Janice Forthofer spends some quality time with one of the seven Shire draft horses she and her husband own together. In the past, they have used the horses to pull carriages at events like Winterfest, but now they have retired the animals from that work and are focused on breeding. The species is rare, with only about 2,600 in the world today. (The Commercial Review/Jack Ronald)
Janice Forthofer spends some quality time with one of the seven Shire draft horses she and her husband own together. In the past, they have used the horses to pull carriages at events like Winterfest, but now they have retired the animals from that work and are focused on breeding. The species is rare, with only about 2,600 in the world today. (The Commercial Review/Jack Ronald)
They’re called “gentle giants.”

And in the world of horses, they are something special.

“They’re on the verge of extinction,” says Dick Forthofer of the family’s Shires.

“They’re the oldest draft horse breed,” adds his wife Janice.

Today, there are only about 2,600 Shires in the world.

Seven of them can be found at the Forthofers’ Shire Power Farm at 5570 E. 200 South.

For decades, the Forthofers have been devoted to the breed.

“I was raising quarter horses and paints, and Dad wanted something that could pull,” says Dr. Kim Forthofer of the Fort Recovery Veterinary Clinic.

The family traveled to the horse sale in Topeka, Indiana, in search of some Clydesdales. But those had already been sold. The Shires immediately caught their eye.

There are essentially four types of draft horses: Shires, Clydesdales, Belgians and Percherons.

Shires trace their roots to England, Clydesdales to Scotland, Belgians — obviously — to Belgium and Percherons to France.

According to the American Shire Horse Association, all Shires should trace back to the studbooks of the Shire Horse Society in England, which was established in 1878. Shires in the U.S. are registered with the American Shire Horse Association, which was founded in 1885.

“Shires are carriage horses,” explains Kim. “Belgians are pulling horses.”

Clydesdales are familiar because of the Budweiser connection, while Percherons are the biggest and most muscular of the draft horse breeds.

“All Shires are DNA tested,” says Dick. There were only 64 foals last year in the entire United States.

The Forthofers’ Shires have been most visible pulling a carriage at Winterfest, in parades throughout the region and for weddings.

They’ve also been put in service to pull an antique hearse for Williamson and Spencer Funeral Home at times.

But those days are behind them.

The carriage, which was made in Canada, has been sold.

“It stopped being fun,” says Dick.

“The insurance got to be ridiculous,” says Kim.

Instead, the Forthofers are now focusing on breeding their Shires, usually selling the DNA-tested offspring on the internet.

“We’re the biggest breeder in our state,” says Dick. “She (Kim) owns some, we own some, and we own some together.”

Raising the horses represents just the latest chapter of the family’s life.

Dick was a firefighter in Dayton, Ohio, for 20 years before retiring. He and Janice then went into dairy farming for another 20 years before catching the Shire bug.

“It’s an expensive hobby,” says Kim.

Adds her father, “It’s something to get out of bed for in the morning.”