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9 Beautiful, Rare and Unusual Horse Breeds

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Anna studied psychology, law, English, and animal welfare in college. She is a mother of two and a 2019 bride!

Since the domestication of horses some 6,000 years ago, many breeds and varieties have developed—these 9 are among the most unique.

Since the domestication of horses some 6,000 years ago, many breeds and varieties have developed—these 9 are among the most unique.

Rare Horse Breeds

Horses come in a variety of breeds, sizes, colours and personalities. Some breeds, like the Shire horse, are renowned for being hard workers and gentle giants. Others, like the Akhal Teke (AKA "golden horse"), are famous for their dazzling colours. Still more are known for their indisputably weird (albeit sweet) appearances—Bashkir Curlys fall into this last category. So what makes some horse breeds stick out from the crowd as rare or unusual?

'Unusual' is a term that can describe a breed so rare that it is on the verge of extinction, but it can also be used to denote a particularly strange-looking physical appearance or striking feature of a breed. When making this list, I took rarity and physical appearance into account, but I also considered other factors such as gait, size and colouration.

Beautiful, Rare and Unusual Horse Breeds

  1. Bakshir Curly
  2. Marwari
  3. Miniature
  4. Gypsy Vanner
  5. Akhal Teke
  6. Fjord
  7. Knabstrupper
  8. Appaloosa
  9. Paint

For me, these beautiful animals are simply one of nature's best designs—they're powerful, graceful and capable of befriending humans. I have ridden horses since I was five, and to this day, I feel so free and safe every time I ride. I feel very strongly that horse riding is something that I would now like to pass on to my own children. It truly is a wonderful feeling.

1. Bashkir Curly

When I showed a photo of a Bashkir Curly to my friend, she remarked that it looked like a sheep pretending to be a horse. This really made me giggle, and you can see why she would think that. In fact, I'm pretty sure there are many people who would agree with her, but the Bashkir Curly is, indeed, a horse breed—and one of my favourites at that.

Curlys are renowned for their friendly, calm and intelligent personalities as well as their distinctive curly coats and kinked manes and tails. These horses are the only hypoallergenic breed and are excellent choices for beginning riders and children because of their sweet, patient, trainable and reliable nature. Those who know them say they seem to actively seek out and enjoy the companionship of people.

I have only ever met two of these wonderful creatures at a special horse show when I was on holiday in the South of France near the Dordogne. They were getting a lot of attention—as you can imagine—and the first thing I noticed after I got over their adorable curls was how utterly gentle and sweet they were. One was gently nuzzling a young girl who must have only been four or five, and the other was enjoying a pat on the nose from a passing stranger. They genuinely looked like they were enjoying the whole situation.

2. Marwari

Marwari horses originated in India and are well-known for their inward-facing ears. This horse has a naturally ambling gait and comes in a wide range of colours, but pinto seems to be the most common and the most popular with breeders. Marwari horses were bred extremely selectively, which resulted in a horse exhibiting incredible hardiness. They typically stand between 15 and 16 hands, so they are considered medium-sized horses.

This breed was close to extinction in 1930, but fortunately, due to popular demand, the breed's numbers have increased once again. I, for one, am extremely happy about this—I used to ride a Marwari horse at HMS Dryad, where I learned to ride. He was a tall, handsome gelding with an extremely fancy name (though I've completely forgotten what it was—oops!).

My Marwari always had this wonderful energy, but at the same time seemed to know that the young rider on his back was in need of a good, calm horse. When he galloped, his speed was incredible; he would always leave me and any spectators speechless.

3. Miniature Horse

Miniature horses have become a controversial breed in recent years. Although many equine enthusiasts feel that breeding miniature versions of horses is exploitative and cruel, I personally think that it is acceptable provided they are well cared for and treated like equines and not teacup dogs or cats.

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I believe that selective breeding is only cruel when animals are bred to display physical abnormalities or other characteristics that might render them unhealthy. Take pugs, for instance. This breed is considered "cute" by huge numbers of people, but pugs tend to have difficulty breathing and keeping themselves cool because of their unique facial structure. To me, that is far crueler than simply selectively breeding smaller horses.

Gypsy Vanner

Gypsy Vanner

4. Gypsy Vanner

Gypsy Vanners, also known as Gypsy Cob Horses, are possibly my favourite of all breeds, and I'm delighted that they have finally been accepted as a breed in their own right. They typically measure between 13 and 16 hands, which makes them a wonderful size for children.

I first encountered these gorgeous animals while on holiday in Spain. I saw a young man who made his living by taking tourists out on hacks through the mountains with his three horses (all Gypsy Vanners). The three horses were piebald with abundant leg feathering from their knees down to their hooves. Their manes, feathers and tails were straight, and their bodies amazingly powerful and strong.

He told me that the breed first came about due to the Romanichal people of Great Britain. They were originally used to pull the vardoes in which the Romanichal lived, hence the name Gypsy Vanners. Although they have incredible muscle, they're docile, friendly and calm, and I think they would make excellent family pets.

I still hope to own some of these incredible creatures one day. I would just like to add that the working horses I encountered in Spain were extremely well-cared-for. There is nothing worse than using horses for income and failing to meet their basic health needs. You see this everywhere. There are overworked donkeys and horses who aren't given enough water and never see dentists or farriers to attend to their overgrown hooves. It makes me sick, and I want to take this opportunity to say if you see an animal being offered up for tourist pony or donkey rides when they aren't in good health, report it! The abuse will never stop unless a stand is taken.

5. Akhal Teke

The Akhal Teke has been called the “world’s most beautiful horse,” though this opinion isn't necessarily universal among horse breed enthusiasts. The Teke has an almost ethereal look about it because its coat tends to display a metallic sheen. The most sought-after varieties have coats with a golden appearance.

Experts believe the metallic-looking coats developed as a sort of camouflage when the breed originated in Turkmenistan (they are now the country's national emblem). They have also been nick-named “the greyhounds of the horse-world” for their unbelievable agility. Sadly, no "true" Akhal Teke horses exist now, as they were all crossed with thoroughbreds to create horses with incredible stamina, speed and intelligence. They range from around 14 to 16 hands.

6. Fjord

The Fjord horse originated in Norway and bears a striking resemblance to Przewalski wild horses. They are generally dun in colour. Their short, erect manes have a naturally-occurring black stripe down the centre. Their manes are hogged, so their black mane hairs stand taller than the others. If left alone, their manes would continue to grow, but they are usually kept shorter to adhere to the breed’s standards.

The Fjord horses were used by the Vikings and were pitted against one another for the "sport" of horse fighting. Sometimes, Viking Fjord horses would even be forced to fight to the death.

7. Knabstrupper

Knabstruppers—sometimes called "Knabstrup" horses—are very similar to the more commonly heard-of Appaloosa horse. They are a Danish breed and are famous for their "Dalmatian" or "leopard-spot" appearance. Most measure between 15 and 16 hands, but some are pony-sized, measuring less than 14.2 hands.

Their unusual colouration is caused by a genetic mechanism known as the leopard complex. These horses do exceedingly well in dressage and showjumping and are also great for general riding.

8. Appaloosa

The Appaloosa, as previously mentioned, is associated with the Knabstrupper. With Appaloosas, however, the leopard-spot look can cover the horse's entire body or just a certain area, such as the back.

Other physical features include mottled skin, white sclera (the part of the eye surrounding the iris) and striped hooves. They can weigh up to 1250 pounds and usually measure around 14 to 16 hands. Several different breeds, including Spanish and Warmblood horses, were used to create this hybrid, so there are many possible body types for this breed.

9. Paint

I absolutely adore American Paint horses. They are well-known not only for their utterly gorgeous coats but also for displaying the physical characteristics of a Western Stock horse. Although the breed is generally white and black or white and chestnut, there is a huge range of accepted colour varieties for this breed.

I think that these horses have incredible beauty—especially in the face, head and neck. All of the Paint horses that I have met have been friendly, docile and easily trained. Most are superb riding horses for children.

They originated in America and are becoming increasingly popular as a breed, not only for their looks but also due to their intelligence and the fact that they seem to love being with people. Personally, I'm glad they are so popular—I don't think they have a bad bone in their bodies!

I'd love to know your favourite breeds

Sam on April 19, 2020:

I loved this I learned so much thank

#HorseLover on March 19, 2020:

I’m doing a project about horse and I got a lot of important information. I’ve always thought all my life why would anyone ever be rude to animals to treat them poorly? I don’t think they really care and definitely do not have sympathy for them. I mean, have they even tried putting themselves in their shoes? (Well hooves!)Thank you for having (most) of the information I needed. I do have one recommendation to make your website better: MAYBE add a little more information to some of the horses. Like I wanted to know how many hands the Fjord was and I had to go somewhere else to find out. Just try assign more information. Ask someone if they have any questions and then find out the answers!

Robert Blannin on March 06, 2020:

I love all breed's i miss riding them

Thorunn on November 19, 2019:

My favorite is the only 5 gaitet breed in the world, the Icelandic horse, I’m actually very surprised that you don’t have them on your list...

Ashley on November 19, 2019:

I love those breeds i have 5 appaloosas and 2 Knabstruppers

Missjoybatty@gmailcom on September 23, 2019:

My favourite horse is the appaloosa

I like all coloured horses aswell

C Gacia on September 04, 2019:

Horses are my favorite animal in the world since I can remember. But think it is so sad they made the Akhal Teke extinct. Since I'm such a horse lover I've seen so many different types, kinds, races and mixes but truly believe this is the most beautiful horse I've ever seen. I don't have an issue with them crossing it with a thoroughbred but why didn't they continue to breed it so we could have Akhal Teke today? truly awful

Claudia Sergejev on August 30, 2019:

Thank you for providing information about these beautiful horses, and for encouraging people who witness cruel and neglectful treatment of animals to report it. (I hope it's not difficult to locate the appropriate animal protection agencies in foreign countries). It's heartbreaking to think of any animal being exploited by heartless individuals.

Richard on July 31, 2019:

My daughter is very fortunate and is able to work with miniature horses and curlys

Bill on June 04, 2019:

I raised Tennessee Walking Horses in Canada for 50 years. Regardless of all the bad press the show horses get (& deserve), they are great dispositioned horses and a joy to ride.

M.Mckay on January 17, 2019:

The paint is the best I use to ride when I was a teenager my best friend and horse was Sundance Gentle sweet and smart.

Jordan on November 15, 2018:

I loved the Akhal Teke

naomie on December 03, 2017:

do you have a horses name

Gloria Freeman from Alabama USA on August 10, 2014:

These are all very beautiful horse breeds. I have never seen most of them, thanks for sharing.

Anthony Godinho from Ontario, Canada on July 31, 2014:

Wow, I've never come across many of these breeds, so I learned a lot more about horses through this lens. Horses are indeed beautiful creatures and so versatile. I think I rode a horse just once, but i truly enjoyed it.

Tolovaj Publishing House from Ljubljana on July 27, 2014:

We are pretty proud of or Lipicanec (Lipizaner), a breed of white horses. You presented several unusual ones I never heard of. Fascinated!

topclimb lm on July 08, 2014:

I passed this lens on to my wife. She loves them and used to ride a lot in her youth.

sukkran trichy from Trichy/Tamil Nadu on July 04, 2014:

interesting information about several horse breeds. i love knabstrupper variety. looks great!

Richard from Hampshire - England on June 28, 2014:

Wow some of these are really wacky, love the woolly one!

Amine from Doha, Qatar on June 24, 2014:

the pony horses are cute, specially at the circus when they perform some great shows.

thanks for the info

Dancing Cowgirl Design from Texas on May 25, 2014:

Unique and beautiful at the same time. I love all kinds of horses.

Delia on May 13, 2014:

Some of my favorite horses shown Akhal Teke and the Gypsy Vanner...I have a lens on the horses I owned, but none unusual outside of the fact personality wise.

kathysart on May 08, 2014:

I LOVE the Gypsy Vanner. Horses are so majestic. Lovely lens.

Sheilamarie from British Columbia on May 05, 2014: