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10 Rarest Horse Breeds in the World

Horses are perennially popular animals, but some horse breeds have seen a decline in populations. Many of these rare horse breeds have suffered a loss in population due to a variety of reasons such as mechanization, war, and a fall in popularity.

The rarest horse breeds in the world are the Sorraia horse, Dales Pony, and American Cream Draft. There are less than 250 of each of these horse breeds in the world, making them critically endangered.

To help raise awareness and educate you about these unique horses, we have compiled a list below of the rarest horse breeds. Find out their history, statistics, interesting facts, and their estimation population.

Here are the 10 rarest horse breeds:

1. Black Forest Horse

Rare Black Forest horse breed from the Black Forest in Germany

The Black Forest Horse is a very unique and rare horse breed. Coming from the Black Forest of Germany, from where the breed takes its name, it is fairly unknown to the world at large.

These horses are strong, with no feathering on their legs, and stand around 14.2 and 15.1 hh. Their main use is forestry, as fits the region they come from, but as draft horses, they’re great for all sorts of agricultural and harness work.

The breed registry accepts only horses that are chestnut with flaxen mane and tail. The shade of chestnut may vary, sometimes from very light to very dark, but they are uniformly accepted as flaxen chestnuts. Contrary to what they may look like, they are not silver dapple. Although some do carry the gene, the silver dapple does not show on chestnut horses.

After World War II, the number of Black Forest Horses decreased so significantly they are now considered endangered. Around 1200 Black Forest Horses are believed to be left in the world today.

2. Akhal-Teke

Akhal-Teke rare horse breed running in a field
Alexia Khruscheva / Shutterstock.com

The Akhal-Teke is a recognizable rare breed on our list due to their striking appearance: slender with a shiny, metallic coat, these horses often make the rounds on the Internet as the most beautiful horses in the world.

But even beyond their appearance, the Akhal-Teke occupies a special place as a versatile and resilient breed that’s great for endurance races and sports. Coming from the deserts of Turkmenistan, the Akhal-Teke is one of the oldest existing breeds and one that was extremely prized in Asia for centuries. The estimated number of Akhal-Teke horses living today is around 3500.

3. Cleveland Bay Horse

Cleveland Bay rare horse breed from America running in a field
Liia Becker / Shutterstock.com

The Cleveland Bay is a rare horse breed, dating from the 17th century England. They were popular carriage and harness horses. However, the breed fell out of favor and is now critically endangered.

In spite of this, the breed is still patronized by the Royal Family and still used to pull royal carriages on special occasions.

These horses are very strong with short legs in relation to their body size, and immense power. They stand around 16 hh, and they’re great for driving and farm work, and for heavy hunting. They were also one of the first breeds used in show jumping, and thus became a heavy influence in modern-day warmblood hunter and jumper breeds.

It’s only due to its royal patronage that this breed still manages to exist. Although it does have some protection, the rare breed almost met its demise due to increasing mechanization and the wars that plagued the early 20th century. This led to the number of Cleveland Bays diminishing, almost to extinction.

Fortunately, some have survived and the breed is slowly increasing in numbers, especially since the Cleveland Bay Society earned the patronage of Queen Elizabeth II in 1977. Estimates show the breed is still critically rare, however, with fewer than 900 Cleveland Bay horses still living worldwide.

4. Exmoor Pony

Exmoor pony horse - Endangered horse breed native to England
nigel baker photography / Shutterstock.com

Native to Exmoor National Park in southwest England, the Exmoor Pony is a rare horse breed with an estimated population of 800 worldwide as of 2010.

Some people claim that this rare horse breed has been purebred since the ice age. Others disagree. Not only is this horse breed super cute, but it’s also used for a variety of equestrian activities and is well known for its hardiness and endurance.

5. Eriskay Pony

Two Eriskay rare pony breeds grazing in the Scottish Highlands
Erni / Shutterstock.com

The Eriskay pony is a small and rare horse breed from Scotland, in the Hebrides. Tough and hardy, these horses have a waterproof coat and often feed on the seaweed, especially in winter. They are mostly gray, although bay and black also exist. Other colors may also appear but are discouraged.

These ponies were very popular up until the 19th century. The breed is likely of direct descent from the Celtic and Norse horses brought to the Hebrides, and appear in Pictish imagery. Sadly, it was crossbred with other ponies and horses that led this breed to its almost demise.

Eriskay ponies are quite small, standing around 12 – 13 hh, and have an easygoing, people-friendly temperament.

Today, it’s considered to be in a critical condition as a purebred, although a small population still resists. There is even a feral population at the Holy Isle!

The Eriskay Pony Society is responsible for promoting and preserving the breed alive. There are only around 420 ponies with Eriskay blood still known to exist.

6. Marwari Horse

Marwari horse breed native to India posing for a photo
Olesya Nakipova / Shutterstock.com

The Marwari is a rare horse breed from the Marwar region of India and is most well known for its inward ears. It’s also known for its hardiness.

Marwari horses used for riding, packing, light draught, and agricultural work. Since 2008, temporary travel visas for the Marwari Horse breed have been available in small numbers.

Though around 900 Marwari horses can be found in India, only around 30 more exist outside of their native country.

7. American Cream Draft

American Cream Draft horse breed grazing in a field
Nancy Kennedy / Shutterstock.com

The only existing draft horse breed from the United States, the American Cream Draft is very new. It owes its existence to a mare named Old Granny. All horses of this breed descend from this mare, foaled between 1900 and 1905.

Hailing from Iowa, the breed owes its origins to several draft horse breeds. Old Granny’s own breeding is unknown, but she was a champagne mare with pink skin and amber eyes. Many of her foals inherited her coloration, which made them valuable.

It was only in the 1940s that this rare horse breed took shape in earnest. It was recognized officially by 1950. Unfortunately, growing mechanization led to the breed’s steady decline, as happened to the majority of draft horse breeds.

The American Cream Draft registry, founded in 1944 became inactive and only revived in 1982 when breeding of American Cream Drafts restarted in earnest.

Today there are approximately 250 living American Cream Draft horses. Many of the registered horses either not meeting the color requirement or being crossbreds that, although not pure, do meet the color and conformation requirements for the breed.

8. Dales Pony

Champion Dales Pony rare breed from England

The Dales Pony is a native horse breed originating in England. A fast, elegant trotter, the Dales Pony is a great harness horse. Unfortunately, less than 300 of them still exist in the world today, making them a very endangered horse breed.

Created in the Pennine Range, from Derbyshire to near the Scottish border, these ponies were a major source of power for the farms in that region. They were also used for mining, riding, and a few other purposes.

Breeding with Clydesdale and Vanners improved those breeds but also caused the population of purebred ponies to diminish. It was World War II, however, that took this breed to near extinction, as the Army confiscated them for heavy-duty work, and few ever came back.

The Dales Pony is predominantly black, but can also be found in brown, bay, gray, and roan. It has great conformation, stands around 14 – 14.2 hh, and is a typical pony in both appearance and spirit.

The Dales Pony is a great riding and harness horse with very beautiful action. You can learn more about this rare horse breed at the Dales Pony Society website.

9. Newfoundland Pony

Rare Newfoundland Pony standing in a field

The Newfoundland Pony is a sturdy breed originating from English, Scottish, and Irish stock imported into Canada’s Newfoundland region. They have been used for various purposes over the years, including draft work. The breed has almost been extinguished due to slaughter and mechanization.

The current world population of the Newfoundland Pony breed is estimated to be between 200-250. The Newfoundland Pony Society website has more information on this critically endangered breed.

10. Sorraia

Rare Sorraia horse breed from Faia Brava nature reserve, Portugal
David Wieczorek / Shutterstock.com

Sorraia ponies are considered the rarest horse breed with only 200 left in the world. Strong efforts exist to preserve and recover this endangered horse breed, which was virtually unknown until the 20th century.

Some people believe Sorraia ponies to be native wild horses from that region, although that is not known for certain.

The Sorraia is small (14.1 to 14.3 hh), stocky, and has strong primitive characteristics, such as a convex profile and dun coloring, often with the typical striping, dark muzzle, and black-tipped ears of a Grullo, also.

There is some indication of a genetic connection between the Sorraia and the Mustang, leading scientists to believe Portuguese and Spanish colonizers may have taken some horses of this breed, or related, unknown breeds from that time, with them to the Americas.

They are very hardy horses. Scientists believe they may be the ancestors of Iberian breeds such as the Andalusian, and they do resemble some breeds in that region, although nothing is certain yet.

Currently, the Sorraia exists only in Portugal and in Germany, with horses kept for breeding purposes. Because it was so unknown and is now so rare, the Sorraia is a focus of research and preservation in Europe.

So there are 10 of the rarest horse breeds. Preserving these endangered horse breeds has become an important project in the equine world. If numbers don’t increase, they could disappear forever.

Share your thoughts, or ask a question:
Comments 6

Comments

Vivi

Friday 2nd of October 2020

Missing Estonian heavydraft horse. Probably only in Estonia and Finland, population around 400 nowadays

Sarah

Friday 12th of June 2020

This article is incorrect there are more than 300 Dales ponies. It is calculated on how many breeding mares each breed has. The Dales Pony has 300 breeding mares which classes it as critically endangered. If you are going to write these types of articles please put the correct information in them so people can learn.

Palma

Thursday 11th of June 2020

Wonderful horses. But did you know we have our own rare breed here in Oz? The Waler? There are only a few hundred registered with or acknowledged by Waler Horse Owners and Breeders Association, and like the others mentioned have their unique qualities.

Ruth

Sunday 29th of December 2019

In old books, the term “Pelfrey” is used for cart ponies. Was this an actual breed or a general term? Thanks

Circe

Wednesday 8th of July 2020

It is not a breed, considering today’s standards.

Kathleen Kaufmann

Friday 12th of June 2020

The term palfrey is used for any horse used as a mount. It was not a specific breed.

M Elliott

Sunday 29th of December 2019

Beautiful Horse breeds to be rare

Circe

Wednesday 8th of July 2020

True.