Most horse breeds today developed from just a few oriental breeds that have existed for thousands of years. These are the world’s oldest horse breeds and include the Arabian, Caspian, Akhal-Teke, and Mongolian horses.
While many horse breeds survived into the present day, some weren’t so fortunate. Most extinct horse breeds either died out because of crossbreeding, habitat destruction or loss of use.
Several modern horse breeds are descendants of long-forgotten strains that aren’t with us today. It’s always interesting to learn about these historical horses and how they shaped the world we live in today.
Here are 12 extinct horse breeds you never knew existed!
The Narragansett Pacer is the first horse breed ever created in the United States. It developed around the 18th century on Rhode Island from a mixture of European and Spanish horses.
This extinct horse breed was sure-footed, reliable and able to carry its rider over rough terrain. It was highly valued by several historical figures such as George Washington, who himself owned one of these horses.
Also read our article about George Washington’s famous horse, Nelson.
The Narragansett Pacer stood no taller than 13.2 to 14.1 hands and was most often sorrel. It was a high-quality riding horse that was no stranger to the race track. Whether the breed truly exhibited a pace or an ambling gait is still under debate.
Due to crossbreeding and excessive exports to the Caribbean, these unique horses were short-lived. The last pure Narragansett Pacer supposedly died around 1880. However, the breed’s genetic material lives on in the modern Standardbred, Tennessee Walker, and American Saddlebred horses.
The Abaco Barb was a feral horse breed that lived on Great Abaco Island in the Bahamas. Several theories exist about how the horses got to the island, although no one knows for sure.
One theory says the horses swam ashore from Spanish shipwrecks, while it’s also possible they belonged to the Loyalists arriving to the island after the American Revolution. However, the most likely explanation is that they descended from Cuban forestry horses around the start of the 19th century.
Also known as the Abaco Spanish Colonial Horse, it was the only horse breed originating in the Bahamas. Before they met their downfall, the population of Abaco Barb horses was around 200. Due to habitat destruction, their numbers sadly diminished in the 20th century.
Despite several attempts to save the breed, the Abaco horse went extinct in 2015 when the last remaining horse died. However, some tissue from the breed has been preserved, which in theory would allow for these extinct horses to be cloned.
Old English Black
During the Norman Conquest in 1066, William the Conqueror brought an army of European horses to England. These horses interbred with local mares to ultimately create the Old English Black.
Contrary to its name, the breed could also be brown, bay, grey, roan or chestnut in color. A bald face and four white stockings were desirable markings. These extinct horses resembled the modern Clydesdales and Shires, which are the breed’s living descendants.
Also read, 9 facts interesting Shire horse facts.
According to ThoughtCo., the Old English Black likely developed into the Black Horse of Leicestershire. This breed later became the Dark Horse of the Midlands, eventually giving rise to the Shire and Clydesdale horse breeds.
The Old English Black went extinct due to interbreeding near the end of the Middle Ages. However, its bloodlines and characteristics live on in several of Britain’s draft horse breeds.
The Norfolk Trotter or Roadster was an influential English horse breed with origins in the 15th century. This large harness horse shared its ancestors with the Suffolk Punch, but had a lighter frame and faster trot than its heavy cousin.
The history of the Norfolk Trotter is closely linked with the reign of Henry VIII. In 1542, the King ordered the aristocracy to maintain a minimum number of trotting stallions. These horses were essentially the forerunners of the Norfolk Trotter.
However, it wasn’t until 1750 that the Norfolk Trotter became a distinct breed. In 1755, the breed’s key sire Shales was born, who is a descendant of the famous Darley Arabian.
Before long, the Norfolk Trotter became the most popular horse breed in England. It had the striking ability to carry a rider over long distances at a speed of 17 miles/hour. Thus, the breed was an essential means of transport to local people for centuries. The Norfolk Trotter is also heavily influenced the American Standardbred and Hackney Breeds.
The Norfolk Trotter went extinct at the of the 20th century due to mechanization and decreased popularity. According to the Equinest, enthusiasts attempted to save the breed with a few purebred horses, but all were unsuccessful.
The Turkoman or Turkmen Horse was among the first horse breeds in history. It developed on the steppes of the Turkoman desert and was the go-to mount for various nomadic tribes in Eurasia and the Middle East.
The Turkoman was a tall, athletic horse breed with a height ranging from 15 to 16 hands. Its coat had a metallic sheen resembling the modern Akhal-Teke and could be of any color. Turkoman horses were favored for racing as they were fast and muscular with good endurance.
Traditionally, Turkoman mares lived in semi-wild herds and foals began training at the age of six months. These noble horses were highly sought after at the time, and were often gifted to royalty or taken as plunder. The breed also played a role in the creation of the Thoroughbred, as one founding stallion called the Byerley Turk had considerable Turkoman ancestry.
It is not known when exactly the Turkoman Horse went extinct. Over the course of history, its bloodlines merged into the Akhal Teke and Thoroughbred breeds. In certain regions of Turkmenistan and Iran, a breed still exists with the same name and similar characteristics as the ancient Turkoman Horse.
The influential Anglo-Norman Horse originated in Lower Normandy of France in the early 19th century. To create this powerful warmblood horse, several local breeds were crossed with Thoroughbreds and European trotting horses.
In a matter of decades, the Anglo-Norman became one of the most popular horse breeds in France. Several types of the original Anglo-Norman Horse emerged, two of which became the modern French Trotter and Norman Cob breeds. The Anglo-Norman was also favored by the French military as artillery and cavalry horses.
Unfortunately, their extensive use in the two World Wars decimated the breed’s numbers. As countless industries became increasingly mechanized, the Anglo-Norman fell out of favor alongside other carriage and draft horse breeds.
In 1950, a studbook was launched for the Anglo-Norman that focused on breeding horses for equestrian competition. In 1958, a decision was made to merge the Anglo-Norman with other French breeds to create the Selle Français, a successful show jumping breed.
While still in existence, the Anglo-Norman heavily influenced several European and Asian horse breeds, such as the Hungarian Nonius or the Swiss Freiberger.
The Galloway Pony was once a popular breed in northern England and Scotland. In the 18th century, these hardy ponies were used to haul lead ore in Swaledale, North Yorkshire.
According to Return to Freedom, the Galloway was described as a pony with “good looks, a wide, deep chest and a tendency to pace rather than trot.” Its bloodlines had a major influence on today’s Fell Pony, Highland Pony and Newfoundland Pony breeds.
What’s more, the Galloway Pony was also among the ancestors of the American Narragansett Pacer. As the breed’s crossbred offspring had such advantageous qualities, the Galloway Pony died out as a result of interbreeding. Interestingly, the term “Galloway” is still used in Australia when referring to horses between 14 to 15 hands tall.
The Tarpan or Eurasian Wild Horse was previously thought to be a true wild horse that existed prior to domestication. However, similarly to the Przewalski’s Horse, recent studies have shown that it was only a feral horse breed.
Once abundant in numbers, the Tarpans roamed the steppes of central and southeastern Europe. Two variations of the breed existed, which were the forest type and steppe type. The forest type was considerably shorter, standing only 50 inches (127 cm) at the withers, while the steppe type was built for running.
This ancient horse breed had existed for thousands of years prior to going extinct in the early 20th century. Nomadic tribes used to hunt them for their meat and pelt, as well as ride them over long distances.
The last living Tarpan died in a Russian zoo in 1909, although some experts claim it wasn’t a purebred individual. This horse was between 13.8 to 14.3 hands tall at the withers, had grullo coloring with primitive markings and a thick mane. Rebreeding of the original Tarpan from a number of Polish and Hungarian breeds is currently ongoing, although with little success.
Also read, 12 best places to see wild horses in the USA.
The Charentais is an extinct horse breed that descended from the French Poitevin Horse. Prior to the late 18th century, these horses worked to drain swamps in Western France.
In 1780, the Haras Nationaux (“National Studs”) launched a program to breed cavalry horses for the French military. They hoped to achieve this by introducing Norman and Thoroughbred blood to local breeds such as the Charentais.
As a result, the proportion of Thoroughbred blood increased in the breed over the next century. Around 1900, the Haras Nationaux decided to combine the Vendéena and Charentais breeds as well as other bloodlines to create the popular Selle Français.
The Ferghana is an extinct Chinese horse breed with a rather interesting history. It originally belonged to the Dayuan nation of central Asia, from whom the Han Dynasty of China imported large numbers of Ferghana horses around 200-100 B.C. To protect their native breed, the Dayuan people stopped trading Ferghana horses with China, triggering the “War of the Heavenly Horses”.
According to ThoughtCo., after the Chinese won the war, the Han Dynasty demanded ten high-quality breeding horses and 3,000 additional mounts from the Dayuan nation. The Ferghana remained a popular war mount and riding horse in China for the next 1,000 years.
Ferghana horses appear on artwork from the Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.), where they are depicted as short-legged, muscular mounts with round barrels and a prominent crest. At the time, many people believed the horses sweated blood when they worked hard. However, scientists have revealed this was an illusion caused by the blood-sucking parasite P. multipapillosa.
As this fast and athletic breed spread towards western Eurasia, it developed into the now extinct Nisean and Turkoman horse breeds. The modern Akhal-Teke is also thought to be the descendant of the Ferghana horse. The breed met its downfall in the early Middle Ages, when larger and stronger horses were needed for warfare.
The Neapolitan was an Italian horse breed that developed in the Kingdom of Naples between the late Middle Ages and the Enlightenment (ended 1789). The breed was often featured in Italian literature from the 16th to the 19th century.
Originally, Neapolitan horses were bred for transportation and use in the heavy cavalry. As a result, these early types were rather short, heavy, and coarse in appearance. Following the introduction of firearms, lighter and quicker horses were needed, and the breed received an infusion of Oriental and Spanish blood.
The Neapolitan had a typical baroque appearance, with a deep chest, short back, round hindquarters, and a high-set, crested neck. Its body type made the breed ideal for classical dressage, and Neapolitan stallions were known for performing highly complex “Airs above the Ground” elements.
Sadly, the breed’s numbers fell sharply in the 20th century, when it was used to create the Lipizzan and Napolitano breeds. Several Lippizan foundation sires, such as Conversano, Neapolitano, and Maestoso were Neapolitan stallions. According to some sources, the elegant Neapolitan went extinct by 1950.
Some people still confuse the Neapolitan with its modern descendant, the Napolitano horse. The latter is a rare horse breed that was listed as “critical” by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in 2007.
To illustrate the gravity of the situation, only 20 mares and 4 stallions were registered with the Napolitano breed society in 2005. (Source: Wikipedia)
The Jennet was a gaited Spanish horse breed famous for its smooth ambling gait. During the Renaissance (14th-17th century), it was popular as a light riding horse across Europe. It also made it into the Americas, where it influenced the Criollo, Paso Fino, and Peruvian Paso breeds.
The original Jennet was rather small, compact, and well-muscled, with good conformation. Jennet horses appear on several frescos of the castle of Venafro in Molise, Italy, which was occupied by the Spanish in the 1500s. According to the Italian author Claudio Corte, the breed was frequently used by the Spanish light cavalry.
Over time, the Jennet merged into today’s Pura Raza Española (PRE, or pure Spanish horse) breed. However, breeders created a modern Spanish Jennet Horse that is supposed to be similar in conformation to the historical Jennet.
Today’s Spanish Jennet is a gaited American horse breed with a pinto or leopard spotting pattern. According to the breed society, it must have between 50-100% Paso blood. The Spanish Jennet is a medium-height, moderately muscled breed with a deep chest and refined appearance.