What Horse Breeds Are the Most Rare?
There are hundreds of horse breeds worldwide, with some breeds boasting millions of registered individuals. But while the population of some breeds is booming now more than ever before, other breeds are near the brink of extinction.
What are the rarest horse breeds in the world? A “rare” horse is determined by the number of registered or purebred horses left of the breed. In descending order, the ten rarest horses in the world today are the:
- Camarillo White Horse
- American Cream Horse
- Eriskay Pony
- Newfoundland Pony
- Caspian Horse
- Dales Pony
- Suffolk Punch
- Cleveland Bay
Some of these breeds I had never heard of until I started researching them! In this article, I’ll share everything you need to know about these rare breeds, their numbers, and where you can find them today.
Rare Horse #10: Marwari
The Marwari is a horse breed developed in India and is best known for its unique ears that curve inward, sometimes so much so that the tips of the ears are touching one another. The Marwari is an old breed being traced back to the 12th century, and they are used today mainly for riding and showing. They are sturdy but slight, standing between 13.3 and 14.3 hh on average.
They tend to resemble many physical characteristics of an Arabian Horse. Due to a lack of care taken with breeding practices, there are only approximately 1,000 purebred Marwari worldwide today, and only around 30 of them can be found outside of India.
Rare Horse #9: Cleveland Bay
The Cleveland Bay is one of the oldest English breeds and was first developed as a pack horse to transport goods between abbeys and monasteries during the Middle Ages. The Cleveland Bay is a large horse, standing between 16 and 16.2 hh on average, and true to its name, it is found exclusively in the color bay.
While once a popular breed, interest in them declined so much that in the 1960s, only four purebred stallions were left in the world. Queen Elizabeth herself is credited with reviving the breed by developing a breeding program in the UK. Her husband, Prince Philip, further increased their popularity when he began using them in international driving competitions. Today, it is estimated that there are approximately 1,000 Cleveland Bay horses around the world.
Rare Horse #8: Suffolk Punch
Draft horses have been used for various heavy work throughout the years, but the Suffolk Punch is the only draft breed created and used exclusively for farm work. They have always done this job well; they are strong, hardy, have great stamina, and are hard-working.
Being used exclusively for agriculture had its disadvantages when heavy machinery became mainstream. Numbers declined drastically, but fortunately, the breed survived through the hard work of a handful of breeders who promoted the gentle disposition, eagerness to work, and manageable size of the Suffolk Punch to the farmers who continued to use horses. Today, while still rare, there are approximately 800 Suffolk Punch horses worldwide.
Rare Horse #7: Dales Pony
The Dales Pony is a large, hardy pony breed, standing up to 14.2 hh and weighing nearly 1,000 pounds. They were used throughout history in coal mines, on farms, and as pack horses in both World Wars. Numbers declined sharply after World War II when many had been killed either during combat or by hungry soldiers, and in 1955, only four fillies were registered.
A handful of breeders realized how dire the situation was, so they introduced three Fell ponies to the breeding program to save the breed. By the 1990s, the Dales Pony population had increased enough to export a few to other countries: twelve to Canada and four to the US. This made conservation efforts continue on a global scale. This has been met with success, and while the Dales Pony is still considered to have a “critical” status, it is believed there are approximately 800 individuals in the world today.
Rare Horse #6: Caspian Horse
Long believed to have been extinct, the Caspian Horse was discovered to be thriving in small numbers in a remote village above the Caspian Sea. Found after following up on local rumors by an Iranian couple in search of a small riding horse, a breeding program was quickly set up for this small and friendly horse, and its numbers increased.
Though there are many dedicated breeding programs around the world, the conservation of the Caspian Horse has faced many setbacks, and the population is still considered to be very low, with only approximately 750 individuals in existence.
Rare Horse #5: Newfoundland Pony
Developed in Newfoundland, Canada, this pony typically stands between 11 and 14.2 hh, comes in many different solid colors, and was once used by settlers as multi-purpose draft ponies. The Newfoundland Pony was almost brought to extinction in the 20th century due to several reasons, including the breed being used excessively for slaughter.
In 1980, a breed registry was developed, and in 1997, the Newfoundland Pony was declared a heritage breed. While both of these developments saw a slight rise in population, it is believed there are fewer than 600 Newfoundland Ponies today, and worldwide, only 10-20 foals are born every year.
Rare Horse #4: Eriskay Pony
The Eriskay Pony is a mid-sized pony native to the Western Isles of Scotland. On the remote island of Eriskay, raising large animals can be a hardship for the people, and by the early 1970s, there were only twenty Eriskay Ponies left. As their numbers dwindled, a group of people dedicated to saving the breed came together and created breeding programs throughout the British Isles.
Because of their hard work, there are a little over 400 Eriskay Ponies in the world today. While this is still considered to be critically rare, the attributes of this breed, their hardiness, their strength in consideration of their size, and their friendly natures, are likely to continue propelling the breed forward.
Rare Horse #3: American Cream Draft Horse
The American Cream Draft is a large horse breed that began with the beautiful foundation mare, Old Granny, who was known to fetch high prices for her unique cream-colored foals. This coloring is now known as “champagne” and results from a dilution gene working on a chestnut coat.
The American Cream Draft Horse registry was developed in 1946, but due to the mechanization of agriculture and the stress of the Great Depression, breed numbers declined sharply. Today, there are renewed efforts to revive this beautiful breed, yet the American Cream Draft Horse is still considered critically endangered, with only about 250 left.
Rare Horse #2: Galiceno
In the 1500s, Spanish settlers brought their horses to Southern Mexico, allowing them to roam with one another and breed freely for 500 years. This resulted in the Galiceno, which, being allowed to develop naturally as opposed to by human intervention, was especially hardy and easy to keep.
The breed was then brought into the United States in the mid-1950s, where they were both kept for their hardiness and especially gentle temperaments. They were also used to develop other breeds, including the Pony of the Americas and the famous Kings Ranch cutting horses. While the Galiceno registry is dedicated to preserving the breed, there are believed to be less than 200 left in existence today.
Rare Horse #1: Camarillo White Horse
The Camarillo White Horse is the rarest breed in the world, with an estimated population of only seventeen individuals. Camarillo White Horses are a true white color with pink skin. This is due to the dominant white allele W4, which is unique to the breed. In the early 1900s, Adolfo Camarillo purchased a beautiful white stallion with brown eyes. The stallion’s name was Sultan, and he became the foundation sire for the breed.
All Camarillo White Horses were bred and kept exclusively by the Camarillo family until the death of Adolfo’s daughter Carmen in 1987. Upon Carmen’s death, the horses were sold at auction and separated until 1989, when a group of five owners brought their horses together to establish a registry and develop a breeding program to preserve the breed.
In 1991, there were only eleven Camarillo White Horses. In 2010, there were twenty. It is believed that there are now approximately seventeen. This is likely not the upward trend that the five owners hoped for in the 1980s, and the breed is in grave danger of extinction.
Bringing Rare Horses Back From The Brink
None of these breeds are rare through any inherent fault of their own, and I hope that every one of these breeds sees fresh surges in population and popularity over the next decade. Each breed is unique and has attributes that would make them ideal partners in various disciplines and settings. I’m thankful there are dedicated breeders who work hard to preserve these rare breeds, and I am glad that, for the most part, that hard work has paid off.
Now that you’ve learned the rarest horse breeds, it’s time to learn the most popular breeds! You can find these horses all over America and for reasonable prices most of the time. To learn more, visit my article 15 Most Popular Horse Breeds in the US.