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Some of the oldest and most ancient horse breeds in the world date back thousands of years. They have made great contributions to human civilization and the creation of modern horse breeds.
Each of today’s oldest horse breeds have a unique appearance and bear traits from the first horses that crossed human history. A horses’ intelligence and bravery are second to none and have earned the respect of the equine community worldwide.
There’re many debates about how and when horses were domesticated. Most sources agree that it happened somewhere on the Eurasian Steppes between 6,000 and 4,000 B.C. The now extinct Tarpan is likely to be the ancestor of all domesticated horses.
All the horse breeds below are still around today. Please note, many of the dates stated are only estimates.
Here are 6 of the oldest horse breeds in the world:
Icelandic Horse (1,000 Years)
Not quite as ancient as the above horse breeds, the Icelandic Horse is “just” over a thousand years old. Although they have the size and looks of a pony, people call them horses because of their exceptional strength and hardiness.
Other than the three basic gaits, Icelandic Horses are able to perform two additional ambling gaits: the pace and the tölt. They usually stand between 13 and 14 hands high, can be of almost any color, and have abundant manes and tails.
The Icelandic Horse developed from the ponies of the Norse settlers taken to Iceland in the 9th and 10th centuries. These ponies were likely related to Mongolian Horses, as genetic studies have shown a link between these two breeds.
Icelandic Horses had little to no influence from other breeds, as their crossbreeding was banned as early as the 10th century. As a result, their appearance and traits have remained unchanged for over a thousand years.
The breed has now spread across the globe and is a popular and versatile riding horse. There many events organized worldwide for Icelandic Horses to showcase their unique gaits.
Norwegian Fjord (2,000 Years)
The Fjord Horse is also amongst the oldest horse breeds in the world, with evidence of at least 2,000 years of selective breeding. Its ability to carry an adult human despite its small size is the reason why the Fjord is called a “horse” instead of a “pony”.
All Norwegian Fjord Horses are dun, with five different shades accepted by the breed registry. They have the looks of a light draft horse but at the same time they are agile and sure-footed. The average height of a Fjord Horse is between 13.1 and 14.3 hands.
Some sources suggest the breed is related to the primitive Przewalski horse, which is quite possible given their similar looks.
Other sources state they share ancestry with the Mongolian Horse that arrived to Scandinavia through Swedish traders.
Ever since its creation, the Norwegian Fjord Horse changed little in appearance. They served as the war mounts of Vikings and also worked on the farmlands of Norway.
The modern Fjord Horse is a versatile breed and is equally happy doing draft work, pulling a carriage, or competing under saddle.
Many riding schools and therapeutic centers around the world use them because of their good nature and smooth gaits. These horses are ideal for first-time horse owners.
Akhal-Teke (3,000 Years)
The Akhal-Teke horse breed dates back over 3,000 years and is considered one of the oldest horse breeds still in existence. This Turkmen breed is famous for its intelligence, endurance, and distinctive metallic coat.
The Akhal-Teke is an athletic horse with a height range of 14.2 to 16 hands. Buckskin, palomino and other cream colors are frequent in the breed, but they can also be black, bay, chestnut or grey.
There’s still some uncertainty surrounding the origins of the Akhal-Teke, but some sources agree that they shared a common ancestor with the Arabian horse.
Over the course of history, the Akhal-Teke has influenced several modern sports horse breeds, including the Thoroughbred and the Trakehner.
Also known as “Golden Horses”, the breed is easily recognized by their unique metallic shining coat. This effect comes from the differences in the Akhal-Teke’s hair structure that alters how the light bends on their coat.
Due to their harsh desert habitat, the Akhal-Teke has outstanding endurance and can travel great distances without food or water. The breed also performs well in classical English disciplines such as show jumping, eventing and dressage.
Mongolian Horse (4,000 Years)
A truly ancient war horse breed, the Mongolian Horse is possibly the oldest horse breed in the world today. High genetic diversity in the breed suggests very little human influence in its development.
Mongolian Horses are of a short, stocky type ranging from 12 to 14 hands. They have a large head, short legs and can be a variety of colors.
Similarly to other old horse breeds, the origins of the Mongolian Horse are obscure. Earliest records of such a horse are from 4,000 years ago, but the roots of the breed are much older.
Genetic studies have revealed that the Mongolian Horse could have been the founding stock for numerous modern horse breeds. They have links to Japanese breeds, the Akhal-Teke, the Icelandic horse, and also native Scandinavian and British breeds.
As the national horse breed of the country, they are at the heart of Mongolian culture. Mongolian horses accompany the nomads in their day-to-day lives and are still used for transport, racing and even milk production!
Arabian (4,500 Years)
A popular and easily recognizable breed even by non-horsepeople, the Arabian in also one of the oldest horse breeds on the planet. Horses resembling modern Arabians appear on numerous paintings and artwork belonging to Ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome.
A concave profile and high tail carriage are the most distinctive characteristics of the Arabian horse. They are a fiery breed with a lean body, strong legs and a height between 14.1 and 15.1 hands. Arabians are commonly bay, gray or chestnut, but black and roan colors also occur.
The breed is native to the Middle East and was developed by the Bedouin tribe around 4,500 years ago. Arabian horses were integral to Bedouin culture and mainly served for raiding and transport.
Legend has it that Muhammad selected his founding mares by releasing a herd of horses after a long journey in the desert. As the horses raced to a nearby oasis, Muhammad called for their return, but only five mares answered. They became what is known today as the Al Khamsa, the founders of the Arabian breed.
The Arabian is the number one most influential horse breed in history. They played a crucial role in the development of most modern horse breeds adding refinement, stamina, and strong bone structure. Arabians dominate the endurance sport today, but also do well in most other disciplines.
Caspian Horse (5,400 Years)
This small horse breed competes with the Mongolian Horse for the title of the oldest horse breed in the world. Living in the shadow of larger horses since the 7th century, the Caspian Horse was rediscovered in 1965.
Although only 9.8 to 11.8 hands tall, the Caspian has the proportions and temperament of a regular-sized horse. They have an athletic body with fine bones and can be of any solid color.
The Caspian Horse is the descendant of Mesopotamian horses and is native to Northern Iran. The breed is so ancient that many experts consider it the ancestor of the Arabian horse. The oldest remnants of a Caspian Horse found in 2011 date back to around 3400 B.C.
These horses are still used in a few towns of Iran to pull carts and heavy loads. After its rediscovery by American breeder Louise Firouz, the Caspian Horse has spread around the world to refine existing horse and pony breeds.
Their size and intelligence make Caspian Horses excellent sports ponies for children. Their jumping ability has awed many equestrians and they are also talented in dressage, driving, pony racing, and mounted games.