There are hundreds of horse breeds in the world, but many of them are in danger of dying out completely — including some of Britain’s best-loved horses and ponies. Here are eleven of the world’s rarest.
A plain little creature, the Konik is the closest link extant with the Tarpan, a primitive forest dweller that died out in the late 19th century and was officially extinct by 1910. Herds of Koniks were brought to Kent in 2002 in a venture by the Wildwood Trust. They benefit ecosystems and are helping to restore national nature reserves.
Some believe the striking Akhal Teke to be even older than the Arabian, although almost certainly related. It is certainly an ancient breed and now very rare. HM The Queen was gifted one in 1956 and the royal grooms, thinking the animal had been polished with some substance to produce its iridescent gleam, bathed it — making it shine all the more.
The last truly wild horse left in the world, the Przewalski — also known as the Asiatic Wild Horse — is on the brink of extinction, despite several breeding programmes to save it. There are thought to be no more than 1,500 left. On a brighter note, though, a Przewalski filly was born at Port Lympne Reserve in Kent in December 2015.
Black Forest Chestnut
With its striking liver-chestnut coat and flaxen mane and tail, this breed — also called the Schwarzwälder Kaltblut — was used for forestry work in the Baden-Württemberg region of south-west Germany. Today there are thought to be fewer than 50 stallions left.
The Hackney horse and pony, renowned for their flashy, high-stepping action, are listed as critical by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST). This means that there are fewer than 300 adult breeding females registered. The Hackney — the name comes from the French haquene — was developed as a general purpose ridden and driven horse, with soundness and stamina. In the 1700s, Arabian blood was added to refine the breed, and it became popular as a flashy, good-looking carriage horse. The Hackney pony was developed in the latter half of the 19th century.
The Iberian expert Dr Ruy d’Andrade discovered these wild horses in Portugal in 1920 — the name comes from the river basis of the Rio Sorraia, where the horses were found. They are small horses, rather than ponies, and their mouse-dun colour suggests a primitive breed. DNA testing indicates a close relationship to the Tarpan. It is thought that only about 200 remain.
The Cleveland Bay is Britain’s oldest native horse breed, its history extending beyond when records were first kept. It was developed in Yorkshire in the Middle Ages, a clean-limbed, general-purpose horse that was always bay in colour. It was used by the travelling salesmen of the time, known as chapmen, so was originally called the chapman horse. It too is on the RBST critical list.
East Anglia’s handsome breed is another listed as “critical”. The Suffolk — also known as the Suffolk Punch because of its four-square stance — is always chesnut (correctly spelled without the middle T) and is one of the best-looking “heavies”. All Suffolks today trace their male lines back to one stallion, called Crisp’s Horse of Ufford, who was foaled in 1768.
Like the Sorraia, the Caspian is considered a horse rather than a pony, despite the fact that it stands barely higher then 12.2 hands. We know that tiny horses existed as early as 3000 BC because they have been depicted in various writings and artefacts. They were thought to be extinct until they were rediscovered by Louise Firouz on the edges of the Caspian Sea in Iran in 1965.
American Cream Draft
The only breed of draft horse that can claim to be native to the United States, the roots of this rare breed go back to the early 1900s and a cream mare called Old Granny. She had a cream-coloured coat, pink skin and amber eyes. Those traits were passed on to her offspring, which were sought after for their beauty.
Yorkshire’s native pony breed, like the Cleveland Bay and Hackney, is on the RBST’s critical list. The north’s “black pearl” is enjoying something of a renaissance in the show ring, as more and more people fall in love with its dark beauty and sweet nature. Its close cousin, the Fell, is listed as “vulnerable”.