The stable block is presently frequented by two, rather splendid, brewery owned Shires called, Commander and Lucas who work as a pair to pull the brewery’s sign written dray and to Nelson, the brewery’s long serving Shire who is enjoying his well earned retirement. “Commander is a 13 year old, bay gelding, who stands at an impressive 18hh and Lucas, is a 17hh, dark bay (almost black), 14 year old gelding’, says Elizabeth who cares for the horses day to day and is a skilled drayman in her own right and drives the horses both delivering and parading at shows and events. “We limit the beer load to approximately half a tonne, as the dray weighs half a tonne on it’s own and with Commander and Lucas weighing approximately three quarters of a tonne each, we think that’s quite enough weight to carry around the country roads!”

Commander and Lucas bring a sense of nostalgia, of days gone by, nothing quite beats the sound or sight of their stamping feet and snorting, steaming nostrils on a cold winters morning, fully harnessed and ready to pull their loaded dray through the local Cotswold villages and lanes.

“The horses usually make a local delivery to the Sun Inn on a Wednesday, The Pear Tree Inn on a Thursday and finally to the Gate Hangs High on a Friday but we always ask visitors who wish to see the horses in action to phone ahead, just in case of bad weather or an unavoidable change of schedule ”, explains Elizabeth. “The best part of my job is getting to work with two of my favourite things, horses and beer! My fellow drayman, Roger Hughes can often be caught treating Commander and Lucas to a pint of Hooky straight from the glass, it’s not just us humans that enjoy our beer, the horses do to!”

The Shire Horse Team all dress in full livery and the turnout and upkeep of the horses, the dray and how they present themselves are of paramount importance.“Attention to detail is an integral part of our job”, says Elizabeth. “By regularly cleaning the harness and the dray, it makes sure that any wear and tear doesn’t go unnoticed which could then end up being incredibly dangerous. The welfare of our horses is at the top of our list and this applies to all areas of stable management not just the grooming, feeding and driving.”

The brewery owns two drays, a show dray and a work dray. Both vehicles date back to the 1940’s and are both original a part from their wheels. “The old, traditional wooden framed, ‘bone rattling’, iron wheels have been replaced with rubber ones for comfort and safety for horse, load and our drayman”, explains Serena. “Our show dray is a twin axel, flat bed dray that was originally owned by Tetley to deliver bottles and is used for county shows, beer festivals, weddings and TV work or wherever a smarter ‘show turnout’ is required.”

The Hook Norton Brewery Shires are so popular they even have their own diary and agent and have appeared with Martin Clunes at The Horse of the Year Show Grand Finale, where heavy horse lover, Martin proudly took to the stage on the back of the Hook Norton Brewery dray and recited the very fitting and moving poem, ‘Ode to The Horse’ by Ronald Duncan, which closing verse reads;

England’s past has been borne on his back. All our history is his industry, We are his heirs; He is our inheritance. Ladies and Gentleman, I give you the horse.

It is not just celebrity, and British Horse Society Chairman, Martin Clunes that has featured alongside the Hook Norton Brewery Shires. “Our horses were filmed with Penelope Keith in her Hidden Villages series and even ferried Griff Rhys Jones around in the show, ‘Griff’s Great Britain” says Serena. “In 2014 our Shires were also honoured by Her Majesty the Queen to take part in her Royal Mail stamp in a special addition featuring working horses.”

Continuing the brewery’s Royal connections, back in 1999, the horse loving Princess Royal officially opened the Visitor Centre to the public and enjoyed a grand tour of the buildings and of course, the Victorian stable block. “The Brewery is host to a museum, large shop, meeting rooms, we also hold a wedding license and have a recently opened The Steep which lends itself perfectly to wedding receptions as well as being a first rate conference venue, and the previously mentioned, Malthouse Kitchen Cafe”, concludes Serena. “The brewery is open seven days a week for tours and is testament to this proudly independent and fiercely passionate family run business.”

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