Roman-Nosed Horse: What it is & Breeds That Have it

Roman-nosed horse complete guide

Roman-Nosed Horses: Complete Guide

Horses, and their heads, come in all shapes and sizes. One of those profile shapes is convex, also called the “Roman nose.” While many appreciate the look of a strong Roman nose on a horse (like me!), others consider it a conformation fault on breeds designed to have a straighter or slightly concave profile.

What is a Roman-nosed horse? A Roman nose is what a convex facial profile on a horse is called. Instead of a straight profile, the horse with a Roman nose will have a face that bows outward to varying degrees. Roman noses are seen more commonly in draft breeds and Iberian breeds.

Keep reading to learn more about Roman noses, how they differ from other profiles, and which breeds tend to sport them the most!

What Is A Roman Nose On A Horse?

There are three distinct facial profiles found on horses – the straight face, the convex (Roman-nose) face, and the concave (dished) face.

Most horses have a straight profile – when you look at the horse’s face from the side, the line running from the poll to the muzzle will be relatively straight. A horse with a dished face will have a concave profile – the face will “dip” between the muzzle and the poll. Dished faces are seen almost primarily on Arabian horses.

The Roman nose has a bow that is the opposite of the dished face – in this profile, the line between the poll and the muzzle will bow outward, giving the horse a strong and less refined shape. Roman noses are most often associated with draft and Iberian breeds.

Horse Breeds with Roman Noses

You can find a Roman nose of some degree on just about any breed of horse, but some are well-known for this particular profile. 

Draft Breeds with Roman Noses

When imagining a Roman nose on a horse, many will picture a draft breed. Drafts are large, heavy horses with heads (and noses) to boot. 

  • Shire – The American Shire Horse Association states that the ideal Shire should have “nostrils thin and wide, lips together and nose slightly Roman.” The Shire was developed in Great Britain in the 1700s using the now-extinct Old English Black Horse, from which the convex profile likely was inherited. 

  • Belgian – According to the FEI, the head of an American Belgian is “relatively small for the body with a straight profile and a kind eye”. Nevertheless, many Belgians are found with Roman noses. This is likely due to the breed’s ancestry – the Ardennais, the Brabant stock, and the Flemish stock, which can all be found with slightly convex profiles. 

  • Cleveland Bay – Per the Cleveland Bay Horse Society of North America, the breed boasts a head that “is bold and not too small… Roman nose is common… [the head is] rather plain than otherwise, on the large side but is well carried.” The Cleveland Bay is meant, therefore, to have a large, powerful head and profile as opposed to the refined head valued in lighter horses. Several breeds were used in the development of the Cleveland Bay, including Andalusians, Thoroughbreds, and other draft breeds – all known for having Roman noses.

Iberian Breeds with Roman Noses

While the draft breeds may be well-known for their convex profiles, it is really the Iberian breeds that most commonly bring the shape to life.

  • Lusitano – One of the oldest horses, the Lusitano has influenced the development of many other breeds. The United States Lusitano Association states that the head should be “… narrow, slightly sub-convex profile, forehead in advance of the bones of the eyebrows…”. The logo used for the USLA is, in fact, a significantly convex horse profile extending in a circle around the “A” of the organization’s name.

  • Andalusian – According to a successful breeder, the Andalusian should have a “head [that] in profile is slightly convex or straight with a broad forehead and well-placed ears”. The Andalusian is closely related to the Lusitano (so closely that they can use the same registry), so it is no surprise that their facial features will share similarities. 

  • Lipizzaner – The United States Lipizzan Federation notes that “the subconvex profile with rounded outlines throughout the body is typical for the breed.” The Lipizzaner breed (also called the Lipizzan) can be traced back to the year 800 AD and shares many ancestors with the Andalusian and Lusitano. 

More Horse Breeds with Roman Noses

There are other breeds that have Roman noses that do not fit into the categories above. Some of them have been influenced by draft or Iberian breeds, but not all of them.

  • Standardbred – This is the fastest of the trotting breeds, and for most of its history was known to have a rough, large Roman nose. In the last couple of decades, the Standardbred’s profile has become much more refined, though the breed still has a reputation for its “rectangular, clunky” heads (which I find very endearing). The Standardbred has significant Thoroughbred influence in its lines, which brings us to the next breed.

  • Thoroughbred – While the Jockey Club is quoted as saying “the Thoroughbred’s appearance reveals its Arabian ancestry”, I’ve found that the head isn’t always as refined in real life as it should be on paper. Thoroughbreds are known to sport convex profiles now and then, and in fact, most of the horses I’ve known personally of this breed have beautiful, regal Roman noses.

  • Campolina – The Campolina is a Brazilian breed of horse that is not as well-known in the United States as the other breeds on this list. This horse is known for its distinctly convex profile – though is not a true Roman nose because the bow of the profile begins just below, instead of at, the poll. The origins of the Campolina’s unique facial structure likely came from its ancestor the Andalusian.

  • Mustang – The American Mustang has no specific conformation requirements, as it isn’t a true breed. Mustangs originate from horses that in years past were released into the wild or had escaped – most of them Spanish horses. Because of this lineage, many Mustangs can be found with Roman noses. They aren’t, however, bred for the trait – after all, the breeding of a feral herd is left up to the horse themselves, and I don’t think they have much preference when it comes to the shape of a nose. 

Are there Health Concerns Associated with Roman Noses?

The concave, dished profile of the Arabian can lead to health problems when taken to the extreme. A profile that is too refined can lead to airway restrictions and other breathing problems, jaw deformities, and a lack of adequate space for the horse’s teeth.

For this reason, responsible Arabian breeders are careful about their horse’s facial profiles. On the other hand, it is not common to see a horse with an extremely Roman nose. Most breeds that carry this trait are not bred for a significantly convex profile.

To my knowledge, there have been no adverse health effects reported that are a result of a Roman nose. If anything, this profile may give the horse even more airway space than the straight nose. 

Do Horses With Roman Noses Have Specific Temperaments?

It seems unfair to attribute physical characteristics to temperament or behavior. That said, I’ve talked to too many vet professionals who insist calico cats are more aggressive than other cats, and we’ve all heard stereotypes about humans with specific hair colors. 

Horses with Roman noses are not immune to these stereotypes, either. It has been said horses with convex profiles are a little rough around the edges.

There is an old wive’s tale that says that “a horse with a Roman nose is stubborn.” Of course, there is also an old wive’s tale that says “Inhaling a horse breath will cure whooping cough”, and another that says “Horses standing with their backs to a hedge means it’s going to rain.”

While I can’t speak for calico cats, I don’t think there is any validity to the negative stereotypes of Roman-nosed horses. I personally think the convex profile makes a horse look wise, kind, and gentle. This may be due to the association with draft horses, who tend to have calm and forgiving dispositions. 

Horses With Roman Noses

I don’t think I’m the only one who appreciates a horse with a proud Roman nose. The profile makes the horse’s eyes appear even bigger than they are and adds to the look of wisdom and benevolence.

If you too appreciate a convex profile and are looking for a horse sporting a Roman nose, you shouldn’t have a hard time finding one. While they are most commonly found in draft and Iberian breeds, they are also found in Mustangs and Thoroughbreds, which are relatively easy to find.

The Roman nose can even be found on Quarter Horses and Paints. So while it isn’t a trait that is typically bred into a horse purposely, it isn’t rare at all and will probably be around as long as horses themselves are.

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Thank you for reading, and happy trails!

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