Rare, Unusual, and Beautiful Horse Breeds
What Makes a Horse 'Unusual'
Horses come in a variety of breeds, sizes, colours and personalities. Some breeds are renowned as hard workers or gentle giants, like the Shire horse, whereas others are famous for their dazzling colours (like the Akhal Teke - also known as "the golden horses"), or their indisputably weird (albeit sweet) appearance, such as that of the Bashkir Curlys. So what makes some horse breeds stick out from the crowd as 'unusual' breeds?
'Unusual' can refer to a breed that is rare to the point that it is on the verge of extinction, or it can merely be referring to a particularly strange-looking physical appearance or striking feature of a breed. When making this list I have taken both these things into account, but also other factors such as gaits, size and colours of the horse.
For me, these beautiful animals are simply one of nature's best designs - powerful, graceful and capable of befriending humans. I have ridden horses since I was five, and every time that I ride to this day I feel so free and so safe that 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.
When I showed a photo of a Bashkir Curly to my friend, she announced that it was actually 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 favourite ones at that. They are renowned for their friendly, calm and intelligent personalities as well as their distinctive curly coat and kinked mane and tail. These horses are the only hypoallergenic breed of horse, and are excellent horses for beginners and children given their sweet, patient, easily-trained and reliable nature and the fact that 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 fuss as you can imagine, and the first thing (actually second after their curly fur), 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 another kind stranger passing by. They genuinely looked like they were rather enjoying the whole thing!
The Marwari horse originated from India and are well known for their inward-facing ears. This horse has a natural ambling gait and comes in a wide range of colours, but seemingly pinto is 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 from 15-16 hands, so are considered a medium sized horse.
This breed was close to the point of extinction in 1930, but fortunately due to popular demand, the numbers of the breed have increased once again, which I for one am extremely happy about - 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!) He always had this wonderful energy, but equally seemed to know that the young rider on his back was in need of a good, calm horse - which is exactly what he was. When he galloped the speed he could go at was incredible, leaving me and the other spectators speechless.
Miniature horses have become one of the controversial breeds in recent years and although many equine-enthusiasts feel that breeding miniature versions of horse breeds is exploitation and cruelty; for me personally, I think that providing they are well cared for and still treated like equines and NOT teacup dogs or cats then there isn't a problem. I believe that the point at which it is cruel is when humans use animals for breeding which are unwell or have physical abnormalities which get in the way of their health and therefore happiness. Take the pug dig, for instance. A dog considered "cute" by huge numbers of people. But they have such difficulty breathing and keeping themselves cool because of their facial structures. To me that is far more cruel than simply selectively breeding smaller horses.
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 13-16 hands, which makes them a wonderful size for children. Again, this is how I first encountered these gorgeous animals and once more it was whilst on holiday, in Spain. I saw a young man who was making his living from his three horses (all Gypsy Vanners), and he would take tourists out on hacks through mountainous regions. The three horses were piebald with abundant leg feathering from the knee down to their hooves. Their mane, feathers and tail were straight and their bodies amazingly powerful and strong. He told me that the breed originally came about due to the Romanichal people of Great Britain and were used as work horses, pulling their vardoes, in which the people lived; hence their name Gypsy Vanners. Although they have incredible muscle, the horses were docile, friendly and calm and I think they would make excellent family pets.
I still hope to own some of these creatures one day. Oh and also I would just like to add - the horses were EXTREMELY well cared for. There is nothing worse than going on holiday and paying someone money to continue to fail to meet basic health standards for their animals. You see it everywhere - over worked 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 condition, REPORT IT! The abuse will never stop unless a stand is taken.
The Akhal Teke has been dubbed the “world’s most beautiful horse,” though this is highly disputed due to the vast number of horse breed enthusiasts. It has an almost ethereal look about it, and the way it’s coat grows, gives it a metallic sheen – which is especially true for those who have the sought-after ‘golden’ coat. Experts believe this was down to a natural sort of camouflage as they originated from Turkmenistan, where they became the 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 without some thoroughbred horse DNA also, due to extensive cross-breeding to create a horse with incredible stamina, speed and intelligence. They range from around 14-16 hands.
The Fjord horse originated from Norway and bears a striking resemblance to Przwalski wild horses. They generally are dun in colour, with a short, erect mane which has a naturally-occurring black stripe down the centre. Their manes are hogged so that the black mane hairs stand taller than the others. If left, the mane would of course grow, but it is kept this way for 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 fighting to the death.
The Knabstrupper – sometimes called ‘Knabstrup’ horses are very similar to the more commonly heard of Appaloosa horse. They are a Danish breed which are famous for their ‘dalmatian’ or ‘leopard spot’ appearance. They measure anywhere between 15-16 hands but some also are pony sized, measuring less than 14.2 hands. Their unusual coloration is caused by a genetic mechanism known as the leopard complex. These horses do exceedingly well in dressage and show jumping as well as being good for general riding.
The Appaloosa, as previously mentioned, is associated with the Knabstrupper, however, the leopard spotted look can be all over the horses entire body, or may only cover one small area, such as the back. Other physical features are mottled skin, White sclera (the part of the eye surrounding the iris), and always striped hooves. They can weigh up to 1250lbs and measure around 14-16 hands. Several different breeds were used to create this breed, including the Spanish and Warmblood horse, and so there can be many different body types for this breed.
I absolutely adore these horses. Not only are they well known for their utterly gorgeous coats, they also combine the physical characteristics of a Western Stock horse with a pinto spotted pattern, and although the breed is generally white and black or white and chestnut, there are a huge variety of accepted colors for this horse. I think that these horses have incredible beauty - especially about the face, head and neck and all the ones I have ever met have been friendly, docile and easily trained horses that were superb riding horses for children.
They originated from 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!