Old Horse Breeds From Around the Globe
Whether you own a horse, or simply love being around them, you probably know there are hundreds of horse breeds. Horses have been around for thousands of years, and many new horse breeds have been created. There are horses that are bred specifically to run, jump, pull carts, and even pony breeds for selective tasks.
The oldest horse breeds originated thousands of years ago and were bred in countries all over the world. In many cases, these breeds of horses are where modern horse breeds can trace their lineage back to. It is helpful to understand how horses have evolved over time to better understand their origins, conformation, and what purposes they were bred for.
The Basics of Equine Evolution
Horses have greatly evolved over time, and their evolution is fascinating to learn about. It is believed that horses have been around for 4 to 4.5 million years and originated from Pliohippus, which then led eventually to the genus Equus.
What Are the Original Breeds of Horse?
Although horses have evolved over millions of years, there were original, or “foundation” horse breeds that influenced the breeds of horses that we know and love today.
While some of these original breeds of horses are extremely old, quite a few still exist today.
Are There Any Extinct Horse Breeds?
Unfortunately, over time certain horse breeds have become extinct. There are also many that have been added to the endangered species list in recent years.
Some of these breeds have been extinct for thousands of years and others have only become extinct somewhat recently.
Extinct horse breeds include Abaco Barb, Charentais, Ferghana, Narragansett Pacer, Navarrin, Norfolk Trotter, Old English Black, Quagga, Turkoman, and the Tarpan.
Oldest Horse Breeds
The Icelandic Horse is approximately 1,000 years old and developed from the ponies that Norse settlers took into Iceland in the 9th and 10th centuries.
- They are approximately 13 to 14 hands high, but are NOT considered to be ponies
- This breed comes in a wide variety of colors, including pinto varieties
- Icelandic horses are gaited and are used for a wide range of riding purposes
- There are 180,000 registered Icelandic Horses today
- Once Icelandic Horses leave Iceland, they are never allowed to return
The Norwegian Fjord is approximately 2,000 years old. They served as war mounts for Vikings and worked on farms in Norway. Today, they can be found across the globe.
- They are approximately 13.1 to 14.3 hands tall with a draft-like build
- All Norwegian Fjords are dun in color
- They are used for a wide variety of purposes including pulling carts, competing in different equestrian
- competitions, and even being used in therapeutic riding centers.
- There are approximately 80,000 Fjord horses worldwide today
The Akhal-Teke is considered one of the oldest horse breeds and dates back almost 3,000 years. This breed is believed to have originated in Turkmenistan. Used for transportation, these horses were developed for both speed and stamina.
- The breed ranges in size from 14.2- 16.0 hands in height
- Akhal-Teke horses are known for their unique, metallic coat color
- Today they are used in endurance competitions, dressage, show jumping, and eventing
- There are currently only 6,600 horses left in the world of this breed
The Mongolian horse is known as one of the oldest horse breeds and has been around for over 4,000 years.
Mongolian horses originated in Mongolia and have been traced to numerous modern horse breeds today including the Akhal-Teke, Japanese horse breeds, the Icelandic horse, and many British breeds.
- They are a short and stocky breed that is 12 to 14 hands
- Mongolian horses come in a wide range of colors
- The breed still accompanies the nomads in their day-to-day lives and are currently used in racing, for transportation, and even for milk production.
- Today, there are an estimated 3 million horses in Mongolia–horses outnumber humans!
Arabians are believed to date back up to 4,000 years and are seen in many ancient paintings and pieces of art belonging to Ancient Egypt, Rome, and Greece.
The breed influenced many other horse breeds over the years, including Thoroughbreds. Visually, Arabian horses are known for their concave face and high tail carriage.
- They are typically smaller in size and range from 14.1 to 15.1 hands in height
- Arabians come in bay, black, chestnut, gray, and roan coat colors
- Arabian horses are native to the Middle East and were originally a part of the Bedouin tribe
- Known for their stamina and, they are commonly used for endurance races as well as a huge variety of other disciplines from dressage to reining
- The Arabian horse is a popular and common breed today, with an estimated 1 million horses in 62 countries
The Caspian horse is a smaller horse breed that competes with the Mongolian horse for the oldest horse breed in the world. This breed dates back 5,400 years and is native to Northern Iran.
The oldest remains of a Caspian horse were found in 2011 and date back to 3,400 B.C.
- This breed comes in on the smaller side, at 9.2 to 12.2 hands high. Despite their pony-sized stature, they are proportioned like a horse
- The breed comes in bay, chestnut, black, gray and dun coat colors
- Caspian horses are very talented and have been used for dressage, jumping, driving, pony racing, and mounted games.
- The Caspian horse is no longer in danger of extinction, but its population is extremely limited. As of 2015, there were fewer than 1,000 left in the world
The Turkoman horse is originally from Turkmenistan and was also bred in Iran. This breed has influenced many modern horse breeds including the Thoroughbred horse.
- These horses ranged from 15-16 hands and had a very slender build.
- Turkoman horses came in your traditional black, bay, chestnut and bay colors
- They were known for endurance and were mainly used for endurance activities
- The Turkoman horse is now thought to be extinct
This endangered horse breed is found in Mongolia and are considered to be the last truly wild horses. They have only ever be “semi” domesticated and are known for their shy natures.
These horses are actually distant cousins of modern-day horses, as they have 66 chromosomes. Today’s domesticated horses have 64 chromosomes. Przewalski’s horses are able to breed with domestic horses, creating hybrids that look very similar to Przewalski’s horses.
- These horses are 12-14 hands tall at the withers, weighing up to 800 lbs
- Przewalski’s horses are stocky and dun in color with erect manes, no forelocks, and dark stripes along their backbones
- Called “takhi” in Mongolian, this translates to “spirit.”
- Przewalksi’s horses went extinct in the wild; today there are roughly 2,000 located in reintroduction sites
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What is the oldest breed of horse?
It is believed that the Caspian horse is the oldest breed of horse and dates back 5,400 years ago.
Q: What is the rarest horse breed?
There are multiple breeds of horses that are considered extremely rare. These include the Hackney, Caspian horse, Dales pony, Suffolk Punch horse, and the Akhal-Teke.
Learning more about the evolution of horses and the oldest horse breeds only increases our knowledge about the equines that we love. The oldest horse breeds are where today’s horses originated from. It is fascinating to learn about how horses have changed over thousands of years!
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