10 Strange and Beautiful Horse Breeds

ancient and beautiful horse breeds illustration

Treehugger / Hilary Allison

The horse is one of the most recognizable animals, thanks to a long shared history with humankind. While humans have domesticated over a dozen different mammals, few animals have as many relationships to us as the horse — from farm animal and method of transport, to beloved companion. Humanity's unique relationship with horses has resulted in more than 300 unique breeds, and numerous variations in size, coat color, and personality have developed as a result. There are good-natured domesticated breeds and skittish wild horses; powerful workhorses and delicate miniatures; shaggy coats and sleek ones.

Here are 10 examples that display the wide range of horse breeds. 

1
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Akhal-Teke Horse

An Akhal-Teke horse trots in a field

 olgaIT / Getty Images

A shiny coat is one way to stick out on the animal kingdom, and the Akhal-Teke is famed for having the sleekest of all. 

The hair structure at the microscopic level is the reason for the Akhal-Teke's shimmering coat. The transparent outer layer, or medulla, is oversized and acts as a prism to bend and reflect light, revealing the trademark golden sheen.

The breed originated in Turkmenistan, where tribesmen relied on its endurance and hardy nature to cross the arid landscape. Today, it's a popular choice in dressage, jumping, and endurance races, thanks to its build and athleticism.

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Bashkir Horse

A horse with a curly mane stands in a pasture
The Bashkir Curly is known for its poodle-like coat.

Penella22 / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 3.0

The Bashkir is another breed with a unique coat. These horses, from the mountainous Bashkir region of southern Russia, sport a thick, curly coat that offers protection against the harsh winters of the Ural Mountains. Even its mane is curly, growing into long ringlets.

A breed found in North America, sometimes referred to as the American Bashkir Curly, seems like a close relative, but researchers have never found a direct link between the two. One theory is that a common ancestor could have crossed the land bridge during the last Ice Age.

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Black Forest Horse

Two Black Forest horses pull a carriage with people in it

Carl Steinbiesser / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

The Black Forest Horse is characterized by its unique coloration, which defines the breed — a deep chestnut coat with a flaxen mane and tail. 

Originating in the Black Forest region of southern Germany, the breed dates back about 600 years. It nearly disappeared in the 1900s, as mechanical farming took over and the need for draft horses waned. It is still considered an endangered breed, with a population of about 750, but its popularity is growing, thanks to its contrasting two-tone appearance and its strength.

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Camargue Horse

White horses run and splash in water

Image Source / Getty Images

Camargue horses are one of the oldest breeds, famed for their white coat and semi-feral existence in the marshes of the Camargue region in southern France. The romantic image of a band of these horses galloping through water is so iconic that photographers and wildlife lovers often book sightseeing tours to experience it in person. When trained, they are most often used by farmers as cowhorses.

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Exmoor Pony

A band of Exmoor ponies grazes in a high meadow

Franz Marc Frei / Getty Images

Another rare breed that lives in semi-feral conditions is the Exmoor pony. These small, hardy horses are native to the moors — or grasslands — of southwest England. This stocky breed has adaptations that allow it to thrive in wet places, including a "toad eye," with extra-fleshy eyelids that help deflect water.

In winter, this hardy breed grows a long, two-layer coat, with a warm, woolly underlayer and a shaggy topcoat that combine to repel the cold.

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Falabella Pony

A falabella foal grazes in a flower-filled meadow

 Andyworks / Getty Images

The Falabella is among the smallest horse breeds, measuring 24-32 inches tall at the withers. This Argentinian breed is considered a miniature horse, rather than a pony, due to its tiny stature and slender proportions; ponies are usually of a stockier build. It was created by breeding several different breeds, including Shetland ponies, Welsh ponies, and small Thoroughbreds. 

While this breed is no working horse, humans have still found a job for which it is well suited. Its small stature and friendly disposition make it an ideal guide animal for physically disabled people. 

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Fjord Horse

A fjord horse with a flowing black and white mane runs in a field

 Bianca Grueneberg / Getty Images

The Norwegian Fjord is an ancient breed that farmers have favored as a work horse for centuries. Its most notable quality is its dun coloration with a two-toned mane.

The outside hairs are cream-colored, with an inner streak of dark brown or black. The mane naturally grows long, but owners often cut it short so that it stands on end and emphasizes the two-tone coloration. Its also an undersized working horse, with the the strength and musculature, but not the tall stature, of other draft horses.

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Irish Cob

A band of brown and white horses runs wildly in a grassy field

 Lynn Bystrom / Getty Images

The Irish Cob is a draft horse breed that originated as a caravan horse, traditionally used to pull vardo wagons by Romanichal Travellers in England. It is known best for its black and white piebald coloration — though it can be of any color — and the thick feathering that covers its hooves. Though Travellers rarely use vardoes in contemporary times, the breed is still a source of pride for its unique appearance and historical significance. 

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Przewalski's Horse

Two young Przewalski's horse stallions playing in the steppes of central Asia
Dieter Hopf / Getty Images

The Przewalski's horse is an endangered horse found only in the steppes of central Asia. It's also the only remaining truly wild horse — all other "wild" horse breeds are feral horses that escaped domestication. Researchers believe that these horses once ranged across much of Europe and Asia, but humans and livestock eventually took over most of their habitat. Its appearance sets it apart, with a large head, a thick neck, and most notably, a short, erect mane.

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Marwari Horse

Black Marwari horse wearing a bridle in a pasture.

 anakondaN / Getty Images

The Marwari horse is a rare breed easily identified by its inward-curving ears. It dates back to the 12th century and was traditionally used as a cavalry horse. In the 1950s, after India threw off British rule and disavowed its feudal past, the Marwari's telltale ears nearly became its undoing. Because the breed had been reserved for noblemen, it became a symbol of the ruling class's iron rule and fell out of favor. Decades later, the horse has regained its popularity in India and is being exported across the world.