Humankind has a long history with horses and you can find beautiful and rare horse breeds scattered all the way across the globe. Our relationship with equine partners can be traced back to ancient civilizations, through wars, and alongside industrial development.
Here we look at 12 of the rarest and most unusual horse breeds that are still around today. Most breeds have been selected for traits that are useful to us as humans. Other horses were left to run wild and natural selection has taken its course to produce interesting breeds.
Where Does The Galiceño Come From?
In the early 1500s, horses from the Galician province of northern Spain were brought over to Mexico. The horses were left to breed freely and 500 years of natural selection produced today’s Galiceño horses.
These horses are the earliest Spanish colonial horse and are thought to be the rarest horse breed in the world with only around 200 left.
Characteristics Of Galiceño Horses
They are always solid colors (bay, black, or chestnut). They have a characteristic running-walk gait that is comfortable for distance riding.
What Are Galiceño Horses Used For?
The Galiceño is an alert and agile horse. It is small and sweet mannered enough for a child’s pony but strong enough to carry heavier weight for a full day on the ranch. The Galiceño excels at western disciplines including cutting and barrel racing.
Where Does The Caspian Horse Come From?
Caspian horses are a rare breed that can be traced back to some of the earliest domestic horses. These small horses are native to Northern Iran along the Caspian sea. They were believed to be extinct for over a thousand years before rediscovery in 1965.
Characteristics Of Caspian Horses
These horses are characteristically well preportioned with a small head and muzzle and short ears. They have sloping shoulders and a straight back with tough oval-shaped feet.
What Are Caspian Horses Used For?
Even though they are small, Caspians are very competitive jumpers. They are crossed with other breeds at several studs across Britain to create excellent sports horses. The Caspian horse is fast and strong and still used in Iran to pull carts.
Cleveland Bay Horse
Where Does The Cleveland Bay Come From?
This rare horse breed is the oldest established horse breed in England. It gets its name from the coat color, which is always shades of bay, and its 17th-century origins in Cleveland, Yorkshire.
Characteristics Of Cleveland Bay Horses
The Cleveland Bay horse has short legs in comparison to the rest of its body. These horses are usually well muscled and have good strength and stamina. These characteristics made them popular as cart horses. The Royal Family still uses Cleveland Bay’s in royal processions today.
What Are Cleveland Bays Used For?
Their physical power and mild temperament also make them suitable for farm work and driving. Cleveland bays are also good under the saddle. Their ability to carry a man’s weight on a full day’s ride over obstacles makes them an ideal mount for a fox hunt.
Where Does The Akhal Teke Come From?
The shimmering metallic coat of the Akhal Teke makes this one of the most beautiful horse breeds in the world. They are often called a ‘Golden Horse’. They get their name from the oases in the mountains of Turkmenistan, to where they are native.
Characteristics Of Akhal Teke Horses
This rare horse breed often has a palomino or buckskin coat. Akhal Tekes usually have long ears, almond-shaped or hooded eyes, and an elegant overall build. They are tough having come from harsh environments with very little available food and water.
What Are Akhal Teke Horses Used For?
Akhal Teke horses are known for speed. They make excellent racing and endurance horses and can cover thousands of miles. They also show incredible intelligence that gives them an advantage in dressage and showing.
Where Does The Newfoundland Pony Come From?
The ponies were originally bred for pulling carts, plowing, and even hauling fish nets on Newfoundland and Labrador, eastern Canada. Many were sent to slaughter after machinery replaced the need for ponies in the 1970s-1980s. This almost drove the breed to extinction.
Characteristics Of Newfoundland Ponies
They are under 14 hands and have small, thickly furred, and slightly pointed ears. Their bodies are stocky with thick manes and tails that get denser over winter.
What Are Newfoundland Ponies Used For?
Newfoundland ponies have a sweet, easy temperament that makes them ideal for driving or as children’s ponies.
Conservation Status of the Newfoundland Pony
Today these ponies are listed as endangered horse breeds and are protected. There are less than 400 true Newfoundland ponies left in the world. This makes the Newfoundland Pony one of the rarest horse breeds around.
Where Does The Canadian Horse Come From?
The Canadian horse is the national horse of Canada. These horses can be traced back to a shipload of French horses sent to Canada in 1665 by King Louis XIV. Only the toughest of early generations survived and the resulting animals became known as ‘little iron horses’.
High numbers of Canadian horses were exported for cross breeding in the 19th century. More were sent as cavalry and killed in the American Civil War. This over-exportation made the pure Canadian horse a rare breed.
Characteristics Of Canadian Horses
Canadian horses are usually dark brown or black in color. They are low-maintenance horses that rarely get ill, do not need to be shod, and happily sleep out with their long winter coats.
What Are Canadian Horses Used For?
These are hard-working horses that are easy to train and often described as bomb-proof. They are used in almost every riding discipline but have especially perfect temperaments for schooling and trail riding.
Where Does The Eriskay Pony Come From?
The Eriskay Pony is the last remaining descendant of the native ponies on the Western Isles of Scotland. In the 1970s Eriskay ponies had become one of the most endangered horse breeds with only 20 left.
Through careful protection and selective breeding, the population has grown to around 400 individuals. This means that Eriskay ponies are still one of the rarest horse breeds in the world.
Characteristics Of Eriskay Ponies
Eriskay ponies are usually grey in color and develop a dense, waterproof coat over winter. This protects them from the cold and damp Scottish climate.
What Are Eriskay Ponies Used For?
The Eriskay pony was bred to be willing and hard-working for hauling seaweed and taking children to school. A perfect kids’ pony or for light draught work.
Where Does The Dales Pony Come From?
Dales ponies are native to the mountains and moorlands of the UK. They originate from the lead mining area of Dales. These working ponies are muscular, black in color with feathered feet, and long, flowing tails and manes.
Characteristics Of Dales Ponies
Dales ponies are known to be strong, courageous, intelligent, and calm-tempered. They do well over rough terrain and are great endurance or trail horses. Their stylish trot also makes for an impressive harness pony.
What Are Dales Ponies Used For?
Their courage and stamina made them popular as pack and artillery ponies during both world wars. Most of the breeding population was wiped out during WW2. Today there are less than 300 breeding mares in the UK.
American Cream Draft Horse
Where Does The American Cream Draft Horse Come From?
The American Cream Draft Horse was developed in Iowa from a single mare called Old Granny. Percheron, Shire horse, and Belgian blood were later incorporated into the breed. There are just over 500 American Cream Draft Horses left.
Characteristics Of The American Cream Draft Horse
This is the only draft breed horse with a striking cream-colored or champagne coat. Their manes and tails are off-white. Breed standards require that these draft horses have amber or hazel eyes and pink skin that often has black freckles.
What Are American Cream Draft Horses Used For?
American Cream’s sweet and easy-going nature makes them easy to handle for first-time draft horse owners. They are used to pull carts and wagons for farm work as well as at shows.
Where Does The Marwari Horse Come From?
This rare type of horse is from Marwar (Jodhpur) in northwest India. The Marwari horse declined dramatically in the 1930s due to poor management and a preference for British breeds. Today they are making a comeback in popularity because of their unique appearance.
Characteristics Of The Marwari Horse
The most distinguishing feature of this horse is the ears which curve inwards to touch. Marwari horses can have coats of any color but grey, piebald and skewbald are favored.
They typically have slender legs and move with an ambling gait.
What Are Marwari Horses Used For?
Traditionally the Marwari horse was bred to be hardy and trained as cavalry horses. They are known to be tenacious and often unpredictable in nature. Today they are often ridden for polo and possess natural showmanship suited to dressage and performance riding.
Where Does The Sorraia Horse Come From?
Indigenous to Portugal in the Sorraia basin of the Iberian peninsula. This is a primitive and rare breed of horse that is thought to be directly descended from ancient lines of wild horses.
Characteristics Of The Sorraia Horse
Sorraia horses are recognized for their Dunn color or variation of thereof, called “Grulo”. They have interesting markings including stripes along the back and legs, two-toned manes and tails, a darker muzzle, and black ear tips. Their hair lies in such a way as to create patterns.
What Are Sorraia Horses Used For?
These are small and tough horses that have adapted to living in harsh environments. Sorraia horses do well with very little supplement. They are not bred for a specific purpose but are used to herd bulls, do light harness work, and occasionally are trained for dressage.
Where Does Przewalski’s Horse Come From?
This critically endangered Przewalski’s horse is the only true wild horse. It is not a semi-feral horse breed but the descendent of an ancient species that was once more widespread in Europe and Asia.
Characteristics Of Przewalski’s Horse
They are heavy-set, small horses with large heads and ears. They are Dunn colored with a lighter fur on the underbelly and muzzle. Their short mane stands upright like that on a zebra. Przewalski’s horses have a dark line that runs along the back and stripes on the legs.
Conservation Status Of The Przewalski’s Horse
By 1969, the Przewalski’s horse was completely extinct in the wild. They were re-introduced into nature reserves in the 1990s. Today there are around 1, 900 free-roaming and captive Przewalski’s horses.