Most breeds of horses are able to perform work such as carrying humans on their backs or can be harnessed to pull objects such as carts or plows. However, horse breeds were developed to allow horses to be specialized for certain tasks. Lighter horses were bred for racing or riding, heavier horses for farming and other tasks requiring pulling power.
Some horses, such as the miniature horse, can be kept as pets.
How Horses are measured
Horses are measured by the width of a human hand – 4 inches or 10 centimetres. Measurement is taken from the ground up to the withers, the highest point on the horses shoulder.
(the withers are at 9 on this diagram of a horse’s anatomy)
Horses come in lots of different colors and shades – take a look at some of these colors below:
Horse Breed Groups
As well as being a variety of colors – horses come in a variety of breeds too.
There are over 350 different breeds of horses and ponies. These fall into three main groups:
- Ponies are small horses under 14.2 hands (58 inches) tall e.g. Shetland Pony
- Light horses with small bones, thin legs and weighing less than 1300 pounds; e.g. Thoroughbreds, Quarter Horses, Morgan horses and Arabians.
- Heavy or draft horses which can weigh up to 2000 pounds and are strong with large bones and sturdy legs; e.g. Percherons, Draft, Clydesdale.
The Shire horse is the largest of England’s native horses and was used mainly as a draught horse. Shire horses are a tall breed, with mares standing 16 hands (64 inches, 163 centimetres) and over and stallions standing 17 hands (68 inches, 173 centimetres) and over. Feral horses are wild or semi-wild horses.
Modern horse breeds developed in response to the need for ‘form to function’; that is, the necessity to develop certain physical characteristics necessary to perform a certain type of work. Therefore, light, refined horses such as the Arabian horse or the Akhal-Teke developed in dry climates to be fast and with great endurance over long distances, while heavy draft horse such as the Belgian developed out of a need to pull plows and perform other farm work.
Ponies of all breeds developed out of a dual need to create mounts suitable for children as well as for work in small places like mine shafts or in areas where there was insufficient forage to support larger draft animals. In between these extremes, horses were bred to be particularly suitable for tasks that included pulling carriages, carrying heavily-armored knights, jumping, racing, herding other animals and packing supplies.
Related: Hot, Cold, Warm Blooded Horses
Horse Breed Examples
Here are just a few well known horse breeds:
The Arabian horse is a breed of horse with a reputation for intelligence, high spirit, and outstanding stamina. The Arabian horse is one of the oldest breeds, with ancestry dating to the ancient world. With a distinctively chiseled head and high tail carriage, the Arabian is one of the most easily recognizable horse breeds in the world.
Arabians are not large horses. The Arabian horse stands between 14.1 and 15.1 hands tall.
The Arabian horse was originally found in a desert-like environment. The Arabian horse has a beautiful mane and a long tail of fine silky hair. Their hooves are hard and well formed, also their hooves are well protected from diseases. This beautiful horse is a solid color. The Arabian horse has rounded ribs which are short and strong and a slightly arched back. The Arabian horse also has one less vertebrae (backbone) than other horses which gives them a deep chest cavity and allows for great endurance.
The Arabian horses shoulders are slightly sloped downwards than some other breeds. They are usually bred in the Arabian Peninsula (Middle East). The Arabian horse has been an influence to many different breeds of horses, although it does not have any influences itself from other breeds.
The Don Horse
The Don horses have an Eastern-type, medium-sized head with wide forehead, and a broad, straight back and loins. Don horses have muscular forearms and gaskins, but also have a tendency to have calf knees, sickle hocks, and upright pasterns. Their shoulders are usually quite upright, leading to choppy strides. The Don horses quarters can be weak, with a rather straight croup.
The Don horse is usually chestnut or brown with a golden metallic sheen reminiscent of their Akhal-Teke ancestry. Don horses stand 15.3 – 16.2 hands. These horses evolved in harsh conditions with severe weather, so the Don horse is naturally extremely hardy and tough. Don horses have a quiet, yet energetic, temperament. The Don horse has four influences. An influence is a trait that comes from another breed of horse. The breeds that influence the Don horse are the Karabakh, Akhal-Teke, Thoroughbred, and the Arabian. The Karabakh gives the Don improvement on speed, action, and ability to move gracefully. The Akhal-Teke contributes overall ability, endurance, and ability to run miles and miles without becoming too tired. The Thoroughbred passes on performance, conformation and size. The Arabian gives more and better quality, physically sturdy or healthy and great temperament.
The Hequ horse is located in Qinghai Province of China. If you are wondering, Hequ means ‘river zig’. The reason it means river zig is the breed is located near the yellow river, which makes a huge zig zag. The Hequ horse is used for a draft animal and a racing and riding horse. These horses are usually black, brown, or grey.
There are three different kinds of Hequ horses. One is the Jiaode type, which is founded in the southern part of Gansu province. These horses do not have strong legs. The Jiaode usually are grey. The Suoke is from western Sichuan province. These horses have large heads and ears, with a short loin. The Suoke raises it tail very high. The last one is the Kesheng which is from Kesheng Mongolian Autonomous Region.
Russian Heavy Draft Horse
The Russian Heavy Draft Horse is a strong sturdy horse. This horse is originally from Russia. The Russian Heavy Draft Horse is a very popular horse in Russia. The Breeding of the Russian Heavy Draft Horse began in the 1860s. The Russian Heavy Draft Horse comes from other horses such as: The Mountain Ardennes breeds, also from the Orlov Trotter.
The Russian Heavy Draft Horse is short and muscular in appearance, with a thick mane and tail and lightly feathered legs. This Horse is distinguished by its short legs relative to its body length, a conformation that provides excellent traction when pulling weight. Their neck is thick and well crested. The dominant color is chestnut, with light mane and tail.
Docile in temperament, an easy keeper, tolerant of cold, the Russian Heavy Draft Horse offers the best traits of a draft horse in a compact package. Relative to most other draft breeds, the Russian Heavy Draft Horse reaches physical maturity at an early age. By 18 months, the horse typically reaches 95% of its adult height and 75% of its mature weight. By age three, the Russian Heavy Draft Horse is fully grown.
The Thoroughbred is a horse breed developed in 18th century England when English mares were bred with imported Arabian stallions to create a distance racer. Also, ‘thoroughbred’ is an adjective often used by laymen to describe fully-blooded descendants of a particular breed, although it is an incorrect use of the term. The typical Thoroughbred stands 16 hands (64 inches/1.63 metres) high and is bay, brown, chestnut, black or grey in color.
The face and lower legs may be marked with white, however, white will generally not appear on the body (although certain color genes, usually found in chestnuts, result in white hairs and white patches in the coat, the study of color genetics in horses is an in-depth one). Although the Thoroughbred is primarily bred for racing, the breed is also used for show jumping and combined training due to its athleticism and many retired race horses become fine family riding horses, endurance horses, dressage horses, and youth show horses. The larger horses are sought after for hunter/jumper and dressage competitions, whereas the smaller horses are in demand as polo ponies.
The Thoroughbred horse remains one of the most important breeds used in modern horse breeding. They have been incredibly influential on many of the favourite breeds of today, including the American Quarter Horse, the Morgan (a breed that went on to influence many of the gaited breeds in America), the Standard bred, the Irish Horse and many other modern breeds. The Thoroughbred continues to be a favourite as an improver of breeds.
The Welsh mountain pony is a native breed of the United Kingdom, and is one of the most beautiful of the British native ponies. The Welsh mountain pony may not exceed 12 hands (1.22 metres) in height. Welsh mountain ponies are tough and thrifty little animals, with a very steady, tractable, and calm nature. The Welsh mountain pony comes in all colors except piebald or skewbald, although grey is the most common color.
Welsh mountain ponies have a dished face (from the Arabian influence) with small ears and large eyes. Welsh mountain ponies are sure-footed with sound feet and dense bone and are very hardy. Welsh mountain ponies have a sloping shoulder, deep chest, short back and round rib cage. Their legs should be fine with good hocks.
The Mountain Pony is thought to have evolved from the prehistoric Celtic pony. The sparse and inhospitable hills of Wales developed the small and extremely hardy animal. The Welsh breeds were used in mines, for pulling carts, as a means of transport. Today, the Welsh Pony is known as a riding and driving pony. The Welsh mountain pony is shown both in hand and under saddle and makes an excellent children’s pony. The Welsh mountain pony stands at 13.2 horse hands. The Welsh pony has great depth in it’s stomach area. Sometimes this depth is called the ‘Welsh Breadbasket’.
List of Horse Breeds
Here is a list of some common horse breeds:
Chilote Horse Cleveland Bay
Heck horse Holsteiner
Mountain Show Horse