There are literally hundreds of different horse and pony breeds around today and while some are less than a hundred years old there are a number of breeds that have been around for much longer than you might think. Some of these breeds, such as the Norwegian Fjord, can even trace their roots back to the prehistoric horses that roamed the planet over 30,000 years ago.
1. Caspian Horse
Height: Between 9hh and 12hh, although its bone structure means it is actually a horse
Color: Any solid color
Country of Origin: Iran
Character: The Caspian is an extremely intelligent and courageous breed. It’s famed for its loyalty while its calm nature, even in stallions, makes it ideal for children
Interesting fact: The Caspian has an extra set of molars instead of wolf teeth
We’ve all heard of the Arabian horse but I bet not so many of you have heard of its direct ancestor, the Caspian, yet this diminutive breed, which can be traced back to around 3,000BC, is thought to be the oldest domesticated breed in the world and, being the founding breed of the Arabian, is believed to have played a major role in the development of most hot-blooded breeds around today.
Originally having been bred along the narrow coastline of the Caspian Sea for thousands of years, it was once thought that the breed was extinct. That was until 1965 when American born horse breeder, Louise Firouz, spotted a herd of them on Iran’s northern shore. Since rediscovering the breed Louise Firouz worked tirelessly to promote and preserve the breed but sadly, since her death in 2008, the breed has once again found itself on the endangered list.
While the breed’s future is by no means secure it’s past has been linked with various royal dynasties, from pulling the King of Persia’s chariot while he was hunting lions to Queen Elizabeth II.
2. Icelandic Horse
Height: Anything between 12hh and 13hh
Color: Any color, although dun, grey and chestnut are the most common
Country of Origin: Iceland
Character: Icelandic Horses won’t spook at all so are great for children and nervous riders
Interesting fact: During the winter months Icelandic Horses are fed dried fish to help increase their intake of protein
With a history spanning more than 12,000 years, the Icelandic Horse has to be, without doubt, the oldest breed still in existence and is even referenced in Viking mythology with night and day being pulled by two Icelandic Horses called Hrímfaxi and Skinfaxi. As well as being the oldest breed the Icelandic Horse is also one of the oldest purebred horses, with no outside influence for over a thousand years. The breed is helped to keep pure by the fact that once a horse leaves Iceland it’s never allowed back into the country.
Known as a gaited horse the Icelandic Horse has two unique gaits, the tölt and the pace, both of which give the rider a very smooth and comfortable ride. The Icelandic Horse is also, compared to its size, a very strong horse that’s able to carry riders much heavier than a lot of other breeds.
Like a lot of primitive breeds the Icelandic Horse grows an extra layer of fur during the winter, this, combined with a thicker mane and tail, help it keep warm in the snow.
Height: Generally around 14.3hh but no taller than 16hh
Color: Any solid color
Country of Origin: The Arabian peninsula
Character: While the Arabian horse is a gentle breed it does have a reputation for being highly strung.
Interesting fact: Some Arabian horses have 5 vertebrae and 17 pairs of ribs rather than the 6 vertebrae and 18 pairs that other horses have.
The Arabian horse has to be one of the most famous, and popular, breeds in the world but its actual origins are unknown although there are many myths surrounding its creation. Perhaps the most common myth is that of the Prophet Mohammed who is said to have kept a herd of horses in an enclosure without water for seven days. After the seventh day the sides of the enclosure were removed and the horses rushed to drink, Mohammed then called them back and all but five of the horses ignored the call. It’s from those five horses that the breed is said to have evolved.
A desert breed, the Arabian is a very hardy horse that has helped in the creation of many other breeds such as the Thoroughbred and the Quarter Horse. It has also been used to add quality and stamina to other already existing breeds.
Today different studs and different countries have selectively bred Arabians for their own requirements and while they all do carry their own characteristics they are also easily recognized as Arabian horses.
Height: Anything between 15hh and 16hh
Color: Golden and cream dun are the most common but bay, black and grey are also present, some horses also have a metallic sheen to their coat
Country of Origin: Turkmenistan
Character: Akhal-Tekés have a special bond with their owners and are often jealous of strangers, this, combined with their protectiveness has sometimes led to them being thought of as bad-tempered.
Interesting fact: One of the founding stallions of the Thoroughbred, the Byerley Turk, is believed to be an Akhal-Teké.
A direct descendant of the wild Steppe horses the Akhal-Teké can trace its origins back to the Akhal oasis at the foot of the Köpet Dag mountains where they were first bred by the Teké tribesmen. Over the centuries they have also been used by Turkomen warriors which is why they have often been referred to as Turkoman horses. At various times different armies (including those of the Macedonian King, Alexander the Great) have captured these horses, believing them to be invincible.
Chinese legend refers to the Akhal-Teké as a heavenly horse with magical powers and while it clearly doesn’t have any special powers it does have phenomenal endurance and stamina. In 1935 a now-famous trek between Ashkhabad and Moscow was held for Akhal-Tekés and Anglo-Tekés (Akhal-Teké x Thoroughbred), they all successfully covered the 4300km distance in only 84 days with limited water supplies.
The Akhal-Teké is also known for its sure-footedness and is said to be able to gallop down a gravelly mountain pass in the dark without putting a foot wrong.
5. Norwegian Fjord
Height: Generally between 14hh and 14.2hh although anything up to 15hh
Color: Dun (90% are brown dun while 10% are red, grey, yellow or white dun) with a dorsal stripe from the poll to their tail
Country of Origin: Norway
Character: A strong and durable breed that has a friendly nature and willingness to work.
Interesting fact: Many smallholdings in Norway are still inaccessible to tractors so Norwegian Fjords are used instead.
Pronounced Fee-ord, the breed is descended from horses that were depicted on cave walls during the last Ice Age around 30,000 years ago. That’s not to say they the Norwegian Fjord is that old itself but the breed as we know it today is still pretty old. Recent archaeological excavations of known Viking burial sites have shown that not only has the Norwegian Fjord been domesticated since 2000BC but it’s been selectively bred for over 2,000 years. Thought to have descended from the prehistoric Przewalski, it still carries the primitive markings and colorings today.
In years gone by they were known as the Vestlandshest which means West Country Horse and today some Norwegians still refer to them as Nordfjordhest which translates to mean North Fjord Horse.
Said to be the first Europeans to use horses for farming, the Vikings also used them as war mounts which means that the Norwegian Fjord has undoubtedly had a major influence on many of Europe’s mountain and moorland breeds.
Article written by Lucy Robinson at horsefactbook.com