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Types and Breeds of Horse

Updated on February 16, 2013

Breeds of Horse

There are many different breeds and types of horses. In fact, there are more than 200 different breeds of horses and ponies in existence throughout the world. Many of these are indigenous to a particular country or area and have lived and bred there for countless generations. Over the years, they have changed little in physical appearance, for the characteristics best suited to their life style and survival were inherently established long in the past. These, therefore, have continued to pre­ dominate in successive generations.

An excellent example of the indigenous breeds are the nine different native ponies living in various parts of the United Kingdom, from the northernmost islands of Scotland to the southern counties of Devon and Somerset. Known collectively as the Mountain and Moorland breeds, some of them have lived in their particular region since prehistoric times. Other countries have similar breeds that have also inhabited their homelands for centuries. Striking examples are the hard working little Icelandic ponies, first taken to that country over a thousand years ago by Norwegian invaders, and the pretty grey Camargue ponies. These live in the Rhone delta region of southern France and are almost as wild today as they were in the past.

An Arab Horse
An Arab Horse

The Arab

One of the most beautiful and important of all native breeds is the Arabian horse. This magnificent animal, considered by many riders to be the most exquisite of all horses, has lived in the deserts of Arabia for thousands of years; in fact, its origins are completely lost in antiquity and surrounded by romantic fable.

Nowadays, the Arabian is bred in almost all horse-loving countries of the world. The different qualities that have emerged to aid survival in such widely different environmental conditions have resulted in there being a number of different types of Arabians, each of which displays some exclusive characteristics. For more than any other horse, the Arabian has been responsible for influencing and helping to create the many 'new' breeds of horse that are now firmly established in the horse world.

Selective breeding

These 'new' breeds - new is a relative term for many have existed for several hundred years are those that have been produced and developed by man as a result of careful selective breeding. They were produced to fulfil a need, to answer a dictate of fashion or to satisfy a new whim or desire by some group or community. The superb riding horses found in the United States of America and those produced in most of the countries of Europe are all fine examples of breeds developed by man over the years.

The most famous of all created breeds is without question the Thoroughbred, which was developed in England in the late 17th century using three Arabian stallions as the foundation stock. By this time, the racing of horses, which had previously been frowned upon as the 'pastime of the devil' had become, instead, the 'sport of kings' and therefore respectable.

The Thoroughbred was developed solely to produce a horse of great speed over a comparatively short distance. Over any long distance, the Thoroughbred is still no match for its ancestor, the Arabian, which combines a fair turn of speed with considerably greater powers of endurance and stamina than those possessed by its descendant.

Cross Bred Horse
Cross Bred Horse

The world of the cross-breed

Most of the horses used all over the world for general riding - and many seen in competitive fields, too - are cross-breeds - that is, the offspring of two horses, one of which may be a pure breed or both of which may be cross breeds themselves. The lack of pure blood in their veins generally means that cross-breeds are less expensive to buy than pure-bred horses, however, this does not detract from their performance as riding horses or from their temperament and disposition. Indeed, many cross breeds have more equable characters and are considerably less highly strung than their pedigree relatives.

Team of Working Horses
Team of Working Horses

Horse types

In addition to the specific breeds and countless cross-breeds of horse, there are various recognized horse 'types'. In most cases, the type refers to the work for which the animal has been bred and for which it is the most suited. One of the best known types of horse is the hunter, so-called because it possesses special characteristics that suit it for riding to hounds. Several different types of hunters are now recognized, this having come about as the characteristics required in a horse wanted for hunting in one part of the country became quite different from those that would be suitable elsewhere. For example, the strong, heavily built horse required by a large man riding heavy ground fenced into small fields would be of little use to the lightweight lady hunting across fast, wide-open grassland where there are few fenced boundaries.

Various types of hunters have thus emerged - the main categories being lightweight, middleweight and heavyweight. All hunters, though, must possess the basic qualities of stamina, boldness and courage as well as being able to jump the obstacles they are likely to encounter during a day's hunting. They should also be resourceful or intelligent enough to cope with, or extricate themselves from, the unforeseeable predicaments that can occur.

Show horses

As a result of the different types of hunter required, the 'show hunter' has come into existence. The show hunter is also categorized into different types. It displays the qualities that would be sought in any hunter, but it will probably never be ridden to hounds, or at least, not as long as its showing career continues. The reason for this is that one tiny little blemish, the result, perhaps, of a knock against an obstacle out hunting, or a tear from a vicious thorn bush that leaves the slightest trace of a scar - will immediately end its career in the show ring. Its value on the market would therefore drop considerably, which makes it understandable that few owners of these animals are prepared t~ take such a foolhardy risk.

Out on a Hack
Out on a Hack

Hacks and the pleasure horse

Another type of horse which exists almost solely as a show horse is the hack. Nowadays this is essentially a lady's horse, but the term is derived from the medieval French word haquenai, which literally meant riding horse and referred to horses of very lowly stature. Gradually, two types of hack evolved. The first was the park hack, which was the riding horse mainly used by ladies (but also by gentlemen to some degree) when going for a recreational ride or 'hack' through the grounds of their estate or the public parks of the cities and towns in which they lived. The second was known as the covert hack, which was the horse a man would ride to the meet of the hounds while his hunter (the more important animal that was to carry him through the day's sport) was taken along at a more leisurely pace by a groom.

It is from the park hack that the hack of today's show ring has evolved. Recreational riding, after all, used to be the prerogative of the wealthy and the aristocracy, the lower orders using their horses in more practical ways to help them in their daily work. Thus, when riding through a park, the riders expected to be admired and they would choose their horses accordingly. Besides being attractive in appearance and conformation, the hack had to have graceful movement and flowing paces, as well as - and perhaps even more importantly perfect manners, which would ensure it obeyed its rider's commands and did not suddenly indulge in a display of high spirits which unseat the rider. It is these qualities of impeccable manners and beautiful appearance that abound in the show hacks of today.

However, the word hack can actually be applied to any riding horse that is used for recreational riding - the term 'to go for a hack' meaning to go for a ride. But, though it still strictly applies to any riding horse, the term has become more commonly associated with the show animal.· In the same way, the United States has its pleasure horse, for which classes are held at most shows.

The term refers to almost any horse that is suitable for recreational riding as practised by its particular rider. Although many different types or cross-breeds of horse, as well as some specific breeds, will be found in the pleasure classes in American horse shows, they all have to conform to the various standards laid down in the specifications of that particular class.

The show pony

Another type of horse, or more particularly pony, bred almost solely for the show ring is the show pony. This elegant little animal is certainly not classified as a breed, but it is probably mainly produced by crossing small Thoroughbreds with extremely good quality (in terms of appearance and conformation) cross bred or native ponies. The term show pony is used to describe any pony possessing a sufficiently faultless appearance, together with superb manners, to enable it to compete against others in the show ring. Movement and overall performance will also be taken into account by the judges as they make their decision.


The cob is another type of horse. Although most major horse shows include classes for cobs, the animal is more generally considered to be a recreational riding horse, particularly suitable for those who want a calm, willing, but rather placid, mount. The cob is characterized by its stocky limbs and sturdy muscular appearance. It is usually smaller more compact and thick set than a hunter, even when compared proportionally to the strong build of a heavyweight hunter. In the not-so-distant past, horses of a cob type were often used as harness horses, indeed, with the current revival in popularity of driving as a sport, they are again coming into their own in this field.

There is one cob - the Welsh cob - that is also an established breed. Like its relative the Welsh Mountain pony, it is a native of the hills of Wales and is said to be descended from horses that were the result of the inter-breeding of Spanish horses with the smaller native ponies. Whether this is historically accurate or not, the Welsh cob has continued to reproduce as a breed in this part of the UK for many hundreds of years.

Another type of cob emanates from Ireland, where it, too, has been breeding for centuries. Called the Irish cob, it is not usually afforded the same breed status as the Welsh cob. Other cobs or cob types are usually the result of crossing a hunter with a small, well built horse that may have some heavy horse blood in its ancestry. The riding cob, however, while strong and sturdy retains the pony characteristics of small ears, flowing mane and tail.


Show jumpers and eventers

The tremendous increase in popularity and participation in the competitive fields of show jumping and eventing have resulted in the emergence of types of horses known as show jumpers and eventers. These are not only not recognized breeds, but are also probably not even as uniform in appearance as the other types of horse so far discussed. In both cases, the term refers more to the animal's ability than its conformation or appearance.

More than any other type of horse, the show jumper has to be an athlete of outstanding talent, with the ability to jump large fences and willing to do so in cold blood - without the incentive produced, for example, by the thrill of the chase in the hunting field. A show-jumper must also be nimble and agile, particularly if jumping in an indoor competition where the smallness of the arena calls for sharp turns often to be executed at speed.

Horses that do well in indoor competitions are generally those with a fairly calm temperament, not being easily upset by the bright lights and the often tense, electric atmosphere. Even a superficial look at the horses entered for an important show jumping competition will immediately indicate that horses of widely differing shapes, sizes and builds seem to make good show jumpers, in the same way that there is no such thing as a typical top-class athlete. The features that all show jumpers have in common, however, are very strong hindquarters and hocks, for the thrust and power needed to propel them upwards over the jump comes from these areas.

The eventer is perhaps the boldest, most courageous and most versatile horse of all, but, once more, successful eventers come in all manner of shapes and sizes. The three main aspects of eventing - dressage, cross-country jumping and show jumping - call between them for a horse with fluid paces and great precision of movement, considerable speed and stamina and a highly developed jumping ability.

Above all, they demand complete obedience from the horse, who must constantly listen and instantly respond to his rider's commands. In general terms, the eventer - is probably well-bred ­ that is, with a fair amount of Thoroughbred blood in its veins, probably mixed with that of a hunter. It is these two types of horse that, between them, possess most of the qualities necessary in a top-class eventer - the hunter instinct providing aggressiveness and courage, and the Thoroughbred characteristics giving refinement, obedience, and poise.

Some example horse breeds

exmoor horse
exmoor horse | Source
iceland  horse
iceland horse | Source
przewalski horse
przewalski horse | Source
welsh horse
welsh horse | Source
fjord horse
fjord horse | Source


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