Itay is a beautiful country, famous for its delicious food and stunning art. Italy is also home to some of the most beautiful horse breeds in the world.
There are over 25 horse breeds with whole or partial Italian heritage. The most common Italian horse breeds are the Italian Heavy Draft, Italian Trotter, Murgese, Sarcidano, Sardinian Anglo-Arab, Bardigiano, and Esperia.
In addition, the Haflinger and Lippizan, which are both famous breeds, also owe part of their origins to Italy.
Here are fifteen native Italian horse breeds.
1. Italian Heavy Draft
The Italian Heavy Draft was first developed at Deposito Cavalli Stalloni stud in Ferrara, Italy in 1860. They are also know as Italian Working Horse, the Rapid Heavy Draft, and the Cavallo Agricolo Italiano da Tiro Pesante Rapido.
The Italian Heavy Draft originally developed from crossing Po Delta stallions with Thoroughbred, Hackney, and Arabian horses. Then, in 1900, Boulonnais, Ardennes, and Norfolk-Breton blood were mixed in to create a heavier horse. The breed soon became a reliable choice for agriculture and even for military use.
After suffering during WWII, Ardennes, Percheron, and Breton horses helped bring the Italian Heavy Draft numbers back up.
In 1926, the studbook formed, and the Italian Heavy Draft became recognizable for its power and speed. They were even more crucial in the development to create larger and more powerful mules.
The Italian Heavy Draft horses range from 14.2 to 15.2 hands tall and are often chestnut with a flaxen mane and tail, though they may also be red roan or bay. They have a muscular build with a short neck and back, deep chest, and powerful hindquarters. Their uses include agriculture work, driving, riding, and meat.
2. Italian Trotter
The Italian Trotter originates from a selective breeding program for harness racing. They are a relatively new breed, tracing back to the late 19th century.
Italian Trotters were bred to have the speed of a Standardbred combined with the stamina of the French Trotter.
Thoroughbred stallions were crossed with French Trotters, Russian Trotters, and Standardbred mares to develop the Italian Trotter. They soon became one of the fastest trotting breeds in the world.
The Italian Trotter stands around 16-17 hands tall and comes in all colors, with bay, black, and chestnut most common. These speedy horses have an athletic build with a straight profile. In addition to being excellent harness horses, they also excel at riding.
The Haflinger, or Avelignese, is a hardy breed native to the Southern Tyrolean Mountains of present-day Austria and northern Italy. They are popular not only in Italy but also across the world.
Their first documentation traces back to 1874 when the foundation sire 249 Folie was born from a half-Arabian stallion and a refined native Tyrolean mare. All purebred Haflingers must trace back to 249 Folie through seven stallion lines: A, B, M, N, S, ST, and W.
Due to their hardy nature, Haflingers have been a popular choice as a packhorse through the narrow, steep paths of the Tyrolean Mountains.
During WWII, breeding practices shifted as the army needed a shorter, stockier horse. After the war, the height and refinement returned, emphasizing breeding a versatile riding and driving horse.
Though they are small, Haflingers have a draft-like build with a refined head, deep chest, and muscular body. They stand around 13.2 to 15 hands tall and are chestnut in color, ranging from light gold to liver, with a flaxen mane and tail.
Haflingers today are used for driving, dressage, jumping, trail riding, western pleasure, and more.
Also Read: 7 Interesting Facts About Haflinger Horses.
The Lippizan, or Lippizanner, is one of the oldest horse breeds from Europe. These beautiful Baroque horses trace back to the 16th century and owe their origins to many countries.
The Lipizzan breed derives its name from one of the earliest stud farms, which was located near Lipica (Lipizza in Italian). Though the village is now in present-day Slovenia, it was part of Italy until WWII, and before that, it was part of Austria. These majestic horses developed from Barb, Arabian and Andalusian stock, along with other Spanish breeds.
There are eight foundation lines recognized within the breed, and they are referred to as “dynasties.” The six classic sire lines include Pluto, Conversano, Maestoso, Favory, Neapolitano, and Siglavy, with the other two additional being Tulipan and Incitato. Neapolitano and Conversano both originated in Italy.
During WWI and WWII, the breed was threatened with extinction, but fortunately, actions were taken to save these beautiful horses. Today, the Lippizan is most famous for performing classical dressage at Vienna’s world-renowned Spanish Riding School.
Lippizans are typically born black, then gradually turn white as they mature. They have an arched neck, muscular body and often exhibit a slightly Roman nose. On average, Lippizan horses are 15 to 16 hands tall and excel at driving, dressage, and jumping.
Originally from the Murge, Apulia area of Italy, the Murgese horse was developed from Arabian and Barb horses during Spanish rule. In addition, it is believed they were also crossed with the Neapolitan breed and other native Italian breeds.
During the 15th and 16th centuries, Murgese horses were popular among the Italian cavalry. However, their numbers later fell, and they were on the brink of extinction. Fortunately, a herdbook was established from a selected group of 46 mares and nine stallions.
Murgese are loved for their kind, loving dispositions, and many of them live in a semi-wild herd that roams Murge. They have a similar appearance to Friesians, as they exhibit a light head, sturdy, arched neck, and muscular body.
Murgese horses are commonly 14.2 to 16 hands tall, have a black or blue roan coat, and are used for farm work, riding, and driving.
The Sarcidano is a rare, semi-feral horse breed originating from the Oristano province of Sardinia. Though they have been around since the late 1700s, they were officially recognized as a breed in 2003.
The Sarcidano shares similar ancestry to the Andalusian. Studies performed in 1997 and 1999 show that the breed shares a common ancestry with the Iberian horse from 25,000 years ago. They also exhibit a seventh molar which is exhibited in other ancient breeds such as the Exmoor Pony and the Caspian horse.
A small number of Sarcidano horses was purchased by the comune of Laconi from a private owner and lives in the state-owned forest of Funtanamela, on the Sarcidano plateau. A second herd lives in the area as well, and there is also another herd the Sardinian horse-breeding institution of Ozieri looks after in Foresta Burgos.
Sarcidano horses are on average 11.1 to 14 hands tall, have a straight profile, muscular neck, strong leg, and have bay, chestnut, black, or gray colored coats.
7. Sardinian Anglo-Arab
Native to the island of Sardinia, the Sardinian Anglo-Arab is a popular sport horse across Italy. They have been selectively bred for over one hundred years.
The Sardinian Anglo-Arab was first used for calvary mounts by the Ozieri Army Remount Station for the Italian army. To create a reliable cavalry horse, native Sardinian mares were crossed with oriental-bred stallions and later with French-bred Anglo-Arabians and Thoroughbreds. The goal later became a horse with a minimum of 25% or maximum of 75% Arabian blood.
Since the 1960s, the Sardinian Anglo-Arab has become a popular mount for eventing, dressage, jumping, and even racing. They are quick-tempered and smart, with a refined head and athletic body. They stand at 15-16 hands tall and are generally chestnut, bay, brown, gray, or black.
Native to the Emilia Romagna region of Italy, the Bardigiano is a small, hardy breed of horse. Experts believe that they are the descendants of the horses Belgian Gauls rode during the invasion of Italy during Roman times.
During WWI and WWII, Bardigiano horses contributed to the creation of hardy mules for the Italian army to use. This led to a drop in their numbers, resulting in the introduction of various other breeds to increase the population. However, this only caused a decline in quality. Fortunately, a small herd was discovered by locals who had been preserving the breed.
Bardigianos are hardy horses, capable of navigating through rugged mountains. They are found throughout Italy and are used for farm work, riding, driving, and trekking.
Bardigianos have a straight or concave profile, arched neck, and well-muscled body. Their average height is 13.2 to 14.1 hands, and they are black or dark bay in color.
Robust and lively, the Esperia pony originates from the province of Frosinone, in the Lazio region of Italy. The breed has evolved over two centuries.
In the mid-1800s, Baron Ambrogio Roselli di Esperia began a selective breeding program to improve the genetics of the local ponies. He first introduced Salerno stock, but they struggled to adapt to the rough conditions of the Aurunci and Ausoni Mountains. He then brought in four mares and one stallion of Turkish stock, which proved to be successful.
In WWII, the breed suffered greatly as they were used for meat and to clear mines. They got official recognition in 1962, with a breed standard set in place in 1993.
Esperia ponies are 13 to 14 hands tall, commonly have a black coat, muscular chest, short head, and fine legs. These hardy ponies excel at riding, driving, and pack work.
Native to the island of Sardinia, the Giara is a small, hardy breed. They originate from the south-central area of Sardinia, which is notable for its steep terrain and unforgiving environment.
Though the true origins of the Girara are uncertain, some researchers believe that they came from the Phoenicians or Greeks in the 5th or 4th century BC. The breed shares characteristics similar to oriental horses, including the Barb.
Today, Giaras roam freely in a restricted area of Southern Sardinia. They have a large head, strong neck, and stocky body, standing between 11.1 to 13.1 hands tall. Though most are wild, locals also use the horses for riding and farm work.
The Maremmano is a hardy working horse native to the marshy areas between Pisa and Caserta. Though their origins are unclear, experts believe they are descendants of Barb, Neapolitan, Arabian and Spanish blood.
Over the years, Maremmanos have been bred with Thoroughbreds and Arabians to create a taller, more refined horse.
Traditionally, Maremmanos have been a top choice for light draft work by Maremma cattlemen, known as butteri. In addition, they have also been reliable mounts for the cavalry and Italian mounted police.
Maremmanos have a long head, muscular neck, full chest, and sturdy legs. They range in height from 15.1 – 15.3 hands tall, and are typically gray, bay, brown, black, or roan. As a highly adaptable breed, their uses include working cattle, jumping, and endurance.
The Monterufolino originates from the Tuscany region of Italy. They are a rare breed, with only around 200 horses.
The story of the Monterufolino breed begins in 1913 when the Counts of Gherardesca purchased the Tenuta di Monterufoli estate. The family gained 2,000 wild horses that were roaming freely across the estate. They bred these native ponies with Maremma, Tolfeta, Arabian and Oriental stallions to improve the stock.
The Monterufoli estate would annually round up the ponies, brand them and sell them at auction. They quickly spread throughout Tuscany for use in driving, farm work, and as a children’s riding mount. However, the estate was sold in 1956 and the breed’s numbers dropped as people were becoming less and less dependent on them.
In 1989, a wild herd was rounded up to save the breed. Then, in 2008, the Cavallino di Monterufoli association formed to save the breed and in 2011 the community of Pomerance adopted the last herd to ensure they would stay semi-wild.
Monterufolinos have a small athletic build, standing around 13-14 hands tall. They are the Pisan forestry police mounts, with their other uses including dressage, endurance, trail riding, and driving.
The Tolfetano horse is native to the mountainous Monti Della Tolfa range. Though they have ancient bloodlines, their exact origins remain a mystery.
Researchers believe that the Tolfetano breed may have Berber bloodlines. Due to their harsh environment and lack of resources, they grew into a hardy, reliable breed. In 1992, they became an official breed, with the Tolfetano Horse Association forming in 1994.
Tolfetanos are a favorite among butteri as working horses and were once a military mount. They have strong, stocky builds, standing around 14.1 – 15.2 hands tall. These agile, gentle horses are often bay, black, or chestnut.
The Napoletano, or Neapolitan, originates from the Campania region of Italy, though experts believe they could have also lived throughout the Kingdom of Naples. They are an extremely rare breed, with only 30 horses as of 2015, 29 in Italy and one in America.
The Napoletano breed began in the year 1200, and throughout the Roman empire, they became a trusty war mount. They became a common subject in literature from the 16th to the 19th century, noted for their quality.
Nobles would breed these fine horses for transportation and the cavalry. In addition, the Napoletano is famous for its contribution to other breeds, including the Lippizan and Murgese.
In 1950, many thought that the original Napoletano had gone extinct. However, in 1989 the stallion Napolitano “Il Vecchio” was imported to Italy to restore the breed. Breeders dedicated to these exquisite horses stepped up to save the breed.
The Napoletano breed has a Baroque build, with an athletic, muscular body and a well-arched neck. They are primarily black and stand around 14-15 hands tall.
The Ventasso is a rare breed of horse native to the upper Val d’Enza valley in the Emilia Romagna region of Italy. Today, there are only around 50 of these stunning horses left.
Documentations of the Ventasso trace back to the Duke Ferdinand of Bourbon, Serenissima Farnese, and the Duchy of Maria Louisa of Austria.
The Ventasso breed originated from local breeds, as well as Lipizzan and Maremmano horses. Up until the 1940s they were regularly supplied to the Italian army.
In the 1960s, breeders crossed Lippizan and Maremmano stallions with Ventasso stock. Today, though rare, the breed has many uses including endurance, mounted games, and polo.
Ventasso horses have a straight profile, deep chest, and muscular neck. On average, they are 14.3 to 16 hands tall and commonly have a bay, gray, or black coat color.