10 Strange and Beautiful Horse Breeds

An Akhal-Teke stallion with perlino coloration shows off the metallic sheen in the coat that has made this breed famous. . Olga_i/Shutterstock

Horses have been domesticated for thousands of years, and in that time we've had a chance to influence some extraordinary breeds.

Akhal-Teke Horse

Akhal-teke horse
The Akhal-Teke is known for its shimmering coat. Artur Baboev [CC BY-SA 3.0]/Wikimedia Commons

The Akhal-Teke is best known for its incredible coat which has a metallic sheen, something unique to the breed. This, combined with its lanky, delicate features, has earned it the nickname of the "supermodel" of the horse world. Though the sheen can be present in any coat color, the colors that show it off the best are buckskin (shown above), palomino, cremello (shown below) and perlino.

Akhal-Teke.org explains why the shimmering effect of the coat happens: "This is caused by the structure of the hair; the opaque core is reduced in size and in some areas may be absent altogether. The transparent part of the hair (the medulla) takes up this space, and acts like a light-pipe, bending light through one side of the hair and refracting it out the other side, often with a golden cast."

The breed originated in Turkmenistan where it was used by tribesmen to cross the arid landscape. It is a hardy horse with high endurance. Its build and athleticism have made it ideal for everything from dressage and jumping to endurance races.

Akhal-teke horse
The Akhal-Teke is known as the supermodel of the horse world. Olga_i/Shutterstock
Akhal-teke horse
The Akhal-Teke orginated in Turkmenistan. Olga_i/Shutterstock

Bashkir Curly Horse

curly horse
The Bashkir Curly is known for a poodle-like coat. Penella22 [CC BY 3.0]/Wikipedia

Another unique coat is sported by the Bashkir Curly, which is known for its poodle-like coat, the curl of which is especially noticeable in winter when the coat is extra long. These horses come in a wide range of sizes from miniature to draft, and in every color, but all have the gene that gives them their uniquely curly coat.

Just as with their size and coloring, the amount of curl varies greatly. Curly horses can have everything from just a little curl in the mane and fetlocks to tight curls all over their body right down to curly eyelashes.

Also like poodles, it is claimed that the curly breed is hypoallergenic, which means most people allergic to horses can still work with this breed. However, there are no official studies to back this up.

curly horse
Curly horses sometimes even have curly eyelashes. Lindsayanne [CC BY 2.5]/Wikipedia

Black Forest Horse

black forest horse
The Black Forest horse is known for its thick mane and tail. Carl Steinbeisser [public domain]/Wikipedia

The wonderfully thick mane and tail mane of the Black Forest breed is a perfect match to its bulky draft-horse physique. The breed is known for its deep chestnut color with a light flaxen mane and tail.

Bred almost exclusively in the Black Forest region of southern Germany, the stock dates back about 600 years. But when the mechanization took over on farms and the need for strong draft horses was reduced, the breed nearly disappeared. Only around 160 were left in the early 1980s when the government took steps to help protect the breed. It is still considered "endangered" with only around 750 horses, but their popularity as gentle and strong riding and carriage horses is on the rise.

black forest horse
The Black Forest horse is bred almost exclusively in the Black Forest region of Germany. Monika Kind, Rickenbach [CC BY-SA 3.0]/Wikipedia

Camargue Horse

Camargue horse
The Camargue is one of the oldest breeds in the world. ArCaLu /Shutterstock

Considered one of the oldest breeds in the world, the "wild" Camargue horses carry a bit of romanticism with them as they live semi-feral on the marshes and wetlands of the Camargue area of southern France. Images of the gray, nearly white horses galloping through the water are famous, and there are even photo tours that take photographers out to capture images of the popular horses. Known for their stamina and hardiness, they're used mostly as cowhorses.

The origins of the breed are a bit of a mystery. The horses have been around since before the Celtic and Roman invaders arrived on the Iberian Peninsula, and may be related to the ancient Soutré breed dating back 17,000 years ago. Today, they are bred in semi-feral conditions, allowed to live in bands of one stallion plus mares and offspring, but with reproduction monitored by the owners.

Camargue horses
Camargue horses are allowed to live in wild bands. Neil Burton/Shutterstock

Exmoor Pony

exmoore horse
The Exmoor pony is found in the moorlands of southwest England. Roger Hall/Shutterstock

Another rare breed that lives in semi-feral conditions is the Exmoor pony. These hardy, small horses are native to the British Isles and are named after the area where they're primarily found, the moorlands of Exmoor in southwest England. They are stocky horses with unique features that help them deflect water and snow in their wet environment, including a "toad eye" (which is extra-fleshy eyelids that help deflect water) and a thick coat with oily hairs that help keep water away from the insulating undercoat.

When we highlighted the breed as our Photo of the Day, we reported, "The Exmoor pony has an incredible history, and shaky future, on the British Isles. Evidence of horses in the Exmoor area dates back to more than 50,000 years ago and the current breed is descended from these ancient horses. Though the breed has endured for centuries, Exmoor ponies experienced a serious decline during the second World War as they were used as target practice and poached for meat. Even with the work of breed enthusiasts over the last several decades, there are only around 800 Exmoor ponies worldwide."

exmoore horse
There are only around 800 Exmoor ponies worldwide. Stephen Clarke/Shutterstock

Falabella Pony

falabella pony
The Falabella pony is one of the smallest of horses. Alexia Khruscheva/Shutterstock

Miniature horses are unique, but perhaps most unusual among them is the Falabella, one of the smallest of horses. These tiny horses (not ponies, but miniature horses) rarely stand taller than 32 inches at the withers. The breed originated in Argentina in the mid-1800s with Patrick Newtall and son-in-law Juan Falabella, and were first imported to the U.S. in 1962.

They are sturdy and strong, thanks to the mix of Criollo, Welsh pony, Shetland pony and small Thoroughbred breeds that were added to the mix when the Falabella breed was being developed. They are used in show, and can be trained to pull carts and even be ridden by very small children. Because of their small size and easy trainability, they can also become guide animals for physically disabled people. They are also long-lived, living as many as 40-45 years.

falabella foal
The Falabella can be trained to pull carts or can be ridden by very small children. Olga_Phoenix/Shutterstock

Fjord Horse

fjord herd
The Norwegian Fjord is one of the world's oldest breeds. Ron Rowan Photography/Shutterstock

The Norwegian Fjord has many great qualities. Being one of the world's oldest breeds, it has been used for centuries as a farm horse. It has the strength and musculature of a draft horse but is smaller and more agile.

But perhaps its most notable quality is its dun coloration with a two-toned mane. The outside hairs are cream-colored but there is an inner streak of dark brown or black. The mane grows long and thick, but is usually cut short for easier grooming and to emphasize the shape of the neck. Plus, you can get away with a few great hair styles from punk rock...

fjord horse
The Fjord is known for its two-toned mane. Volker Rauch/Shutterstock

... to emo.

fjord horse
The Fjord has the strength of a draft horse. Vera Zinkova/Shutterstock

Gypsy Vanner Horse

gypsy vanner horse
The Gypsy Vanner is also called the Coloured Cob. Olga_i/Shutterstock

The Gypsy Vanner is a breed that originated as a caravan horse for the Romanichal peoples of the British Isles to pull the vardoes in which they lived. It is also called the Coloured Cob, Irish Cob or Tinker Horse, depending on where you are. Because of its use in pulling heavy homes-on-wheels, it has developed into a strong breed with conformation similar to light draft horses.

The breed is known best for its beautiful black and white piebald coloration (though it can be of any color), and the thick feathering that starts at its knees and hocks. Though vardoes are hardly used today, the breed is still around as a source of pride and history of the Romanichal peoples in Britain and is used for driving and dressage as well as showing at horse fairs.

gypsy vanner herd
The Gypsy Vanner is known best for its black and white piebald coloration. Critterbiz/Shutterstock
gypsy vanner horse

Konik Horse

konik herd
The Knoik originated in Poland. Ruud Morijn Photographer/Shutterstock

The Konik is a gorgeous horse with a fascinating history. The breed originated in Poland. Breeders between the two world wars worked to selectively breed the Konik to be as much like the Tarpan, a wild European forest horse that went extinct in 1910 after it was noticed that some foals born in Konik herds were born with the mouse-gray coloration of the ancient horses. Konik mares were bred with stallions of the wild Przewalski's horse (as well as other breeds, including the Icelandic horse) in order to eventually get a breed that resembles the Tarpan phenotype as closely as possible. The result of many mixing-and-matching experiments is today's Konik, a blue-dun colored horse with a dorsal stripe

What is also amazing about the breed is that the horses are used for wetland grazing projects. The Konik's grazing can be used to help restore health and balance to marshy woodland ecosystems, providing improved habitat for a range of bird species.

konik horses
Konik horses are used for wetland grazing projects. Tom linster/Shutterstock
konik foal
Knoik foals are often mouse-gray colored. pxl.store/Shutterstock

Marwari Horse

marwari horse
The Marwari horse is a rare breed from India. Heather Moreton [CC BY 2.0]/Wikipedia

The winner for the craziest ears goes to the Marwari horse. It is a rare breed from the Marwar region of India and is easily identified by the inward-curving ears. The breed has been around since early in the 12th century, and is a hardy sport horse that was mainly used as a cavalry horse throughout its history. Today it is used mostly for farm work, riding and packing.

marwari horse
The Marwari horse has the most unusual ears. Heather Moreton [CC BY 2.0]/Wikipedia

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