Having first arisen from Turkmenistan’s mean deserts well before 1600 AD (since which time the taxonomy of horse breeds begins), the Akhal-Teke is considered one of the oldest breeds we still have with us. They are said to be somewhat testy and a little aggressive, but this strength is what has kept them going for so long. They are often used in breeding projects to help firm up the gene pools of other weaker horse breeds.
The Akhal-Teke can often be identified by its shiny metallic coat. Though this is visible in all coat colors, it’s more easily seen in palominos and buckskins.
Bedouin nomads in the Middle East are responsible for breeding the majestic Arabian horses. Today Arabians are the kings of the endurance riding world, thanks to their long history of being used to transport men through the hot sunny deserts. These horses were even taken into the nomads’ tents at night to help prevent thefts.
Though they are sometimes smaller than pony-horses, height-wise, they are awesomely strong and quick. Curiously, unlike most horses, which have 18 pairs of ribs and 6 lumbar vertebrae, the Arabians have 17 and 5.
3. Bashkir Curly
It’s actually still unknown where the Bashkir Curly really comes from, which is a fitting enigma for such a unique beast. Its curly nickname derives from the curls which adorn its coat, hair, and mane, particularly during winter. Many have claimed that the Bashkir Curly is also the only hypoallergenic breed of horse. Yet, we don’t know whether this is actually the case.
While you might think these gorgeous miniatures are ponies, they are in fact horses, even though at the wither they only reach around 34 inches (8 hands). They are too small to be ridden by anyone of an adult stature, yet they make very good jumpers. They can leap obstacles that are equivalent to their height. The name Falabella derives from the name of the family who bred these wonderful beasts.
It was the Spanish explorers who came to Mexico in Colonial times that first introduced horses to the Americas. Mustangs are the descendants of these earlier equine settlers, which were domesticated. Thus, mustangs are not considered wild, but feral, and continue to roam around the land in a human-free environment. More than half the world’s mustangs are to be seen in the US state of Nevada. Though many are also found in Oregon, Wyoming, and Montana.
From the smallest to the largest, Shire horses on average reach over 68 inches (17 hands) at the withers. They are said to have originated during the Dark Ages, when knights required horses to help haul their huge armor into battle. Once gunpowder changed the face of war, Shires were relegated (or promoted depending on your point of view) to draft work. Thus, we often think of them pulling carts and other loads.
7. Przewalski's Horse
Though zebras and kiang are part of the equine species, we can truly say that of all the horses in the world there is only one wild variety left, which is known as Przewalski’s horse (named after the Russian explorer, Nikolai Przhevalsky). It almost went extinct in 1945. But because nine horses were held captive in various zoos, they have survived. By 2011 there were 300 living freely in the wild again. Przewalski’s horses are stocky and short.
8. Rocky Mountain Horse
Don’t be fooled by the name, because this horse was first bred in Kentucky’s Appalachian Mountains. The Rocky loves people as much as they adore it and its easy-going nature and sure-footed grace. It was intended for use as a draft horse, but nowadays its most common occupation is as a trail horse.
9. Shetland Pony
Coming from Great Britain’s remote Shetland Isles, these small ponies reach only 44 inches (11 hands) at the withers, yet they were initially bred for hard draft work. Then in the 19th century they traded their plows and carts to become coal miners. In 1971 the last pony coal mines closed and today the ponies are kept as children’s pets and guide horses. They are thought to be highly intelligent, cheeky, and impulsive.
Andalusians are today renowned as the world’s most impressive show horses, delighting audiences with their superb agility, grace, and skill. Yet originally, they were used as war-horses that carried vicious and mighty knights to battle. It’s thanks to this athletic and strategic heritage that Andalusians make very able show horses, always keen to learn and show off new tricks.
Cover image courtesy of Depositphotos