Equine Breeds

At least 100 different equine breeds exist today. They can be separated into three major categories: ponies, light horses and heavy horses.

Ponies: A pony stands between 10 and 14.2 hands. Ponies are generally independent in nature, are surefooted and can live in harsh environments. Most ponies are used for agricultural labor and as children”s mounts.

Light Horses: A light horse stands between 14.2 and 17 hands. Light horses have smooth gaits and are used to compete in equestrian sporting events such as racing, working cattle, jumping and dressage.

Heavy Horses: A heavy horse stands between 16 and 18 hands. These horses are very strong and heavily muscled, and were mainly bred for labor in cities and on farms.

The Welsh Cob: Horse or Pony?

The only equine that does not fall easily into any of these categories is the Welsh Cob. The Welsh Cob is a breed that has several different classifications within its studbook, each used as the foundation of different horse and pony breeds:

  • Welsh A: The foundation of all Welsh Cob types
  • Welsh B: The riding pony of Welsh Cob type
  • Welsh C: A cross between the Welsh Cob Pony and the Welsh Cob Horse
  • Welsh D: The horse version of the Welsh Cob.

General Differences In Horse Breeds

Breeds of horses develop certain characteristics depending on the pressures placed upon the breed by the environment in which it evolves and by those who breed it.

Environment: Horses in cold climates developed thick coats to protect them from the harsh conditions, while horses in desert areas developed in other ways to become more “heat resistant.”

Breeding: Horses are either selectively bred for the promotion of desirable traits or without a lot of restrictions. These requirements depend on the breed and association rules.

For instance, some pony breeds have a reputation for being stubborn and independent, while draft horses are considered compliant and very gentle. Those horses raised in semi-feral conditions, regardless of the breed, may not be receptive to human attention and attempts at domestication.

Horse Ancestry

Depending on ancestry, horse breeds fall into one of three categories:

  • Hotblood: Quick, light-boned horses that developed largely from Arabian and Barb bloodlines. These horses are generally volatile in temperament.
  • Coldblood: Heavy draft horses that developed in the cold Northern European climate. These breeds are generally known for their calm, even temperaments.
  • Warmblood: Ancestry is a mixture of hotblood and coldblood breeds. They tend to have manageable energy, with temperaments somewhere between hotbloods and coldbloods.

Origins of Horse Breeds

Experts believe that four types of primitive horses existed before the domestic horse, and that all modern equine breeds developed from these breeds.

  • The Przewalski”s Horse: This horse was indigenous to Mongolia, but now exists only in zoos throughout the world. Instead of the 64 chromosomes found in the modern domestic horse, the Przewalski”s Horse has 66.
  • The Tarpan: This is a swift-moving horse from the deserts of the Middle East and North Africa. Technically, the Tarpan is extinct, but one herd is maintained in a Polish zoo.
  • The Forest Horse: The Forest Horse is an extinct breed from Europe”s forests and swamplands. This horse is most likely a major contributor to the European heavy horse breeds.
  • The Tundra Horse: The now extinct Tundra Horse lived in Siberia and influenced the development of the Siberian Yakut pony.

Horse Breed Sub-Species

Prior to domestication, four sub-species of horse developed that served as prototypes for the modern horse breeds:

  • Pony Type 1: Native to Northwest Europe and probably resembled the Exmoor Pony.
  • Pony Type 2: Indigenous to Eurasia and related to the Highland Pony.
  • Horse Type 3: From central Asia and similar to the Akhal-Teke.
  • Horse Type 4: Lived in western Asia and is thought to have resembled the Caspian.