So what is Shireland? A man by the name of Tom Smrt (He invented the upside down spray can for painting parking lot stripes) started Shireland to show off his Shire horses based on their public reception at a county fair. When the breed was down to a worldwide total of fifty horses, he purchased several and brought them to Illinois. His goal was to start a North American breeding program. The program was a success, however Shireland was not. The general public really had no intrest in an amusement park based on horses. It became to expensive to staff and operate.
Shireland was more than horses. It had the world's largest circus tent. The red and white striped tent was almost the size of two football fields. There was a petting zoo, music, knights, a train, several rides and all types of food. Even with all that, as quickly as Shireland came to be, it was gone.
Carol N. was kind enough to share her memories of Shirelands opening day in 1987 (Or 1988) with me.
Shireland was several big tents connected--some had horses in stalls, some had little movie theaters (we watched the short film about how Smrt donated 6 -- white Shires to the Army, to use in military funerals), a food court, I think....and then the big tent that covered the indoor arena. We were there on opening day....everything was running *real* late. Finally we got to see "the show"---it started with some guys on horseback with horse and rider dressed in "armour"--they were discussing the Shire's use as a war horse in medievil times. Well, first, the horse didn't want to come thru the curtains that separated the prep area from the show area. We could see the horse being pulled by the bridle, shoved from the rear...etc etc etc. When the horse finally got thru the curtain and saw the crowd--it freaked out. Took off running....headed for the "fence" that divided the crowd from the arena (I think it was either plastic "chain" or that plastic fencing you see used these days). There were horses pulling wagons too---same situation: the horses weren't fully conditioned to the crowd and the sights so they were scared. At the time, I wasn't a horse owner, so I didn't fully appreciate what was going on. After taking horses to shows and events now, I see how they can react to strange situations (esp at first) and how they can loose their brains if they not prepared fully.
I think Smrt was a man with a good idea--get the Shires (who I think were on the "endangered breeds" list at the time) in front of the public (and maybe sell a few of his own ) and save and hopefully improve the breed. I think his heart was in the right place---'course, he did get some real good PR in donating the horses to the Army. That was written up in Equus magazine. But he obviously overestimated things---I don't know if he had any experience in showing so I don't think he got what he expected when Shireland opened.
We were there on opening day, I don't recall what it cost to get in, but I know my husband complained about it. In talking to people in later years, I hear they lowered the ticket price quite a bit. I don't know how long they stayed open that first year, but they never reopened the following year.
I decided to finally visit Shireland in the fall of 2002, more than ten years after it's final season of operation. I was surprised to find the park in really good condition.
The first thing you encounter at Shireland are the great gates to the parking lot that have a great silloute of a Shire horse. A quick hop over the fence and you are in a sea of grey faded parking lot (Not stripped!!). But there before you is the remains of the english castle looking Shireland.