Horses were one of the last livestock species to be domesticated. Today there are more than two hundred different breeds of horses that all originated from the same ancestor. Let’s discover the 10 oldest horse breeds in the world and discuss some details about each type of animal.
The first horses were domesticated in the Eurasian steppes around 5500 years ago. There is no evidence of a human on horseback until its appearance in Mesopotamian art at least a few hundred years after the first evidence of domestication.
The first evidence of a close human and horse relationship comes from the Botai in Northern Kazakhstan. They milked horses, ate their meat, and most likely domesticated them for the first time. Horses originally evolved in North America in the late Pliocene and spread across the world.
Without a human interest in horses, they most likely would be extinct. As the plains shrunk and Europe became forested at the end of the last Ice Age, horses were pushed out to the Eurasian steppe. In the Americas, native wild horses went extinct because they weren’t domesticated.
What breeds have been around the longest? We’ll discover the 10 oldest horse breeds in the world now.
10. 500 Years As a Breed: Garrano Pony
Garranos can be officially dated back to the fifteenth century since they are the direct ancestors of more recently developed New World breeds. Garrano ponies are a semiferal Portuguese breed that reaches up to thirteen hands in height. Celtic ponies were most likely brought to the Iberian Peninsula around 3,500 years ago, and these individuals gave rise to today’s Garrano ponies.
They’re quick learners that like to work. Garranos have a friendly demeanor and are usually a chestnut color with white markings.
Their population is quickly declining, with their main predator being wolves. There are a bit over 2,000 wild individuals left today, and they are all found in the mountains of northern Portugal.
9. 900 Years As a Breed: Exmoor Pony
The Exmoor pony was first recorded a little over 900 years ago. It comes from the region of England with the same name. They are most likely the descendants of ponies released during the Roman invasions, known as Celtic ponies.
They are rarely more than twelve hands tall. There are large captive-bred populations, and a small group of wild individuals remains in their home range. Sometimes wild ponies are taken to breed with captive animals to maintain desired characteristics.
8. 1,000 Years As a Breed: Icelandic Horses
Icelandic Horses have been around for over a thousand years. Viking settlers brought the ancestors of these small horses with them when they settled in Iceland. They’re about thirteen to fourteen hands in height.
These horses have a long history; traditionally, they were used to herd sheep. They’re still used this way by some people. There are sizeable populations of this breed around the globe.
They’re still purebred in their native territory because Iceland bars any importation of horses. Any Icelandic horse that leaves Iceland is not allowed to return. This has protected the original population from blending with other horse breeds.
The Icelandic Althing, a parliament, prohibited horse importations in 982 AD. This was in response to crossbreeding that occurred and resulted in undesired traits. The breed has been purebred since the passage of these original protection laws.
Icelandic horses are known for their sure-footedness and are lauded because they handle rough terrain well. They are also capable of two extra gaits on top of the usual four recognized in other horses.
A gait is a horse’s pattern of movement while walking. Not every Icelandic horse performs these extra gaits. Those that do are considered the best in the breed.
7. 1,200 Years As a Breed: Eriskay Pony
Eriskay ponies date back approximately 1,200 years though this estimate may be off by a few hundred years. There is evidence of domestication by Pictish, Celtic, and Norse cultures. They were bred to be friendly, and the harsh conditions of their homeland favored small and resilient animals.
These ponies were isolated on Scotland’s Outer Hebrides isles until the mid-nineteenth century when they interbred with other horses. However, on the island of Eriskay, they remained unchanged.
They’re up to thirteen hands tall, which makes them large ponies. They aren’t considered horses because they’re so docile, which makes them good therapy animals. They grow a long coat in the winter, which means they can live outdoors year-round.
Most existing ponies are still in Scotland. They were brought back from the brink of extinction, but there are still fewer than 500 alive today.
6. 2,000 Years As a Breed: Arabian Horses
Arabian horses were likely used in Rome, Ancient Egypt, and Greece. They originated with the Bedouin tribe in the Middle East. This makes them tolerant of dry and hot environments.
This breed of horse is the most influential in history. It’s a cornerstone to developing most of today’s horse breeds. People have been recording this horse for over 2,000 years.
These are great horses for long endurance races. They grow up to fifteen hands tall. Arabian horses are lively and fast.
5. 2,000 Years As a Breed: Norwegian Fjord Horses
These horses are large and bulky because they were bred to work. Despite this, they’re still agile. They’re chosen as a horse now because they are good-tempered.
4. 2,000 Years As a Breed: Asturcon Pony
The Asturcon pony lives in Northern Spain. It’s been documented for around 2,000 years, as it was mentioned by Pliny the Elder. It’s a descendant of the Celtic pony, and it shares ancient ancestors with other Iberian ponies.
While these ponies are endangered in the wild, they are well maintained in captivity. There are two distinct populations of Acturcon ponies that likely divided around the time of the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s.
3. 3,000 Years As a Breed: Akhal-Teke Horses
Akhal-teke horses have most likely been around for thousands of years. They used to be called Nisean horses, and they’ve been around for at least 3,000 years. They’re probably descended from an ancient extinct breed called the Turkoman horse.
This is a Turkmen breed. There are around 6,600 of this breed living in Turkmenistan though there are some small populations kept by equine lovers around the world. They’re a part of the emblems and the paper money of Turkmenistan.
They’re also known as golden horses because their coat gives off a metallic gold shine in the sun. There are known inherited diseases in this horse breed caused by a lack of genetic diversity. These diseases are not fully understood.
2. 4,000 Years As a Breed: Mongolian Horses
Mongolian horses have been domesticated on the Eurasian Steppe for about 10,000 years. People began riding them about 4,000 years ago. These horses are bulky and hardy though they aren’t known for their speed.
This ancient horse breed is the national breed of Mongolia. It dates back to Genghis Khan’s rule of the Mongol Empire a little over a thousand years ago. They’re still important to the nomads in Mongolia, who keep more of these horses than there are people in their territory.
There are a wide variety of types of Mongolian horses originating from different places around the region. Each has its unique characteristics.
1. 11,000 Years As a Breed: Przewalski Horses
Przewalski horses are an ancient horse breed that possibly goes back 11,000 years. They’re almost completely unrelated to today’s domestic horses, with which they haven’t shared an ancestor for tens of thousands of years. These horses are bulky and only reach a max height of fourteen hands.
These horses were the last truly wild horses on earth. They lived in Mongolia and went extinct in the wild during the last half of the 20th century. There are still captive-bred individuals alive on earth today, and reintroduction efforts are succeeding in their natural range.
10 Oldest Horse Breeds in the World
These are the 10 of the oldest horse breeds on the planet:
- Przewalski Horse: 11,000 years old.
- Mongolian Horse: 4,000 years old.
- Akhal-Teke Horse: 3,000 years old.
- Asturcon Pony: 2,000 years old.
- Norwegian Fjord Horse: 2,000 years old.
- Arabian Horse: 2,000 years old.
- Eriskay Pony: 1,200 years old.
- Icelandic Horse: 1,000 years old.
- Exmoor Pony: 900 years old.
- Garrano Pony: 500 years old.
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- MDPI, Available here: https://www.mdpi.com/2076-2615/11/7/1859
- Springer Nature , Available here: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-66232-1
- Oxford University Press, Available here: https://academic.oup.com/jhered/article/97/2/107/2187641
- Springer Nature , Available here: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10528-005-6775-1