Mr Fitch, 65, who farms 40 acres at Chestnut Tree Farm, near Horsham, West Sussex, said: 'We are very, very sad about it. But it is better for us to make provision for the horses now, rather than have to make hurried arrangements in 10 years' time when we can carry on no longer.'
The shire mares are all more than 18 hands (6ft) at the withers (top of the shoulder). These magnificent animals are beginning to make a comeback and are being brought back for use on farms.
'They have always provided the cheapest form of transport for deliveries within three miles of a base,' Mr Fitch said. 'We have bred the animals for Young's brewery in Wandsworth for many years. But they are difficult to keep on pasture because they are patchy feeders. They leave part of the field ungrazed.'
Mr Fitch is moving to the south of France where he has a farm with 10 acres of vines which he intends to cultivate for some years. The shire mares will go to two farms, Shores Hey Farm near Chep stow and Gregory Farm near Burnley, both owned by the Horses and Ponies Protection Association.
James Bates, executive of the association, said: 'We will keep one horse at each centre and the others will be lent out to members of our association who are specially screened for the job. We visit them twice a year to make sure that they are being properly looked after.'
At the association's two farms the shires, although in semi-retirement, will be used to pull harrows and other traditional farm equipment and will draw flat carts to give visiting children rides.
'We give a lot of people who have never seen a horse properly the chance to enjoy horses,' Mr Bates said. 'For pounds 10 a year someone can adopt a horse and come here to see it, groom it and take it for walks.'
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