All horses are members of the Equidae family, belonging to the modern genus Equus; within this they are classified as Equus caballus. Under the heading of Equus caballus, the horse is further categorized into different breeds. The term "breed" describes a group of animals that share distinctive inherited characteristics. Each breed has common ancestors, and therefore has a similar genetic makeup. There are natural breeds and artificial breeds.
Natural breeds are animals that through natural selection, have evolved characteristics specific to their survival within their differing habitats, and have passed these down to the next generations. An example of this is the Basque or Pottock pony, which grows thick whiskers on its top lip during the winter, protecting them from the prickly plants they live off when food is short.
Many modern breeds, however, are largely artificial, man has selected certain characteristics from different individuals, and through a process of cross-breeding, has created horses with qualities suitable for specific purposes.
Breed societies regulate the breeding process requirements and keep the studbook. The breed society has requirements in respect of size, conformation, action, and in some cases color, that need to be exhibited for a horse to be recognized as part of that breed. There are two types of studbook, open and closed. An open studbook allows a horse bred from parents of a different registered breed to be eligible for a particular breed, providing it meets the requirements. A closed studbook only allows a horse to be registered if both its parents are registered. This type of studbook keeps a breed much purer, and a good example of this is the Arabian studbook.
Development of Horse Breeds
Horse breeds developed into groups as people bred animals to perform fundamental tasks. The heavy draft horse was developed for agricultural work, and became highly specialized in this field. An offshoot for this was the light draft horse, which was suitable for both light agricultural work and draft work. The harness, or carriage, horse evolved as a lighter, faster breed suitable for harness work and light haulage. The saddle horse, as its name suggests was the ideal riding horse.
The modern horse was brought to America by the Spanish explorers. These horses were imported into Spain by the Arabs, so the ancestors of the mustang were hot-blooded Arabians. The Arabian horse also, through war, spread to the Shetland Isles and Iceland. The steppes horses remained small and coarse. The European "Great Horse" was the foundation of the slow-moving, cold-blooded draft breeds.
As the need for specific breeds and types of horses arose the various modern horses were developed. The English wanted a fast horse for sport so they developed the Thoroughbred. When the roads improved and more speed was in demand, the great coach horses of England gave way to the lighter harness types such as hackneys.
Some breeds of horses, such as Plantation Walker, were developed for pleasure. The owners of the large plantations of the South wanted a stylish, gentle breed of horse. Some breeds have been developed for sport and competitions: the English developed the Thoroughbred, the Americans created a Quarter Horse which was could start in an instant and run a a quarter mile at top speed. The Russians developed the Orlov Trotter.
Today, there has been much interbreeding between the different main groups as the emphasis now is on producing good riding horses. There are also different pony breeds, and these too fall into different groups, with some breeds being more suitable for riding and some for driving, while many are "ride and drive" breeds, such as the Welsh ponies, which excel in both.
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There are three different blood types that a horse may be described as having, hot, cold, or warm. The hot-blooded horse is typified by the Arab or the Akhal-Teke. This is a fine-boned and fast horse, often with a fiery temperament. Having originated in desert climates, they are resistant to extreme heat and commonly have a very thin skin and coat. The coldblooded horse originated in Northern Europe and is typified by heavy draft horse such as the Suffolk Punch or the Shire. They are big, strong-bodied horses with a calm and docile temperament. The warmblood is a a mixture of the two with a ancestors from both the hot and cold blood types, ans is typified by the Trakehner and the Danish Warmblood.
Definition of a Type
There are various types of horse or pony that are not breeds, but do have specific characteristics. A "type" is a horse or pony that is suitable for a particular job, but can in fact be of any breed. For example, a hack can be any well-proportioned horse with quality, often with a high degree of Thoroughbred blood. Similarly a hunter can be any horse that hunts, although they do uniformly need the qualities of stamina and bravery. Often when assessing a horse, it is quite straightforward to say what type it is without knowing its specific breed.
There are two breeds of the cob, the Welsh Cob and the Norman Cob, but there is also a type of horse called a cob, and they mainly come from Ireland and England. These types do not have a set breeding pattern, and can be produced by various crosses; they do, however, have similar characteristics. The cob is easily spotted and there are classes at many of the top shows in England specifically for the cob, divided into lightweight, heavyweight and working cob. Generally, a cob is the result of an Irish Draft cross, although some cobs are pure Irish Draft, some are bred from Welsh Cobs, and some are derived from a heavy horse crossed with a Thoroughbred or Cleveland Bay. This type displays an attractive face and short, arched necks.
A hack is a supremely elegant type of showhorse. The majority of hacks are actually Thoroughbreds, or Thoroughbreds crossed with Anglo-Arabs, and are therefore mostly hot-blooded. However, a hack must not show overly Arabian characteristics, which are frowned on the ring. They are generally between 14.2 hh and 15.3hh, and can be any solid color. The hack is the epitome of good breeding, perfect conformation and manners, the aristocrat of the equine world.
There are different show classes for modern show hacks. The show hack can be displayed individually or in pairs, which is particularly impressive. The hacks are expected to show walk, trot, and canter, an individual demonstration, and to be ridden by the judge.
Hunters vary quite considerably in appearance but they do all need common characteristics such as stamina, athletic ability, courage, and sense. It is widely considered that many of the best hunters are produced in Ireland. They are likely to be Irish Draft crossed with Thoroughbred or Cleveland Bay and may even have some pony blood. Hunters vary from region to region depending on the countryside in which they are ridden. In largely flat, grassy areas the hunter needs to have a lighter proportion of Thoroughbred. In areas of heavy clay ground, or rough land, more of a half-breed is required.
A hunter needs to be a good weight; that is he needs to have plenty of bone and be strong and sturdy. He also needs to be built for speed and should have powerful hindquarters. A major criterion for a hunter is stamina. They work load can be is considerable, when bearing in mind the long days and fast galloping that go with hunting.
Breeds of Horses
A recognized breed is one which has an Association with a Stud Book and Breeding record. Most recognized breeds have certain foundation sires, and all registered foals must trace their ancestry back to these stallions. In order for the foal to be registered, both the dam and the sire must be registered. There are certain breeds known as "color breeds" in which qualification is based on a specific color, e.g. Appaloosa, Palomino and Spotted Horse. In addition to the purebred registrations, certain associations also have so-called "Half-Bred" books. These offsprings may be registered if only one parent is purebred.
The Size of Horse
The size of the horse is measured from the top of the withers to the ground and is estimated in "hands". There are four inches to a hand. Horse whose height does not exceed fourteen hands, two inches (58 inches) are considered "ponies".
The average size of the horse varies greatly with his breed. Many associations limit the horses which they accept for registration to a certain size, others do not. In buying a horse for children the size is extremely important. Little children simply cannot do as well on a big horse. The gait is too long and the child's feet do not contact the horse where they can be effectively used as aids.