Budweiser Clydesdale. In order to pull the hitch, the horses must be geldings and be bay, with four white stockings and a white blaze, with no other white markings. They have to be at least four years old and be 18 hands tall, weighing between 1,800 – 2,300 pounds.

Also, read 45 amazing horse facts guide for more interesting facts!


Shires and Clydesdales are both amazing breeds. Though they are similar in many ways, they each have unique characteristics. It may be tricky to tell them apart, but once you learn more about them it will be easier.

Also, read our article on Big Jake who is the tallest living horse.