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10 Horse Breeds That Changed the World

Last updated: May 26, 2024

By: Miles HenryFact Checked

Horses have played a crucial role in the development of human civilization. From warfare and transportation to agriculture, certain horse breeds have significantly influenced the course of history. This article explores the history, characteristics, and impact of 10 horse breeds that changed the world.

Painting of An Arabian in the desert
An Arabian in the desert by Charles Tschaggeny 1858

1. Arabian Horse

  • History: The Arabian horse is one of the world’s oldest and most recognizable horse breeds, with a lineage tracing back over 4,000 years to the Arabian Peninsula.
  • Characteristics: Arabian horses are known for their distinctive head shape, high tail carriage, and strong endurance capabilities. They are intelligent, spirited, and often have a friendly disposition.
  • Impact: Known for their endurance, speed, and intelligence, Arabian horses were essential in warfare and long-distance travel. Their bloodlines have also improved many modern horse breeds.
  • Interesting Fact: Bedouin tribes used Arabian horses for warfare and travel, and their loyalty and stamina were highly valued. Even Napoleon Bonaparte rode an Arabian named Marengo, which carried him in several battles.
Marcin Konsek / Wikimedia Commons
Mongolian horses and riders. Source: Marcin Konsek

2. Mongolian Horse

  • History: The Mongolian horse has been a cornerstone of Mongolian culture for thousands of years, crucial to the nomadic lifestyle of the Mongolian people.
  • Characteristics: Mongolian horses are small but incredibly hardy, able to survive harsh climates and poor forage. They have a strong, stocky build and are known for their stamina and resilience.
  • Impact: These hardy and resilient horses were instrumental in expanding the Mongol Empire under Genghis Khan, allowing for rapid and far-reaching military campaigns.
  • Interesting Fact: Mongolian horses were so vital to Genghis Khan’s conquests that each soldier would bring multiple horses, allowing them to switch mounts and maintain their speed and endurance over long distances.
Picture of the Thoroughbred Phalaenopsis
The Thoroughbred Phalaenopsis after capturing a win.

3. Thoroughbred

  • History: Developed in England during the 17th and 18th centuries, Thoroughbreds are renowned for their speed and agility, primarily bred for racing.
  • Characteristics: Thoroughbreds are known for their athletic build, deep chest, and long legs. They are energetic and often require skilled handling.
  • Impact: Thoroughbreds revolutionized horse racing and breeding practices worldwide. Their influence extends beyond the racetrack, improving the quality of various other horse breeds.
  • Interesting Fact: The foundation sires of the Thoroughbred breed, the Darley Arabian, the Godolphin Arabian, and the Byerly Turk were all imported to England, and their bloodlines can be traced back to nearly all modern Thoroughbreds.
Photograph of a clydesdale stallion published in 1911.
Photograph of a Clydesdale stallion published in 1911.

4. Clydesdale

  • History: Originating in Scotland in the 18th century, Clydesdales are known for their strength and distinctive appearance.
  • Characteristics: Clydesdales are large draft horses with a powerful build, often recognized by their feathered legs and striking bay color with white markings.
  • Impact: These powerful horses were vital in agriculture and heavy hauling before the advent of modern machinery. They remain iconic figures in cultural events and parades.
  • Interesting Fact: Clydesdales became world-famous as the symbol of Budweiser beer, participating in parades and promotional events, showcasing their majestic presence and strength.
Boy leading an Andalusian horse.
Andalusian stallion.

5. Andalusian

  • History: The Andalusian, also known as the Pure Spanish Horse, has its roots in the Iberian Peninsula, with a history dating back over 1,000 years.
  • Characteristics: Andalusians are known for their elegance, strong build, and impressive manes and tails. They are versatile and excel in dressage due to their natural balance and agility.
  • Impact: Renowned for their prowess in classical dressage, Andalusians were prized warhorses during the Middle Ages. Their elegance and versatility have influenced many other horse breeds.
  • Interesting Fact: Andalusians were favored by European nobility and were often depicted in Renaissance art, highlighting their regal appearance and esteemed status.
Source: INRA DIST from France, CC BY 2.0
Percherons pulling a wagon. Source: INRA DIST from France, CC BY 2.0

6. Percheron

  • History: The Percheron horse breed originated in the Perche region of France and is believed to descend from Arabian and war horses brought to Europe.
  • Characteristics: Percherons are large, muscular horses with a gentle disposition. They are usually gray or black and are known for their strength and endurance.
  • Impact: Percherons were essential in agriculture, particularly in plowing fields and pulling heavy loads. Their strength and stamina made them invaluable before the mechanization of farming.
  • Interesting Fact: During World War I, Percherons were shipped to America to improve the draft horse stock and were extensively used by the US Army for transporting artillery and supplies.
Mustangs in an open field.
Mustangs roaming on federal land.

7. Mustang

  • History: Mustangs are free-roaming horses of the American West, descendants of Spanish horses brought to the Americas in the 16th century.
  • Characteristics: Mustangs are tough, hardy horses with a variety of colors and patterns. They are known for their resilience, independence, and survival skills.
  • Impact: Mustangs symbolize the spirit of the American frontier. They were crucial to Native American cultures and played a significant role in the settlement and expansion of the West.
  • Interesting Fact: The Mustang’s endurance and ability to thrive in harsh conditions made them invaluable to Native Americans, who used them for hunting and warfare, significantly altering their way of life.
Picture of a pair of Friesian horses pulling a wagon.
Friesian horses pulling a wagon.

8. Friesian

  • History: Originating in the Friesland region of the Netherlands, Friesians are one of Europe’s oldest horse breeds, with records dating back to the Middle Ages.
  • Characteristics: Friesians are known for their black coat, flowing mane and tail, and elegant movement. They have a noble and gentle disposition, making them popular in dressage and driving.
  • Impact: Known for their striking appearance and versatile nature, Friesians were used in warfare, agriculture, and as carriage horses. Today, they are popular in dressage and driving competitions.
  • Interesting Fact: Friesians were used as warhorses by knights during the Crusades due to their size, strength, and ability to carry heavy armor.
Picture of an American quarter horse.
American Quarter Horse, this one is used for barrel racing.

9. American Quarter Horse

  • History: The American Quarter Horse developed in the United States during the 17th century. Known for their ability to run short distances very quickly, they became indispensable in the American West.
  • Characteristics: Quarter Horses are compact, muscular horses with a calm and cooperative temperament. They excel in sprinting short distances and are often used in rodeo events and ranch work.
  • Impact: American Quarter Horses were vital in cattle ranching, rodeo events, and as all-around workhorses. Their agility, speed, and calm temperament made them perfect for taming the West and driving cattle across vast distances.
  • Interesting Fact: The American Quarter Horse Association, founded in 1940, is the largest breed registry in the world, demonstrating the breed’s widespread popularity and importance.
One of the horse breeds that changed the world, the Shire horse, pulls a barge.
Shire horse pulling a barge.

10. Shire Horse

  • History: The Shire horse is a British breed that traces its origins back to the medieval Great Horse used in warfare. It became recognized as a distinct breed in the 18th century.
  • Characteristics: Shire horses are known for their immense size, strength, and gentle temperament. They often have a black, bay, or gray coat with feathering on their lower legs.
  • Impact: Shire horses were crucial in agriculture and industry, particularly in pulling heavy loads like carts, plows, and barges before the advent of modern machinery. Their strength made them indispensable during the Industrial Revolution.
  • Interesting Fact: Shire horses hold records for the largest and tallest horses in the world, showcasing their impressive stature and power.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why are Arabian horses considered an influential horse breed?

Arabian horses are known for their endurance, speed, and intelligence. They were essential in warfare and long-distance travel and have significantly contributed to the bloodlines of many modern horse breeds.

How did Mongolian horses impact history?

Mongolian horses were crucial to the success of the Mongol Empire under Genghis Khan. Their hardiness and stamina allowed for rapid and far-reaching military campaigns.

What makes the Thoroughbred breed so significant?

Thoroughbreds revolutionized horse racing and breeding practices worldwide. Their speed and agility have influenced the development of many other horse breeds.

Why are Mustangs important to American history?

Mustangs symbolize the spirit of the American frontier. They were crucial to Native American cultures and played a significant role in the settlement and expansion of the American West.

Conclusion: 10 Horse Breeds That Changed the World

These historical horse breeds have left an indelible mark on human civilization, contributing to the development of cultures, economies, and societies worldwide. Understanding their history and impact helps us appreciate the deep bond between humans and horses.

Which historical horse breed do you find most fascinating? Let us know in the comments!

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