Casey MacKenzie’s calm energy mirrors that of the Shire horses she has spent over a decade raising. Just stepping onto the MacKenzie Shires farm provides a sense of tranquility and peace in the heart of bustling Boulder County. Rolling green hills and open sky set the backdrop for a bright red barn and spacious turnouts, home to MacKenzie’s giant Shire horses.
Eleven years ago, MacKenzie fell in love with her first Shire horse, named Zorro. This weanling was only the second horse she had ever owned and MacKenzie immediately realized how much she enjoyed working with the temperament and ease of the breed. Since then, she has bred and raised Shires, and, through community events and outreach, has introduced the friendly breed to the surrounding area. She spends her days caring for the equines, driving them around the property and sharing the breed with anyone interested in learning more about these calm, playful horses.
Three years ago, her horses first participated in Niwot’s 4th of July Parade, and, fortunately for Niwot residents, have made continued appearances ever since. “In the past we had participated in the Boulder County Fair Parade, but that year we had a conflict and I wanted to get our horses out into the community,” she said. “We loved the Niwot Parade and have been participating ever since. Niwot is a wonderful, manageable size and everyone is so kind and happy to see the horses. We also like that it doesn’t start at the crack of dawn.”
Shires have a long history, dating back to 15th century Europe. During the mid-1800s, Shires were imported to America and quickly gained popularity as draught horses. They were used in urban and agricultural settings, pulling carts, ploughs, carriages and more. By 1911, there were 6,700 registered Shires.
Their popularity began to wane after WWI, thanks in part to the advent and expansion of railroads, street cars and automobiles, MacKenzie said. “Before the industrial revolution, people needed horses for everything from farming to transporting goods. As life became more mechanized, Shires started to disappear. My understanding is that many were taken to slaughter during the great depression. The combination of these two factors caused Shires to become endangered.”
In addition, farmers switched out these giant horses for smaller, economical breeds that consumed less. In the 1950’s the breed’s numbers dropped to only 25 registered Shires in the U.S.
MacKenzie’s role as a Shire breeder serves a greater purpose for the country’s equine community. The breed is still marked as a threatened heritage breed with The Livestock Conservancy, meaning there are fewer than 1,000 annual registrations of Shires in the U.S., but their numbers are growing, slowly. Last year, the Shire breed saw less than 200 annual registrations in the U.S., which put them in the critical category.
The Shire horse played a huge role in our country’s history and deserves to be protected. Just one look at these horses and even a non-horse person can see the beauty and grace in these gentle giants. MacKenzie spends each day with these amazing creatures and truly loves what she does, “These horses blow me away every day with how willing they are to do whatever I ask of them. They are gentle and sweet and absolutely hilarious. They crack me up constantly with their antics. I find that Shires have an unbelievable capacity to roll with the punches.”
For more information on MacKenzie Shires, check out the farm’s Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/macshires/.