02 Jun Fantastic Horse Breeds and Where to Find Them
Today, there are about 350 known horse breeds throughout the world. Each breed is unique and special, stealing the hearts of the equestrians who ride and care for them. I personally wanted to research the most fantastical breeds I could find and learn about their interesting attributes and origins.
Here is my list of incredible horse breeds from all around the world:
Interesting Facts: Believe it or not, the Bashkir Curlies were an endangered species for some time. So in 1971, the American Bashkir Curly Registry was established to prevent the species from going extinct.
The unique curly coats of the Curly Horse are considered hypoallergenic; which means that people who struggle with allergies won’t be affected by this breed.
Origin: There are many theories about the origin of the Bashkir Curly horse breed, but the exact beginnings remain a mystery. Some researchers say they are descendants from the Bashkir horse breed that inhabited the Russian Ural Mountains in the ancient times. Others say the Bashkir Curlies crossed the land bridge into Asia during the Ice Age; however, no horse fossils have been found in North America to support this.
Location: This horse breed can be found mostly in the Western parts of the United States.
Breed Characteristics: The Bashkir Curly is a short stocky breed. These horses will usually stay between 13 – 14 hh. They come with many different coat patterns and colors, from chestnut and dun to pinto and appy. The temperament of this breed is found the be docile and easy going; they are known to be a pretty social breed.
The curly coat is what makes this breed stand out. Since the Bashkir Curly grows a furry coat for the winter, they are able to withstand freezing temperatures for long periods of time. The curly coat is grown for the winter months to keep warm. Once the curly coat has shed, the fur becomes wavy.
Disciplines: In recent years, people have found the breed to perform well in barrel racing and Western riding. This is a versatile breed that can do a number of disciplines from trail riding and pleasure to events in the western show circuit. They also make great children’s mounts because of their calm and gentle temperament.
Interesting Facts: These ponies are limited to just two small islands for their habitat. This has led to the breed interbreeding, which has caused defects and deformities. In the 1920s, people started breeding the Chincoteague and Assateague ponies with Shetland and Welsh ponies to improve the genetics of the breed.
Each year on the last Wednesday and Thursday of July, Chincoteague holds an event called the “pony penning.” The wild ponies on Assateague are rounded up to swim across the channel between Chincoteague and Assateague. Once they get to the main island, they auction off the ponies. This helps to keep the herd from getting overpopulated as well as ensuring proper care for the horses.
These ponies were made famous due to Marguerite Henry’s book, Misty of Chincoteague, which told of the memoirs of a family who had purchased a Chincoteague pony at the pony penning auction.
Origin: Also known as the Assateague pony, these horses have a mysterious origin and it is unknown how exactly they came to the islands off the coast of Virginia. Theories suggest that these ponies were survivors of a shipwreck in the 16th century and were able to swim to the Chincoteague and Assateague islands. Another suggests that these ponies escaped from the Spanish and North Africans during colonial America times.
Location: These feral ponies are easily found on the island of Assateague off the shore of Virginia.
Breed Characteristics: Although this breed has an average height of a pony, 12 – 14 hh, they do share some similarities with horses. This includes the shape and size of their heads and their strong and sturdy legs. These ponies can be found in any color, but the most common is the pinto.
While feral, these ponies usually have sociable with calm demeanors. They are known to be quite easy to train.
Disciplines: Chincoteague ponies can excel at a number of disciplines, but you’ll most likely find them at a lesson barn or at low-level competitions.
Interesting Facts: Before there were automobiles, this horse breed was used to travel from Ashgabat, Turkmenistan to Moscow, Russia. This brought travelers through 235 miles of desert where these horses would endure 3 days with no water and still have the strength to complete the journey.
Origin: This ancient horse breed is believed to have been bred as early as 1,000 B.C. where they were popular among Egyptians and Middle Easterners.
Location: The Akhal-Teke can primarily be found in and around Turkmenistan in Central Asia. They have become popular in North America as great eventing and endurance horses.
Breed Characteristics: Akhal-Teke horses are usually between 15 – 16 hh and commonly found in palomino, chestnut, bay, champagne, and even gray colors. Their appearance is a sleek design with a very muscular neck; they are a beautifully sculpted horse most recognized by the sheen of their coat.
These horses were bred to be able to survive in harsh desert climates. They are known to withstand extreme heat and can go days without water.
Disciplines: The Akhal-Teke is known to have great strength and endurance, making them great horses for endurance riding. These horses can excel in the eventing and jumping circuits as well.
Interesting Facts: Since the Marwari horse breed performed so well as a war horse, they were used in wars until the end of World War 1. Because of this, the remaining numbers of this breed was at an all-time low. However, after the Great War, groups of people like the Marwari Breeders Association worked to breed the horse and preserve the population.
Origin: Originating in the Northwestern part of India from the land of Marwar, these horses came to be over 1,000 years ago. When the hardy native Indian ponies bred with elegant Arabian horses, the Marwari was born. While this horse has seen rough history, at times almost coming to extinction, their reputation and breed have been fully restored today.
Location: The Marwari breed remains found in India, for the Indian government and the Marwari Breeders Association are working on preserving the breed.
Breed Characteristics: Smaller than the average horse, but certainly not classified as a pony, the Marwari are found to stand on average around 15 hh. Colors of this breed include bay, brown, pinto, and chestnut.
Marwari is often seen as a high-quality horse with its strong build and muscular neck. The feature that stands out the most is the overly inturned ears. These horses are known to get quite hot-headed and high-strung at times.
Disciplines: The Mawari’s strong build and high-quality look led the breed to be a warrior horse throughout history. In battle, these horses were known to carry its rider to safety if they were injured and then guard its rider against other danger until help arrived. For this, they are known as noble warriors.
Today, this breed is used throughout India for a number of disciplines and activities. They are used for ceremonial purposes and safaris. The horse is quite versatile in the show ring.
Interesting Facts: Since they are a smart horse breed and quick learners, the Knabstruppers are often seen in circus acts where they perform tricks. Their broad backs allow for people to do gymnastic stunts, vaulting, and tricks.
Origin: Originating in Denmark, the Knabstrupper is a descendant from the Spanish Flaebehoppen horse breed. This breed is quite young compared to the others mentioned; Knabstrupper horses were first bred in 1808.
Location: Knabstruppers can be found mainly in the Northern Regions of Europe; however there are breeders located all over the world.
Breed Characteristics: This breed of horses is usually found to be an average of 15.2 hh. They have a strong and sturdy build and a broad back with a smaller sized head which is similar to the Appaloosa breed.
Knabstruppers are always found to have a leopard-spotted coat. The spots are usually brown or black on a white base. These horses tend to be very easy-going and intelligent.
Disciplines: Knabstruppers are great riding horses; they have good stamina and are quick learners. Their strong build also makes them capable of harness work. Knabstruppers excel in the dressage discipline.
Interesting Facts: The Icelandic Horse remains to be one of the purest breeds of equines. The Icelandic government has banned the import of foreign equine breeds and will not let Icelandic Horses return if someone has traveled to another country with one.
Another interesting fact is that this horse has five natural gaits compared to the usual four. The fifth gait is called the tölt, which is a very fast and very smooth four beat running walk.
Origin: The name may make you assume these horses are native to Iceland; however, they are believed to be descendants from the Celtic pony found in the British Isles. These horses are now found predominantly in Iceland.
Location: This breed still resides in Iceland. While many are kept as ways for travel, farm work, and racing, there remain wild Icelandic horses on the island.
Breed Characteristics: While called “horses,” the members of the breed are usually found at heights between 12.3 and 13.2 hh. They can be found in just about any color, but mainly dun or chestnut. They have a strong and sturdy build and their legs are strong and mane and tail are thick.
These horses are made to withstand the extreme cold and weather that Iceland experiences. Their thick coats and long manes do well to protect them against the elements.
Disciplines: In Iceland, Icelandic Horses are great for traveling where the roads do not continue. They are also known for having excellent eyesight and an ability to know their way back home if lost or traveling far away.
These horses are great at showing tourists the sites of Iceland; their sturdy build and stamina make them great endurance horses. There are also competitions specifically designated for the Icelandic Horses to showcase their tölt.
If you want an epic horse vacation, I highly recommend visiting Iceland. We took a trip there and I have been obsessed with these horses and that country ever since. We even made a video about it!
Interesting Facts: In Austria, Haflingers go through close examination before breeding to assure the breed has the best qualities it offers and remains pure.
Origin: Originating in the Middle Ages, the Haflinger ponies originated around the village of Hafling in the mountains of Southern Austria. The breed has bloodlines that trace back to Arabian horses. Their thick built can suggest that their bloodline also descends from a heavy working horse or the rare Black Forest Horses found specific to Germany.
Location: Today, Haflingers can be found in their native country and all over the rest of the world.
Breed Characteristics: Haflingers stand on average around 14 hands. The color of these ponies is chestnut or palomino with a pale yellow or flaxen mane and tail which gives them their distinct look. Since this breed originally lived in the mountain regions, they have a strong with a sturdy build. their temperaments are known to be very calm and easy-going.
Disciplines: This sociable and gentle breed is great for families and children who are beginner riders. Haflingers can compete at top-level dressage events and are very versatile throughout other disciplines as well.
Interesting Facts: These horses lived during the Ice age. Bones and fossils of fjords have been found in ancient Viking burial grounds, leading experts to believe that they were domesticated by Vikings over 4,000 years ago. Furthermore, today in Norway, Fjords are known for their good behavior and are used at riding and therapeutic schools.
Origin: Fjords are one of the world’s oldest breed of horses. They are believed to have originated in the Norwegian region during the last Ice age.
Location: These horses have become popular all over the world, although a big portion of their population remains in Scandinavian countries.
Breed Characteristics: The Fjords can range in height from 13 – 15 hh. They are very stocky with big heads and thick legs. A characteristic that defines this breed is their bi-colored manes. All fjords have a mane that has three color layers. The outside layers are flaxen while the middle layer is black.
Their dun coat and dorsal stripes are remnants of the ancient horses of way-back-when. Looking at these horses will give you a taste of the hardiness that their prehistoric horses must have mastered.
Disciplines: Fjords have adapted to live in mountainous terrain. This has given them a strong and muscular build, so they are good horses for draft work. Fjords are quite similar to Haflingers in that these draftier horses can excel in the dressage ring as well as be proficient in over events like jumping, trail riding, and eventing.
Interesting Facts: The following are the three special gaits of the Paso Fino: Paso Fino, Paso Corto, and the Paso Largo. The Paso Fino is a slow pace where the feet are moving up and down rapidly, supported by the hind legs. This is seen in show riding and is surprisingly comfortable and smooth. The Paso Corto is a gait similar to the trot and very comfortable, so it used when traveling distances. The Paso Largo can be compared to somewhere between a canter and a gallop.
Origin: The Paso Fino breed of horses are the result of breeding the extinct Spanish Jennet and Andalusian horse breeds. These two breeds were bred when the Spanish came over to South America in the 16th century. These were the first horses to arrive in Puerto Rico, so this is where they are said to have originated.
Location: Today, these horses can be found throughout the world, but predominantly in Central and Latin America.
Breed Characteristics: Paso Fino horses can be found between 14 and 15 hands and are found in any color with a darker mane and tail. This breed has powerful shoulders and usually a short back. They are said to have a tough personality which makes them stand out among other breeds. Their defining feature is their Paso Fino gait, hence their name.
Disciplines: The Paso Fino is known to have exceptionally well endurance when traveling long distances. To add to that, they have very comfortable gaits that allow for smooth riding.
Interesting Facts: Although Caspians are the size of ponies, their stride length and jumping ability can measure up to those of a horse.
Origin: The Caspian is one of the oldest horse breeds in the world. However, they were not discovered and known around the world until 1965 when an American found them in Iran. They have appeared in ancient Middle-East art pulling chariots and were most likely used throughout the Roman Empire.
Location: These ponies can be found today primarily in Iran and the United Kingdom where they have been carefully bred.
Breed Characteristics: Although very short in height, only 10 – 12 hands, they have many characteristics of a horse. They have a muscular neck, strong quarters, and small ears. Their legs and hooves are exceptionally strong due to the rough and barren areas they live. Caspians are found in the colors of bay, brown, and white. They are known to be spirited yet willing when it comes to work and riding.
Disciplines: Caspians are known for their incredible jumping ability; because of this along with their small size, they make a great mount for a brave young rider looking to conquer new heights.
Interesting Facts: Once a year, the wild Exmoors are rounded up and branded with a star and the number of their herd they are part of. This breed is considered endangered.
Origin: Similar looking ponies have been seen in cave paintings in France and Spain, so this is believed to be where they originated.
Location: Although Exmoor ponies can be found mainly in the wild in southwest England, they can also be found in the grasslands across Europe.
Breed Characteristics: Exmoor ponies can be between 12 – 12.3 hands. They have many primitive features including dun coloring, sloping shoulders, and a wide chest with a compact frame and strong short legs. Although they live in semi-wild existence, they are known for their gentle temperaments.
Exmoor ponies have evolved for the environmental conditions they live in. They grow a thick, waterproof coat that has a double layer. The underlayer is short and woolly, and the top layer is long and greasy. This double layer keeps the rain and cold out and the heat in.
Disciplines: For the few Exmoor Ponies that are domesticated, they are great pleasure horses used for trail riding and endurance. They can also be seen at low-level competitions.
Interesting Facts: The Adventurists holds a race across Mongolia called the Mongol Derby. Competitors in this race have to ride a Mongolian pony from one side of the country to the other. This can take longer than 10 days, but the stamina of the Mongolian pony can withstand the trek.
The Mongolian Horse is of great service to the nomadic tribes of Mongolia. The tribes will tame the wild horses and use them for transportation.
Origin: The Mongolian pony is another descendent from the Asian Wild Horse. After originating in Mongolia, the Mongols spread the breed throughout China, thanks to Genghis Khan.
Location: These ponies can be found today in Mongolia and countries across Asia.
Breed Characteristics: These semi-wild ponies are usually 12 – 14 hands high and have color variations of dun, bay, brown, and chestnut. Their hardy appearance is said to not be the most attractive look. They have a primitive looking head and are stout and stocky with short legs.
Disciplines: These ponies have excellent stamina and are able to work hard for long amounts of time. This breed is extremely tough and is proven to have incredible endurance.
Interesting Facts: The breeders who developed the Falabella were originally aiming to create a miniature horse; however, it came out smaller than planned perhaps from the inbred. This is one of the smallest horse breeds in the world.
Origin: These ponies were developed in the 19th century in Argentina from a native horse along with Shetlands Ponies, Welsh Ponies, and Thoroughbreds.
Location: Falabellas are mostly found in South and North America.
Breed Characteristics: These very short ponies are usually found under 9 hands. They are often found in pinto but can be found in any color. The small size of these ponies makes them have a head that looks too big for the body. Temperaments of Falabellas can vary but usually are friendly.
Disciplines: The size of these ponies makes them great pets and great riding ponies for small children. They can excel as driving and in-hand competitions.
If you are interested in purchasing a horse, it’s important to have an idea of the breed of horse you will want. Certain breeds are better at certain disciplines than others. To help you decide which horse is best for you, check out our article, Choosing the Right Horse: 10 Expert Tips.
I’m a lifelong horse trainer and horseback rider who’s passionate about teaching others about the things I’ve learned. I grew up competing in numerous English horseback riding disciplines and am now a certified equine massage therapist. I currently own three horses.