This Ahal-Teke picture has been circulating the Internet as “the most beautiful horse in the world.” That’s debatable, but the breed is one of the rarest–find out the rest of the top 10.
(top image via Amazing Things in the World Facebook group)
If any of your non-horsey friends are like mine, they blissfully send you horse-related things that are wrong at best or REALLY REALLY wrong at worst. From his ridonkulous ewe-neck to his over-at-the-knee-ness, the Ahal Teke appeals to me more as a “What’s Wrong With This Picture?” more than for his beauty.
However, there are fewer than 5000 Ahal Tekes in the world, which puts them on the Livestock Conservancy “Threatened Breeds” list. The breeds on the “Critical” list have fewer than 500 animals.
Critical Breeds (<500 worldwide)
The American Cream is the only American breed of draft horse, and is known for its pink skin, amber eyes and cream-colored coat. The breed was developed in the early 1900s…right as cars and farm machinery were becoming mass-produced. Not the best time for draft horses in general, and the Cream in particular, but those who love them continue to breed them in a way that is consistent with the old-style heavy draft type. Today they are used for riding and driving.
Caspians are considered Iran’s national treasure, and though images of them appeared in art dating from 3000 B.C., they were believed to be extinct–until 1965. That’s when an Iranian aristocrat, Narcy Firouz, and his American wife, Louise Laylin Firouz, went on an expedition to find horses or ponies for children to ride in their Tehran-based riding school. They heard that these small horses were kept by the Caspian Sea, and found that the breed was still alive. They stand no higher than 12.2 hands, and have a similar temperament and hardiness to Arabians.
Political turmoil in Iran made her efforts to maintain the breed difficult, but Louise Firouz created a national Caspian stud farm, Persicus Farm, which is now run by the government, and also exported several Caspians to the U.K.. Today the largest population of Caspians outside Iran continues to be in the U.K.
As you might have guessed, Cleveland Bays are a bay breed of horse. These warmblood-type horses are England’s oldest breed. They’re very athletic and their sensible temperament means they were used for anything and everything. So how did they become rare? World War II, that’s how.
But then Queen Elizabeth said, “Look under your chairs…you get a Cleveland Bay! You get a Cleveland Bay! EVERYONE GETS CLEVELAND BAYS!” Or maybe I’m mixing her up with Oprah. Anyway, she took the preservation of the breed quite seriously, and though their numbers are still small, they’ve been quite successful at the top levels of competition, making appearances in World Games and the Olympics.
Marsh Tacky from Equisearch
Colonial Spanish Strains
Bankers, Belskys, Cerbats, Choctaws, Florida Crackers, Carolina Marsh Tackies, New Mexicos, Pryors, Santa Cruzes, Sulphurs and Wilbur-Cruces…all of these closely related breeds originated from Spanish stock, and all of them have fewer than 500 existing horses. Nearly all colors appear in the Spanish strains, and many are gaited.
The high-stepping Hackney Horse was originally a “roadster” breed valued for its hardniess, style and speed. In the 1800s Hackneys often competed in 100-mile harness races, finishing in about 10 hours. Unfortunately, 10mph is no longer the gold standard when it comes to high-speed road vehicles, and demand for the British breed declined, and was further diminished by the World Wars. Now Hackney Horses (and ponies, though their genetic makeup is slightly different) often compete in driving classes, though they are athletic and versatile.
Like many other rare breeds, these hardy little ponies were originally bred from colonial stock, then were specialized for a task that became outmoded as farm machinery advanced. Originally the breed did a little bit of everything that was needed around the farm, from driving to riding to plowing…and they did it all while surviving harsh Canadian winters. Currently only around 400 Newfoundland Ponies exist in the world!
No, it doesn’t have anything to do with Middle Earth…Shires get their name from rural British counties called shires. They are one of the largest breeds of draft horse, reaching 19 hands or more.
Another breed outsourced by machinery, the Suffolk is a draft horse that only comes in shades of chestnut and liver. Currently there are about 600 Suffolks in the U.S.–their moderate height of 15-16 hands makes them more versatile than some of the other endangered draft breeds.
Threatened Breeds (<5000 worldwide)
Oh, the Ahal-Teke. Considered the Greyhound of the horse world, I just think they look weird–and so do many other people, which is likely why they’re rare. This breed from Turkmenistan does have some interesting characteristics, such as having a unique hair structure that gives their coat a metallic sheen. The breed is older than the Arabian, and was developed to be suited for nomadic tribes traveling long distances.
The versatile “little iron horse” comes from French stock that Louis XIV exported to Canada. The breed is rugged, strong and quick, but after the U.S. Civil War, so many Canadian horses were imported to the U.S.and killed in combat that the breed nearly died out, and has struggled since.
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