Shire Horse VS The Clydesdale: How Can You Tell Which Is Which?

clydesdale in field by ocean

Written by Peralee Knight

Published: March 15, 2022

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When trying to tell the difference between the Shire Horse VS Clydesdale, they often appear identical to the average individual. These two draught breeds are cousins, after all! But is there any significant difference between a shire horse and a Clydesdale? The truth is: Despite their similarities, these two breeds are quite unique! Let’s dig into the key differences between these two breeds.

The Key Differences Between a Shire Horse and a Clydesdale

The secret to telling one of these massive workhorses from the other is their coat markings. The Clydesdale has distinct white markings over the entire body and white hairs scattered throughout the coat. The Shire horse is mostly one solid color with white markings centered on the legs and face. However, this isn’t the only difference between Shire horses and Clydesdales. But that is not all.

Check out the other differences between shire horses and Clydesdale below.

Shire Horse VS Clydesdales: Physical Characteristics

shire running in field

The Shire horse is overall much bigger than the Clydesdale, and is a solid color with markings concentrated on the legs or head. The Clydesdale has more distinct white markings that can be anywhere on the body.


Shire horses and Clydesdales share a powerful build and height. In fact, they are both at the top of the list of Biggest Horses In The World! Draught horses like the Shire and Clydesdale were specifically bred for hard work. Unlike thoroughbred and quarter horses, these breeds were built for stamina rather than speed. A distinct angle to the hock and a narrower space between the parallel bones in the legs is desirable for both as well.

Their heavy and muscular forms, broad barrel chests, and thick legs make the Shire and the Clydesdale the top two strongest horses in the world. However, one of these horses is generally larger than the other, and that’s not the only difference between them!

Physical Characteristics That Define The Shire Horse

In addition to coat markings, the Shire horse can be identified by its larger size, and on average the breed stands 68 inches tall and weighs an impressive 2,200 pounds! The Shire horse is the largest horse breed in the world. Shires tend to have a higher lift to the head, shorter backs, and a more defined top line to the body.

This breed also tends to have a more impressive croup angle. This is due to the tail being set higher than the Clydesdale. The Shire horse also has a broader chest and tends to appear taller.

Physical Characteristics That Define The Clydesdale

Biggest Horses: Clydesdales

The Clydesdale is smaller than the Shire, but it is often stronger!


Though the Clydesdale is generally smaller than the Shire horse, it is far from small! Clydesdales are the second-largest horse breed in the world and stand at the same imposing 68 inches high on average. However, they tend to way significantly less, around 1,907 pounds on average. Despite this, Clydesdales are stronger! The Clydesdale often displays the desired hock angle and narrow, parallel leg traits more prominently. Clydesdales also display the high hock trait more prominently and have longer leg bones.

In addition to their distinctive white markings, the Clydesdale also has finer feathering. Meaning, the thicker and longer hair around the hooves is a finer texture than the Shires.

Shire Horse VS Clydesdales: Behavior And Temperament

Like many draught breeds, the Shire and the Clydesdale are known for their calm demeanor and gentle nature. Both breeds are the definition of the term workhorse and are widely regarded as steady, reliable, and easygoing. Neither of these horses likes to be bored and are happiest when there is a job to be done!

However, like all horses, the Shire and the Clydesdale do have personalities all their own!

Expected Behavior And Temperament Of The Shire Horse

Tallest Horses - Shire

While the Clydesdale is more energetic and playful, the Shire is all business and eager to prove itself.


The Shire horse is a calm, unflappable horse that does not spook easily. Shires are equally suited for pulling extremely heavy loads or a casual afternoon ride. This breed is an excellent mount for beginners, as the Shire seems to take care to put their rider at ease. They are laid back, respond dutifully to commands, and have a strong work ethic.

The Shire is often deeply devoted to their human owners, making them one of the easiest horse breeds to train. They are eager to perform well, and their docile and pleasant demeanor epitomizes the term “Gentle Giant!”

Expected Behavior And Temperament Of The Clydesdale

Though Clydesdales are called a cold-blooded breed, this should not be taken to mean that they are cold! The term refers to their cool and steady temperament when compared to more skittish and high-strung breeds. The Clydesdale is a calm, level-headed horse that is both dependable and loyal to its owners.

While every bit as steadfast as the Shire, the Clydesdale is often more energetic and playful. These horses are natural performers and thoroughly enjoy a good parade or competition. Clydesdales are easygoing and obedient, and they know the difference between work and play!

Shire Horses And Clydesdales: Their Centuries-Old Shared History

The Shire horse dates to 1066, the days of William the Conqueror and his historic victory that placed him on the English Throne! Thought to be bred as war horses, their steady nature and powerful build made the Shire the perfect draught horse. For centuries, this breed was a necessary part of farming and agriculture, due to their easy trainability and strong work ethic.

The Shire became so popular, the breed was exported to many other countries as far as Australia, the United States, and New Zealand.

How The Clydesdale Saved The Shire

The breed was also popular closer to home, as well. In Scotland, the Clydesdale was first developed by selectively breeding the Shire with other types of horses. In 1826 the Clydesdale was officially recognized as a distinct breed, as was the Shire. However, the Shire breed dwindled in numbers and nearly went extinct. In the 1960s, breeders introduced Clydesdales to boost their numbers.

Much like Frodo Baggins in Lord Of The Rings, the Clydesdale breed once again returned to the Shire!

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