Beautiful, Rare and Unusual Horse Breeds
What Makes a Horse Unusual?
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
- Bakshir Curly
- Gypsy Vanner
- Akhal Teke
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.
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 a medium-sized horse.
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.
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.
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.
An Akhal Teke Stallion With His Owner
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
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.
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 lbs 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 be many possible body types for this breed.
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 about the face, head and neck. All of the Paint horse 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!