10 Strange and Beautiful Horse Breeds

Horses have developed extraordinary traits over many years of domestication.

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 to mode 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.

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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 stand out in 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. It remains a national symbol for the country, appearing on currency, stamps, and the official coat of arms. Legend has it was the breed of Bucephalus, Alexander the Great's famous steed.

Today, this horse is a popular choice in dressage, jumping, and endurance races, thanks to its build and athleticism. It is described as "intelligent, quick to learn and gentle, but can also be very sensitive, spirited, bold and stubborn."

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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. This horse, from the mountainous Bashkir region of southern Russia, sports a thick, curly coat that offers protection against the harsh winters of the Ural Mountains. Even its mane is curly, growing into long ringlets. They shed this coat in the summer, revealing straight or slightly wavy hair beneath. They make excellent pack and trail horses and have a gentle nature that suits them well to children and any kind of therapy work.

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.

It's described as one of Europe's oldest cold-blood breeds, known for its ability to work in rugged, mountainous environments while maintaining a steady temperament.

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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 to round up cattle and herd bulls. They're frequently use for trail rides along shorelines and wet marshy regions.

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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 under layer and a shaggy topcoat that combine to repel the cold.

At the end of World War II, there were only 50 ponies left grazing on the moors, which meant the genetic pool had greatly shrunk. Since then, more than 20 herds have developed through tight monitoring and breeding regulations. These ponies are collected from the moors every autumn for their owners to determine which foals should be retained or passed on to other farms and to monitor their condition, i.e. which are at risk of not surviving the upcoming winter on the moor.

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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. Prior to that, it was a fighting horse for the Vikings, and thus traveled the world, influencing future populations of Highland ponies and Icelandic horses.

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. It's 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, in Mongolia. 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. Its name in Mongolian, "takhi," means "spirit."

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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. Those ears can rotate 180 degrees and touch at the tips.

This horse 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.

View Article Sources
  1. "Akhal-Teke Horse." The Livestock Conservancy.

  2. "Akhal-Teke," Horse Canada.

  3. "Bashkir Curly," Horse Canada.

  4. "Breeds of Livestock - Bashkir Curly Horse." Oklahoma State University Breeds of Livestock, Department of Animal Science.

  5. "Spring Time Farm." Black Forest Horses

  6. "Conservation of the Exmoor Pony," The Exmoor Pony Society.

  7. Huggett, Melanie. "The Norwegian Fjord: A Horse for All Ages." Horse Journals.

  8. "Przewalski's Horse." IUCN SSC Equid Specialist Group.

  9. "Przewalski's horse." Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute.

  10. "Discover... the Marwari." Fédération Équestre Internationale.