Ever since we first domesticated horses over 6000 years ago we’ve been selectively breeding them to suit whatever we wanted them to do. Fast forward to now and there are literally hundreds of different breeds around the world that have a million and one different uses and while we all know of the most popular breeds such as the Quarter Horse, Percheron, and Welsh Ponies, and Cobs I bet not many of you have heard of breeds such as the Kyrgyz or the Camarillo White Horses?
I thought it would be fun to put together a collection of the most unusual, but not necessarily the oldest or rarest breeds around. Breeds such as the Bashkir Curly who’s coat is used to make sweaters for people that are allergic to wool or the Kyrgyz that is still bred for its milk.
Height: The average is between 14hh (56 inches) and 16hh (64 inches)
Colour: Amy color is allowed
Character: They’re kind-natured horses that are very hardy.
Country of Origin: USA
Unusual because: Its coat is hypoallergenic and is often used to make sweaters for people who are allergic to wool.
Despite its name, the Bashkir Curly isn’t related to the Russian Bashkir at all although nobody is quite sure where it actually comes from. Some people suggest that it must have descended from either the Lokai or the Yakut, due to both breeds sometimes having curly coats, but there’s no evidence for this. In fact, a few years ago blood typing was carried out to see if the Bashkir Curly was descended from a range of around 200 horses. While there was a lot of Quarter Horse and Morgan blood there were no genetic features that could definitively match them to any one breed.
While the breed’s more distant history is unknown its more recent history can be traced back to 1898 when Peter Damele and his father were out riding and came across three Bashkir Curlys, each with tight ringlet curls. They were so fascinated with those horses that to this day there has always been Bashkir Curlys on the Damele Ranch in Nevada. In fact, many Bashkir Curlys today can be traced directly back to the original Damele herd.
5 Facts about the Bashkir Curly
- The breed is extremely hardy, being one of the few breeds that were able to survive the extreme 1951/2 winter without additional feed supplements.
- The curls on a Bashkir Curly can range from loose crushed velvet-like waves to tight, compact ringlets.
- All Bashkir Curly foals will have 50% of their parent’s characteristic coat, even if their other parent isn’t a Bashkir Curly.
- Every summer they lose their curly coats (along with their mane and sometimes their tail) and grown a straight summer coat. Don’t worry though the curls return in the winter.
- The Bashkir Curly is extremely versatile and does very well in both English and Western. They’ve also had a lot of success in show jumping, dressage and even under harness.
Want to find out more about the Bashkir Curly? Check out the registry’s website.
Height: Stallions usually stand at around 15hh (60 inches) while mares average 14.2hh (57 inches)
Colour: Any solid color although a dark color or grey is preferred.
Character: This horse is much tougher than you may think. They also have calm natures and don’t spook easily.
Country of Origin: Kyrgyz Republic
Unusual because: The Kyrgyz is still valued for its milk yield with some horses being able to produce up to 20Kg a day.
You may not have heard of the Kyrgyz before but to the nomadic people of the area, they’re essential to their way of life and are often said to be their ‘wings’. Highly prized for its speed and stamina the Kyrgyz is regularly used as a pack and transport horse as well as a riding horse.
The Kyrgyz is an extremely surefooted horse that is perfectly suited to mountain life. As you would expect from such a breed it’s very hardy but its nomadic lifestyle has also helped it evolve into a breed with plenty of endurance.
In the 1930s, during the Soviet era, the Kyrgyz Republic (or Kirgiz Soviet Socialist Republic as it was known at the time) was part of the USSR, and as such the Kyrgyz horse was crossbred with Russian Don’s as well as Thoroughbreds in an effort to improve the breed. The result of this crossbreeding was the New Kirgiz (or Novokirgiz) which is very similar to the original Kyrgyz except that it’s slightly larger.
5 Facts about the Kyrgyz
- They’re often used for traditional Kyrgyz games such as kok-boru (Also known as buzkashi its played with 4 players on each team and is similar to to polo), oodarysh (A featured sport of the Worldwide Nomad Games, oodarysh is a mounted wrestling game.) and kyz-kuumai (It translates to mean ‘girl chasing’ but is sometimes called the kissing game. The idea is that a woman will gallop towards a man and when she reaches him then races to catch her. If he catches her before the finish he can ‘steal a kiss’).
- At the end of the 19th century, there were over two million horses, but while they’re not considered as at risk they’re number have fallen drastically to less than 80,000
- Their milk is often fermented and used to make kumis, a popular and important drink in the lives of many of the inhabitants of the Central Asian steppes.
- The Kyrgyz people are fantastic horse riders with children often learning to ride before they are able to walk.
- The Kyrgyz have been bred in the area for over 400 years.
Height: Most horses are between 14.2hh (57 inches) and 15.2hh (61 inches) although they can range from 14hh (56 inches) up to 16hh (64 inches)
Colour: Bay, chestnut, brown, piebald, and skewbald are the most common but any color is permitted.
Character: They’re brave horses that have amazing courage on the battlefield. They’re also valued for their extreme loyalty.
Country of Origin: India
Unusual because: Like its very close cousin, the Kathiawari Pony, the Marwari is known for its ears that curve inwards and often touch at the ends.
Over the centuries the origins of the Marwari have been lost but it’s known that the Raipur (a warrior clan) bred them extensively as war horses during the Middle Ages. In the 12th century, the Raipur were driven from their home to the barren lands of Maru Pradesh (which means land of death). This new region was perfectly suited to the tough Marwari.
While their numbers a much lower these days it’s known that under the reign of Emperor Akbar The Great the Raipurs have over 50,000 horses, many of which were Marwaris.
5 Facts about the Marwari
- The Marwari has an amazing homing instinct and, in the past, used to bring riders back from battle that had either died or were injured.
- Marwaris have exception hearing that has helped them, as well as their rider, stay away from danger.
- Their hooves are very tough and, like their cousin the Kathiawari Pony, they rarely need to be shod.
- Indian folklore says that the can be traced back to a time when the ocean was churned to extract nectar for the gods – a time when horses had wings.
- Despite being originally bred as a warhorse today they’re mainly used for shows or ceremonial and religious purposes.
Want to find out more about the Marwari? Check out the society’s website.
Height: They can exceed 16hh (64 inches) but tend to stand between 15hh (60 inches) and 16hh (64 inches).
Colour: While black, bay, and grey can be found, a golden or cream dun is the most common color, often with a black or brown mane and tail and dorsal stripes.
Character: Akhal Tekés are very loyal and protective towards their owners, often being jealous of strangers.
Country of Origin: Turkmenistan
Unusual because: With the nickname of ‘Golden Horses’ it’s not difficult to see that it’s the Akhal Teké’s metallic sheen that is its unusual characteristic.
You may not have heard of the Akhal Teké before but they’re one of the oldest and purest breeds in the world, having thought to have been around for over 3000 years. In that time they’ve had a huge impact on a variety of breeds such as the Arabian and the Thoroughbred. While it was originally thought the ‘three founding fathers’ of the Thoroughbred breed were Arabians recent studies have confirmed that one of them, Byerley Turk, was actually a purebred Akhal Teké. Another of the three stallions, Darley Arabian, is known to have come from the Munigi strain of Arabians, a strain that is known to have a lot of Akhal Teké blood.
Having evolved in the desert, they have tremendous endurance which, in 1935, was tested when the now-famous trek from Ashkhabad to Moscow was held. They covered the 2500mile (4300kM) distance with little water in 84 days, part of which was across the desert.
5 Facts about the Akhal Teké
- The Akhal Teké was originally bred as a warhorse and was prized by many great warriors, not least Alexander the Great.
- Chinese legend refers to the Akhal Teké as a heavenly horse with magic powers.
- The breed takes its name from the Akhal oasis at the foothills of the Köpet Dag mountains in Turkmenistan. The second part of their name comes from the Teké tribe who first bred them.
- As the national emblem of Turkmenistan, they can be seen on banknotes, coats of arms and postage stamps.
- The Akhal-Teké is extremely sure-footed and is said to be able to gallop down an uneven mountain path in the dark without putting a foot wrong.
Want to find out more about the Akhal Teké? Check out the association’s website.
Height: Typically between 12hh (48 inches) and 14hh (56 inches)
Colour: Sandy tan, dun, or reddy bay, always with a dorsal stripe, shoulder stripe, zebra stripes on the legs, and a lighter muzzle and underbelly
Character: It’s difficult to know what the character of Przewalski’s Horse is like because they’re wild and not domesticated.
Country of Origin: Mongolia
Unusual because: Przewalski’s Horse is said to be the only true wild species left, all other horses have either been domesticated or are feral rather than truly wild.
It was believed that it was a Russian explorer, Colonel Nikolai Mikhaylovich Przewalski, who was the first person to discover them, which is why they’re named after him, but The Przewalski Horse Society says that two European had discovered them before the colonel. In 1497 a Bavarian nobleman described the breed in amazing detail in his journal, while a Scottish doctor documented them in 1791.
It was thought, for many hundreds of years, that Przewalski’s Horse had never been domesticated, a 2018 DNA test, however, revealed that it is actually descended from the Botai horses that were domesticated as far back as 3,500BC. Since the last Ice Age the breed has changed very little since and, in 1979, an international studbook was set up to help keep it that way for man years to come.
5 Facts about the Przewalski’s Horse
- Around 60 horses in live in the exclusion zone around Chernobyl and in 2019 motion-activated cameras installed by the University of Georgia showed that they use abandoned buildings for shelter when the weather gets really cold, you can see some of those images here.
- Sometimes called the Mongolian Wild Horse, Przewalski’s Horse is thought to be the ancestor of all horse and pony breeds around today, although no breed can claim a direct lineage to it.
- The breed was completely extinct in the wild until 1992 which is when two breeding groups were reintroduced to the Altai mountain region of Mongolia.
- Unlike all other breeds that have 64, Przewalski’s Horse has 66. They also tend to live to around 35, whereas most other breeds live to around 25.
- The vast majority of Przewalski’s Horses are untameable, which is a real pity – just imagine turning up at your local show riding one of these amazing horses!
Want to find out more about the Przewalski’s Horse? Check out the association’s website.
Height: Generally between 7hh (28 inches) and 8.5hh (34 inches)
Colour: Any color is allowed although black and brown are the most common.
Character: In the wild, they have gregarious natures but when domesticated they are known for their gentle and docile nature.
Country of Origin: Argentina
Unusual because: The Falabella is the smallest breed in the world – rarely standing above 8hh (32 inches)
You might be surprised to know that the Falabella is descended from the horses (mainly Andalusian and Iberian) that the Spanish left behind in Argentina after a number of unsuccessful attempts to conquer the country. Having been left to fend for themselves these horses evolved into very hardy animals that not only had a natural sense of danger but could travel vast distances.
In 1868, Patrick Newtall used these horses as the basis for a new breed of small horse. When he died his son-in-law, Juan Falabella, carried on the breeding but also introduced bloodlines from Welsh Ponies, Shetlands, and Thoroughbreds. With a lot of inbreeding, he was able to create a herd of consistently small horses. It wasn’t until the early 1940s though when his grandson, Julio Cesar Falabella, established a formal breed registry, that the Falabella was officially recognized.
5 Facts about the Falabella
- There have been smaller horses, such as Einstein and Thumbelina, but they’re miniature versions of other breeds, whereas the Falabella is a small breed so all of them are tiny.
- When the registry was first created the standard was 10hh (40 inches) but following further development of the breed, the height was reduced to what it is today.
- The only difference, other than the height of course, between a full-sized horse and the Falabella, is their lifespan, on average Falabellas live twice as long as their larger counterparts.
- As you would expect the Falabella can only be ridden by very small children but you might be surprised to know that they are often used for driving. They are also shown in-hand and can jump fences up to 3ft (36 inches).
- A newly born Falabella foal will be around 3hh (12 inches) but by the time they’re three they’ve reached their full height.
Want to find out more about the Falabella? Check out the association’s website.
Camarillo White Horse
Height: Anything from 14.2hh (57 inches) to 17hh (68 inches)
Colour: Pure white with pink skin
Character: Camarillo White Horses are known for their good natures, they’re very affectionate horses.
Country of Origin: USA
Unusual because: As you can probably tell by its name, the Camarillo White Horse is pure white in color with pink skin. They’re born white and will stay the same color throughout their lives.
A relatively new breed, being less than 100 years old, some people argue that the Camarillo White Horse is a color breed rather than a true breed but that couldn’t be further from the truth. They also have defined physical characteristics such as their large eyes, strong limbs, and expressive face.
All Camarillo White Horses can trace back to one stallion called Sultan who was said to be a ‘stallion of a dream’. A Spanish Mustang, he was pure white and was bought by Adolfo Camarillo at the age of 9 at the 1921 California State Fair. The horses were then bred privately on the Camarillo ranch until his daughter, Carmen, died in 1987. Following her wishes, the horses were all sold at a public auction.
5 Facts about the Camarillo White Horse
- Being the official horse of the city of Camarillo in California, they’ve appeared at every Santa Barbara Fiesta since they first started back in 1924. Former president, Ronald Reagan, was given the chance to ride one of the horses at the fiesta and was said to have loved their nature and comfortable movement.
- White horses are very rare in other breeds due to the risk of two white horses both passing down the dominant white gene, making the resulting gene lethal. Camarillo White Horses, on the other hand, don’t carry this lethal gene though.
- In 1992 the Camarillo White Horse Association was set up to not only save the breed from being lost but also to prevent inbreeding.
- The Camarillo is an extremely rare breed with an uncertain future. It’s difficult to know exactly how many horses there are but some say there’s less than 20 left.
- Their white coats make them a popular site at many parades but they also make great riding horses. They are strong horses that are well-defined.
Want to find out more about the Camarillo White Horse? Check out the association’s website.