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16 September 2021

Visiting A Rare Horse Breed In Prince Edward County

It came as no surprise to us, living in rural Ontario, that our daughter fell in love with horses. It’s hard not to love the majestic creatures with their soulful eyes and graceful limbs as you watch them graze on green fields behind pretty fences. Recently, however, her obsession with all things equine turned to one particular breed: the Shire.

If you’ve ever watched the Disney film Brave, you’ll recognize this as the trusty steed by Merida’s side. As beautiful as they are, these horses are actually quite rare. Once extremely popular work horses that numbered in the millions, shires are now a dwindling breed. Worldwide there are fewer than 3,000 of them. In Canada, there’s only about 300 of them registered. So the chances of my daughter actually seeing one of these beauties in real life, grazing in a paddock, remained very slim.

Imagine my delight when I discovered that South Eastern Ontario was home to a shire breeding farm — quite possibly that largest such farm in the country.

Owner Sandra Rutter was kind enough to let us spend a blissful morning on her gorgeous farm in Prince Edward County. She gave us a tour of Black Park Shires, let us mingle with the horses and just overall made my little girl’s dreams come true.

Prince Edward County

Sandra’s farm is located in Bloomfield in beautiful Prince Edward County, just a few hours east of Toronto. With its close proximity to the GTA and its incredible beauty, the County has become a popular retreat for getaways all year long. Visitors flock here for the wide sand beaches, the impressive list of wineries, breweries and cideries, and, of course, the food. The County is a great destination for those who love to eat local, with incredible farm-to-table restaurants springing up in all its picturesque towns.

At its heart though, Prince Edward County is rural and that is the part of the region that we came to discover. Black Park Shires is a family-run farm. Sandra was born and raised in the County and, like my daughter, her love for horses began early. You can see in the care that Sandra puts into her horses, her barn and her property that this place is a labour of love.

The Beauty of the Shire

Shire horses are draught horses, which means that they excel at pulling heavy things like carts or plows. Shires were traditionally used for farm and forestry work and that continues to this day, although on a much smaller scale. Many shire owners now chose these horses not for their ability to do work but for their beauty and kind nature. They are very big — among the largest horses in the world — and have a very distinct look. Most shires are either black, brown, bay or grey and all have that distinctive fur around the bottom of their legs (this is called feathering). Even though they are so big and strong, shires are gentle, affectionate and well-mannered horses. It is easy to see why so many people around the world are enthralled with these beauties. There are annual competitions specifically for shires and Sandra has attended her fair share, showing off her horses in various shows around North America. Sandra and her husband are doing their part to ensure this breed does not go extinct. This year Sandra’s favourite mare, Story, is expecting, and on the farm there are already two young foals — Roy and Ria — roaming the fields with their mamas. They come running up to us as we approach the fence, eager to say hello. Roy in particular is extremely playful and so handsome. My daughter and I secretly debated trying to sneak him into our minivan.

Saying goodbye was not easy but alas, we had to let Sandra get back to her work. On Sandra’s recommendation we headed off to Angry Birdz Rotisserie in Picton for a delicious lunch on the patio. The food was amazing and the staff was very friendly. With so many great dining options in the area, it was nice to have a local recommendation.

We had also tried Sandra’s other recommendation — Midtown Brewing Company in Wellington — for dinner, enjoying great burgers and fries on the patio. A short walk away was the Old Greenhouse Ice Cream Shop, which the kids tried and raved about (read about our ice cream tour of the County and Bay of Quinte area). A perfect day ended with a sunset stroll along Wellington beach.