Heavy Horses Bling It Up: The Decorated Harness Class at England’s 2011 Shire Show

The Decorated Harness class at the National Shire Show at the East of England Showgrounds in Peterborough, England each spring keeps the decorated harness concept alive. This year’s winner, crowned this weekend, was eight-year-old Tops Bay View Leo. Leo is wearing an elaborate rig that was set up for the Royal Wedding of Prince Charles and Diana. Can you imagine how much this rig must weigh?

One of the most unusual horse show classes in the world must be the “Decorated Harness” class held at the Shire Show in England each spring. This class is a throwback to times of old, when decorated harnesses meant something…and that in turn went back to the roots of superstitions that influenced farming traditions. Those beautiful horse brasses dangling from a draft horse’s harness, for instance, aren’t merely for decoration–they served a purpose: to protect the horse from the Evil Eye!

The National Shire Show in England hosts two decorated harness classes. One is for traditional brass-decorated harness; the second class is for “other regional style decorations (flowers, ribbons, wool, etc.)”. All the horses you see here were in the second class. Decorated harness classes are held at a few heavy horse shows and plowing matches in Great Britain each year. When the horses show in the sunshine in an open-air arena, the sun reflecting off the harness can be blinding; the evil eye wouldn’t stand a chance!

Leapley Yeoman, a massive gray Shire, came in fourth. The National Shire Show is the only event I have seen that offers separate dressage classes for draft horses, including dressage to music. They also present a “best shod” award in every class, and have a grand champion “Best Shod Horse” of the show. The Shire Horse is considered a rare breed, and this show works very hard to promote the breed to the public as a treasured part of England’s agricultural heritage. I think they succeed. These photos are courtesy of Janna.




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