There’s nothing quite like the thrill of spotting a rare breed for a horse lover and equestrian enthusiast.
Out of the 400+ horse breeds in the world, only a handful can be considered truly rare. There’s no doubt that all horse breeds are amazing in their own right, but there’s something really special that comes with rare breeds.
From their histories to their unique appearances, we delve into the wonderful world of some of the rarest horse breeds out there.
What Defines a Rare Horse Breed?
These wonderful four-legged creatures have played various roles in history, from being our steadfast companions to our valiant partners in times of war. But as the use of horses evolved, so did the breeds themselves. With these changes in roles, certain breeds became rarer.
But what makes a horse breed rare? Well, many factors come into play:
Population: The rarity of a breed may stem from a dwindling population and the degree of inbreeding within the breed.
Geographic location: Some breeds may be found in only a specific region or country.
Registration: The number of registered animals can be a telling sign of a breed’s rarity. If there are only a few horses registered under a specific breed, it may be considered rare.
Physical/behavioural characteristics: Some breeds have a one-of-a-kind appearance, with features that make them stand out from the rest of a herd. Some breeds may have a completely unique coat colour or behaviour that’s unlike any common horse breed.
Breeder popularity: If a breed has caught the attention of only a select few dedicated breeders, its numbers may remain relatively small compared to those of more widely recognised breeds.
Lineage: Some rare horse breeds trace their ancestry back through generations of impressive bloodlines. This careful selection and the breeding practices used can be seen in their physical attributes, temperament, and performance capabilities.
The difference between rare and endangered horses
When we talk about a rare horse breed, we’re referring to a breed that has a relatively small population size, compared to more common breeds. These horses are unique and often sought after for their distinct qualities, be it their physical attributes, lineage, or even their exclusive coat colours.
While there isn’t an official “rare” category, it’s generally understood to be those breeds on the watch list. They may be rare to come across, but they’re not necessarily facing the threat of extinction.
An endangered horse is in a more critical situation. These breeds have a population size that is dangerously low, putting them at risk of disappearing altogether. The numbers are often so alarmingly small that urgent conservation efforts are needed to ensure their survival and prevent their extinction.
With an estimated population of less than 7,000 scattered across the globe, it’s no wonder the Akhal-Teke horse has become the stuff of legends. It’s one of the oldest domesticated horse breeds known to humanity.
These stunning creatures are the national horse breed of Turkmenistan and were aptly named after the Teke Turkmen tribe, who dwelled near the Akhal oasis in the Karakum desert. This harsh environment shaped the Akhal-Teke horse into a true survivor.
For thousands of years, the Akhal-Teke remained a purebred breed due to Turkmenistan’s relative isolation. It was only when the country became part of the Russian Empire in the 19th century that dedicated breeding farms were established.
Picture this: a horse with a coat that looks like it’s been brushed with liquid metal.
Their “glow” is a result of the small size, or even complete absence, of the typically opaque core found at the centre of the hair shaft. This lack of opaqueness causes it to shimmer, giving their coats that beautiful metallic sheen.
Another striking characteristic of the Akhal-Teke is its physique. These horses possess a delicate bone structure, flat muscles, and long, slender necks and legs.
Falling within the height range of 14-16 hands high and weighing approximately 400-450kg, this breed tends to be smaller and leaner than other full-size horses.
What Makes it Unique?
The Akhal-Teke is also highly loved for its gait. Centuries of traversing sandy deserts have shaped it to be graceful, gentle, and fluid.
Loyalty is a prominent trait with many describing the Akhal-Teke as a “one rider for life” kind of horse. They demonstrate an uncanny ability to anticipate their rider’s needs and respond to subtle cues.
2. Falabella Horse
The roots of Falabella horses trace back to when the conquering Spaniards brought horses like the Andalusians to new lands. Upon arriving in Argentina, they abandoned these horses in the vast plains of the region.
In this challenging environment, the horses underwent genetic changes to adapt to the new climate. Isolated from other horse populations, inbreeding naturally occurred and they became smaller over time.
In the 1840s, Patrick Newtall came across these diminutive horses in the Buenos Aires region of Argentina. Recognising their unique qualities, Newtall began collecting the smallest members he could find and embarked on a dedicated breeding program.
When Newtall passed away, his son-in-law, Juan Falabella, inherited the herd and passed the family’s breeding methods down for generations. Today, there are only a couple of thousand left in the world.
The Falabella may be known as one of the rarest breeds, but it’s perhaps more well-known as being the smallest horse breed in the world. They’re like the pocket-size versions of a full-sized horse, standing at just 6 to 8 hands high.
The Falabella horse shares some similarities with the Andalusian, as well as hints of Arabian and Thoroughbred influences. They have a harmonious and elegant build, with refined heads.
Common colours of this miniature horse include bay, chestnut, palomino, black, and pinto.
Falabellas are also known for their outgoing and docile natures, always displaying friendliness and an occasional “sassy” side.
What Makes it Unique?
Besides being one of the world’s smallest horse breeds, another unique feature of the Falabella is their unwavering adaptability and resilience to withstanding various hard climates, thanks to living in Argentina’s vast plains for hundreds of years.
Their small size and intelligence means they are sometimes used as guide animals (similar to a guide dog!).
3. Caspian Horse
This ancient breed is believed to be one of the oldest in the world, with its roots stretching back as far as 3,000 BC in northern Iran. Art and artefacts from ancient Persia give us a glimpse into their history, with depictions of small, refined horses ridden by nobles and kings.
The Caspian horse’s story takes a bit of a twist after the Mongol and Islamic conquests in the 6th century AD. For more than 1,000 years, they vanished from the world’s radar and were thought to be extinct.
Fast forward to 1965 when Louise Firouz, an American-born breeder of Iranian horses, stumbled upon these small, oriental-type horses on the shores of the Caspian Sea. She gave the Caspian horse a new lease of life by successfully establishing breeding centres in Iran, Europe, and the US.
Today, the Caspian horse is no longer in danger of extinction, but its population is extremely limited with fewer than 1,000 left in the world.
The Caspian horse embodies grace, elegance and slender proportions similar to both the Arabian and Akhal-Teke breeds. This breed stands shorter at approximately 11.2 and 12.2 hands high.
Don’t be mistaken, though – the Caspian is no pony. It boasts the true conformation of a horse. Its slim physique is well-proportioned and is supported by incredibly tough and slender legs. A high-set tail complete its captivating appearance.
It’s alert and hardy, yet incredibly intelligent, kind, and willing, making it an absolute pleasure to work with, especially as children’s mounts.
What Makes it Unique?
Caspians are known for their athleticism and exceptional jumping ability, as well as their curious and affectionate temperament. Much like the Akhal-Teke, the Caspian horse has a deep sense of loyalty and loves human company, particularly children.
4. Marwari Horse
Native to the Marwar region of India, the Marwari is a rare horse breed with a history rooted in Indian folklore. This breed emerged from a blend of indigenous horses and Arabian bloodlines.
The way the Arabian horses found their way to Indian shores is enshrined in folklore.
According to popular legend, Arabian ships were wrecked off the coast, and their horses became part of the Marwari lineage. In 2014, the Marwari became the first Asian horse to have its entire genome mapped. The study revealed Arabian and Mongolian influences, validating the story.
The Marwari was first bred in the 12th century by the Rathores, an esteemed Indian clan who used them as cavalry companions. But political and economic issues in early 20th century India pushed the Marwari breed to the brink of extinction.
By 1950, the Marwari became an exceedingly rare breed. Thankfully, with the intervention of a dedicated group of breed enthusiasts, the Marwari breed survived. They still remain exceptionally rare with around 2,000 registered animals and about the same number of non-classified Marwaris in India.
One distinctive feature that the Marwari is most known for is its inward-turning ears. These fine-boned equines typically stand between 14 and 16 hands high and tip the scales to around 340-450 kgs.
Bred for desert endurance and as warhorses, Marwari horses possess strong legs and a lightweight, muscular build. They can be many different colours, with bay, brown, chestnut, palomino, brown, and pinto being the most common. A white Marwari cannot be registered, while grey is often regarded as the most desirable.
The temperament of the Marwari breed is generally described as easy-going and calm, although they can occasionally display a hot-tempered nature. Despite this, they demonstrate remarkable courage and loyalty towards their riders.
What Makes it Unique?
Of course, the curled ears that sit atop the Marwari breed’s head are a dead giveaway to their uniqueness. Not only are they unique to this breed, but they also have the ability to rotate 180 degrees and touch at the tips!
Another unique quality of this breed is its significance in ceremonies. In India, whether it’s a festival, wedding, or holiday, you can always expect to see at least one Marwari horse present.
5. Norwegian Fjord Horse
The Norwegian Fjord has a fascinating history as one of the world’s oldest breeds with pure bloodlines. This horse bears an uncanny resemblance to horse depictions on cave walls by ice age artists some 30,000 years ago. They’re believed to have migrated to Norway around 4,000 years ago.
During the era of the Vikings, the Norwegian Fjord stood as a trusted war mount. The early Fjords that accompanied the Vikings on their journeys likely shaped other horse breeds, such as the Icelandic Horse and Highland Pony.
Over time, the Fjord Horse’s robust and sturdy build naturally made it a popular workhorse. But the late 1800s spelt bad luck for the Fjord breed as the effort to crossbreed it with the Dole led to it losing its natural temperament and looks. Thankfully, a Fjord stallion named Njål helped revive and preserve the breed.
Today, there are between 6,000 and 7,000 registered Fjord horses in Norway.
What sets this horse apart from other rare breeds is its “wild” dun colouration that features primitive markings. About 90% of Fjord horses have the brown dun colour while a small 10% have red, white, grey, or the exceptionally rare yellow dun.
The Fjord horse’s unique mane deserves a special mention. The centre of their mane, typically black, contrasts with the outer hair, which is white.
Fjord horses also have a wonderful temperament and are calm and intelligent equine companions. They’re hardy horses that are adept at various disciplines, from western riding and cattle work to jumping and dressage.
What Makes it Unique?
It’s the colouring that truly makes the Norwegian Fjord unique. All Fjord horses have a shade of dun in one of five accepted variations, with yellow dun being the rarest.
Another interesting feature of some Fjord horses is the presence of small brown spots on their bodies or heads. These spots are called “Njal marks,” named after the founding stallion of modern Fjord horses, Njål 166.
We are lucky enough to have a Norweigan Fjord at Strathorn and he’s one of our best horses
6. Gypsy Vanner Horse
The Gypsy Vanner, also known as the Traditional Gypsy Cob, has its roots in the Gypsy travellers of Ireland and Great Britain. These horses were an integral part of the Gypsy culture.
Interestingly, the Gyspy Vanner wasn’t recognised as a distinct breed until the late 20th century after World War II. The secretive nature of Gypsy families meant the foundational bloodlines were often kept under wraps, leaving us little knowledge about the breed’s true ancestry.
The Gypsy Vanner remained relatively unknown until the 1990s when an American couple travelling through the English countryside spotted this peculiar horse in a field. Compelled to learn more, the couple soon uncovered that this horse was key to finding out the genetics behind the Gypsies’ “vanner” breed.
In 1996, the breed underwent significant changes and became more refined, gaining worldwide recognition and popularity. Today there are less than 10,000 Gypsy Vanner horses in the world.
When it came to breeding this horse, the Gypsies set their sights on crafting the perfect caravan horse, often described as “a small Shire, with extra feather, vibrant colour, and a kinder head.” They were created by combining the qualities of Clydesdales, Dales Ponies, and Shire horses.
The Gypsy Vanner Horse is a sturdy and hearty draught-style horse typically standing between 13 and 16 hands high. A notable trademark of the Gypsy Vanner is their athletic, ground-covering trot and flowing manes and tails.
While there is no fixed colour standard for the breed, most Gypsy Vanners are commonly seen as piebald or skewbald. But you may also find them in solid colours.
What Makes it Unique?
This is one breed that can rock any colour, whether it’s solid, tobiano, or blagdon. But a really unique trait is their temperament. They’re like the equine equivalent of a Golden Retriever – intelligent, kind, and docile.
Pepper our Gypsy Vanner cob displaying the characterisitc long mane a heavy featherd legs
7. Curly Horse
Curly horses were originally found in the 20th century and dubbed the ‘Bashkir Curly’ as many believed they descended from the Russian Bashkir horses brought to America. But it was later discovered that no Russian horse breed has a curly coat. Nevertheless, the name stuck.
It’s said that the Curly horses were treasured as mounts by the Native American tribes, the Crow and the Sioux. But we only really got to know this unique breed in the 20th century when a young adventurer, Peter Damele, spotted three horses with curly coats in the central Nevada mountains.
This encounter piqued the Damele family’s interest and from that moment on, the Bashkir Curly breed began to flourish. Today, they’re considered an incredibly rare horse breed with only around 4,000 registered.
The first thing that catches the eye is the unique coat. Curly horses possess a special gene that creates curls of varying degrees. Some may have a subtle curl that appears in their manes and tails while others have an abundance of tight curls covering their entire bodies.
Curlies typically stand around 14-16 hands high. Their build lends itself to impressive endurance and a graceful, elongated stride. Some even have unique gaits like the foxtrot-like shuffle and stepping pace known as the “Curly shuffle.”
The Curly horse’s temperament also adds to its popularity. They’re known for their calm and friendly nature, as well as their high intelligence.
Chestnut is a common coat colour among Curlies, but they can also be found in every solid colour. Some may even show off Appaloosa markings, as well as white, pinto, grulla, roan, and cremello.
What Makes it Unique?
One unique feature of the Curly horse’s curly coat is its hypoallergenic properties. Many studies have shown that people with allergies to regular horses can often be around Curlies without experiencing symptoms.
Curly horses are known to have allergy free coats
8. Suffolk Punch
The Suffolk Punch holds a special place in history as Britain’s oldest heavy horse breed. This rare breed originated from Suffolk, England in the early 16th century. Interestingly, all living Suffolk Punch horses can be traced back to a stallion named Crisp’s Horse of Ufford born in 1768.
Originally bred for farm work, the Suffolk Punch possesses the perfect combination of power, stamina, and humbleness. These traits have endured over the centuries, making the Suffolk Punch a reliable and capable workhorse even today.
The rise of agricultural machinery and the devastating impact of the Second World War led to a major decline in population. Fortunately, these mighty equines made a comeback in the latter part of the 20th century. They are still considered one of the rarest horse breeds today with just over 2,000 worldwide.
The Suffolk Punch is known for its heavy appearance and amazing strength. Although not as tall as other heavy draught horses, the Suffolk typically stands between 16 and 17 hands high and tips the scales to 900kg.
These gentle giants are among the strongest horse breeds in the world!
The coat colour of this breed is officially recognised as “chesnut.” The most common shades of “chesnut” include bright, dull dark, dark liver, and red. They command attention with their impressive physique, sporting a short and wide back, a powerful arching neck, and muscular shoulders.
Suffolks also live up to the calm, intelligent, and hard-working characteristics shared by most heavy draughts.
What Makes it Unique?
The Suffolk Punch horse is one of the oldest breeds of heavy horses and one of the only draught breeds native to the UK.
Even today, the Suffolk Punch maintains its relevance and popularity in the realm of agricultural work. Whether it’s forestry, pulling heavy loads, or other draught work, these horses will get the job done.
9. Pintabian Horse
A relatively new breed that only appeared in 1992, the Pintabian is a unique crossbreed that has quickly trotted into the hearts of many horse enthusiasts.
The Pintabian horses were created through a deliberate breeding program which involves crossbreeding Arabian purebreds with tobiano-patterned horses. For a horse to be recognised as a Pintabian, it must have a tobiano pinto pattern and possess more than 99% Arabian bloodline.
Achieving this takes eight generations of careful breeding. Initially, a purebred Arabian is crossed with a tobiano horse of another breed. If the resulting foal also inherits the tobiano pattern, it is bred back to a purebred Arabian with the aim to produce another tobiano offspring.
The Pintoabian horses embody the same ideal structure and shape desired in Arabian horses. A broad forehead, dainty muzzle, small ears, and an elegant body add to their alluring appearance. In terms of size, this breed typically stands between 14 and 15 hands high and weighs approximately 400 to 500 kg.
Now let’s turn our attention to their striking markings. A true Pintabian horse will have beautiful, and entirely unique, tobiano markings over their entire body. Their base coat colours can range from black, bay, and buckskin to chestnut, dun, grey, grullo, and palomino.
Underneath their beautiful exterior is a spirited temperament that matches their fiery speed and agility. Just like their Arabian ancestors, they’re hot-blooded and share the same athletic prowess and intelligence.
What Makes it Unique?
At its core, the Pintabian is a fascinating “designer breed.” While purebred Arabians typically do not possess any pinto genes, the Pintabians inherit the beautiful pinto variations.
What are the most endangered horse breeds?
While some horse breeds thrive in the modern world, many sadly face a battle for survival. Although there are several horse breeds currently endangered, there is still a lot of hope surrounding their recovery. Here are some of the most endangered breeds in the world today:
American Cream Draft Horse (spelt as Draught Horse in the UK)
Cleveland Bay Horse
Which rare horse breeds are now extinct?
History has seen many horse breeds disappear. While some have been extinct for thousands of years, others have sadly become extinct more recently. Here are some rare horse breeds that are extinct today:
Old English Black
What are rare horse colours?
The rarest colours found across various horse breeds include True White (where the horse has pink skin), Cremello, Perlino (a slightly darker cream colour than Cremello), Dapple Grey/Silver, Gold Champagne, and Brindle (actually a colour pattern).