A group of horses with a common origin is termed as a breed. It possesses certain characteristics that differentiate that particular horse breed from others. The offspring of these breeds possess the same characteristics as their parents. Based on these characteristics, the horse breeds are registered which gives an idea of how many horse breeds are present all around the World.
Horses differ in many aspects like their characteristics, size, structure, flexibility and color. This might be a reason why there is so much confusion about the actual number of horse breeds. That’s why in this article, we’ll thoroughly discuss the total number of horse breeds and how they are differentiated.
How Many Total Horse Breeds Are There?
Today, several horse breeds are listed in many registries all around the world. According to a project of Oklahoma State University named as The Breeds of Livestock Project, there are a total of 217 horse breeds in the World. The Encyclopedia of the Horse written by Elwyn Hartley Jones incorporates more than 150 different types of horse breeds. Although Wikipedia itself does not give the actual number of horse breeds, I myself counted them and they turned out to be 358.
If you take into account the number of ponies, Wikipedia gives out the names of 80 different types of ponies overall. No matter how extensive your research might be, one can never know for sure what the actual number of horse breeds is. Almost all of them vary in conveying the actual number of horse breeds or types because of numerous factors like confusion in pronunciation and regional names.
Other reasons for such diversity of these numbers are that some breeds are newly added into registries or are differentiated from previously existing ones. The list of horse breeds, however, is increasing day by day as horse breeds are being differentiated.
Main Types of Horses
Although there are three main types of horses, namely light horses, heavy horses and ponies, some people categorise wild horses as the fourth type. These horses are also called feral horses and will be discussed further in the article. The size and weight of a horse are the primary distinctions upon which they are categorized. However, their stockiness and bony structure are also taken into account sometimes.
Just as the name implies, heavy horses are heavy in their size, structure and overall build. They are physically very strong with a broad back. These horses are mainly used for pulling carts and plowing fields because their short and thick legs aid them in working the fields. Hence, heavy horses are used for heavy labor.
The ultimate traction that these horses acquire is due to their choppy movement and short steps. Heavy horses are amazing species and can also be shown at horse shows. One of the most renowned heavy horses is the Draft horse.
Light horses, as the name suggests, are lightweight and so are generally used for riding purposes. They possess longer legs with more linear and angular bodies. The saddle fits on the horses back easily, hence, it’s quite a comfortable ride. The gait of these horses is effortless as they have longer torsos and hardly ever bend their knees at all when they walk.
Another reason why the saddle placement on these horses is so perfect is that light horses have true and false ribs. The first eight ribs of these horses are considered true and they allow the saddle to lie just behind the trapezius muscle in the neck. The last ten ribs of light horses are called “false ribs” because these are rounded rather than flat. Some of the common horse breeds of this family are Thoroughbreds and Quarter horses.
Ponies are generally small in structure and are often confused with Miniature horses which is another heavy horse breed. These horses are also misinterpreted as baby horses or foals. Ponies are different in several characteristics like their thicker coats and tails. They generally have thicker and shorter necks as well. Even at a mature age, ponies appear to be small. This is the main reason why ponies are so popular among child riders.
Ponies are often stubborn but are quite intelligent and friendly. Adults can also ride ponies as they tend to bear such a load on their backs. One breed most recognized by the World is the Shetland pony.
Feral horses are often termed as “wild horses” because they live in the wild and are non-domesticated horses. But just because they live in the wild doesn’t mean they are savage animals. Some feral horses are quite lovable but the ratio of such horses is less. These horses were actually domesticated in the past but they strayed, escaped or were released deliberately into the wild. They then reproduced and learned to live in wildlife.
Feral horses usually live in a herd or a mob. They live in a population of at least 150 to 200 horses to maintain their genetic diversity. The only true wild horse that has no domesticated ancestors is the Przewalski horse found in Central Asia.
Horse Breeds Based on Color
Horses are often valued for aesthetics by riders and when it comes to aesthetics, the first thing that comes in our mind is the color of the horse. Today, horse color is valued even more than the utility. Science has made it possible for breeders to produce a variety of equestrian colors and hence, they demand a good price. So, it was felt necessary that the horse breeds should be categorized according to their color as well.
Grouping of horses whose registration is based primarily on color is termed as color breeding. Some horses are registered in certain color breeds only if they possess some particular pedigree traits while others just keep it simple and are based solely on the equestrian color. The sale value of a horse is increased if it is registered in both its own breed registry as well as the color breed registry.
Here I have mentioned the most common to the least common colors seen in horse breeds. These are:
The most common color seen in all horse breeds is the grey color. This particular horse has black skin with grey hair. Unless the skin color changes to pink, the color of the horse is considered grey even if the hair color is white.
The horses categorized under this color have black lower limbs and tail along with a brown body. A horse is called light bay if it has light brown skin, whereas dark bay if the color of the body is dark brown. Variations like blood bay are also seen if the skin color resembles dark reddish-brown.
A horse can only be considered black if it does not have any brown hair at all, although it can have white markings on the body. The darkest color in horses is the liver-chestnut color. Horses that possess this color can have a blonde mane or tail of the same color as their skin. If a horse’s tail is darker than its body hair, the particular horse is called a Sorrel.
The dun horse has black skin with yellowish hair. Zebra stripes on the back of the legs are common in dun color horses. Another color similar to dun is the roan color seen in some horses. It consists of white hair mixed in a solid coat.
Paint or Pinto Color
The paint horse has white, black or sometimes brown patches on the body. It is confusing because paint or pinto horses are color breeds as well as a breed found in the US. In other areas of the World, “Piebald” is a term for horses that have white or black patches while “Skewbald” refers to horses possessing white and any other color patch except black.
How Did So Many Horse Breeds Come Into Being?
Horse breeds are the result of many crossings that took part over centuries. Such breeds crossed with other breeds to produce a new breed, while others like Morgans are a result of a single cross from which all of its members descended. Today, more than 350 breeds have been registered all over the World.
Modern horses were developed to function more efficiently. Thus, powerful riding horses like Andalusians were developed such that they took part in dressage competitions while draft horses such as the Shire were developed for farm work and heavy lifting. Ponies were originally developed to fulfill local needs like transportation of goods in harsh environments. Later in the 20th century, however, ponies were crossed with Arabians so that they could be used for riding as well.
Horses can also breed with other species to produce hybrids. Such an example of a hybrid is the mule which is a cross between a female horse and a male donkey. However, such hybrids are incapable of reproducing offspring.
Most Famous Horse Breeds
By now, we know that there are so many horse breeds that it’s almost impossible to actually know their exact number. Despite the extensive competition, some of the breeds are consistent favorites among equestrian riders. While I can’t give you a cheat sheet for the exact number of breeds, here is a list of some of the most famous horses that exist today. The list includes all types of horses whether they are lightweight, heavyweight, ponies or ferals:
- American Standardbred
- Cleveland bays
- Hackney horses
- Arabian Horse
- Shetland pony
- Welsh pony
- Miniature horse
FAQs About How Many Horse Breeds There Are
So, there you have it. In this article, we tried listing the total number of horse breeds in the world. Although we tried being as thorough as possible, our readers still ask a lot of questions on this topic.
I have compiled some of the most frequently asked questions about this topic below:
What is the most famous horse breed?
The most famous horse breed is the American Quarter Horse. This species is perfect for riders for nearly all levels because of their agility and athleticism. Due to their exceptional beauty, American Quarter Horses are useful for competing in county fairs. This is the reason why it also has the largest breed history as well.
What are the three types of horses?
The three main types of horses are lightweight horses, heavyweight horses and ponies. Though ferals are considered the fourth type of horses in some countries, they can be provisioned for in the core three types. The horses are mainly differentiated based on their size and weight. However, their stockiness and structure are also taken into account sometimes.
How many horse breeds are in the United States?
Well, to be precise, there are about 48 horse breeds that originated in the US but we can not tell exactly how many horse breeds are found in this part of the World. The reason is simple; we don’t possess the required demographics to know the answer for sure. There are many confusions in the names of horse breeds and their categorizing traits. Hence, the answer to this specific question is uncertain.