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Nonprofit strives to preserve Shires

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OXBOW — A nonprofit group has formed to save the Shire, a horse that is becoming increasingly rare.

“There’s less than 2,000 in the whole world,” said Faith A. Bitter, a member of the Shire Preservation Foundation. “This last recession in England has sent even more to the slaughterhouse.”

Shires, a breed of draft horses, are so-called because they were bred on the shires of England. Shires, which can be ridden or used as work animals, are known for their quiet temperament and lower-leg hair, called feathers, but their population has been on the decline since tractors took on a larger role on the farm.

“We want to increase the total number of Shires,” Ms. Bitter said. “The goal is to make sure there’s enough money raised to adequately care for the horses. The whole point is to save the genetic material.”

The foundation got its start with the adoption of a 16-year-old Shire, Eaton Acres Samson, owned by Ms. Bitter’s partner, Christopher J. Ferguson. In the search for a mare for him, they realized how few Shires were left when they found only 63 for sale throughout all of North America.

“Our goal is to reach out to our surrounding area and then beyond,” Ms. Bitter said. “We’re up to 30 individuals helping with the project. The more people involved, the better off the horses are.”

The state recognized the group as a nonprofit organization in May. The foundation is seeking a formal designation from the Internal Revenue Service. The board includes a veterinarian, Stacy M. Kenyon, Lowville, money managers and horse lovers.

Donations will go toward educational clinics and a fund to care for the Shires. When resources are sufficient, the ownership of Samson and his mare, Illusion Farms Mi Amiga, will be signed over to the foundation.

“The first plan is to acquire a trailer, because without a trailer, we can’t easily do outreach,” Ms. Bitter said.

The horses will be part of the upcoming Hammond Fair and will be on display Saturday at Tractor Supply in Gouverneur.

With enough support, a sanctuary may be formed for whatever horses they have adopted out.

“Our goal is to save the Shire,” Ms. Bitter said. “We’re not in it for the money. We want to be sure we have happy, healthy animals.”

Shires typically sell for $4,000 to $35,000 for a show-quality animal.

Long-term, the foundation wants a facility larger than Mr. Ferguson’s property on County Route 25, town of Antwerp, where people can learn to drive and care for the horses.

Volunteer Pamela A. Crumpton, Oxbow, said working with the Shires is different from the horses she used to ride in 4-H.

“You have to know what you’re doing. I think they’re smarter,” she said. “They know what they’ve got to do, but they’ll test you.”

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