Ancient Horse Breeds Still in Existence 2022 [4+ Oldest]


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Akhal-Teke Horse Breed

This is one of the most ancient breeds evolved by the “Teke” and Turkoman tribes in the oases of southern Turkmenia. Owing to the arid desert conditions, these Akhal-Teke horses, from time immemorial, have been tethered and hand-fed with a mixture of Lucerne and barley. They are specialized saddle horses bred to exist under conditions of great heat and privation. Their conformation is elegant in the extreme, with beautiful Persian heads, a noble expressive eye, long fine necks, and the best of legs and feet. They might be termed the greyhound among horses. Bays and greys are known, but the most desired is a pale honey-gold, with black points.

Zemaitukas Horse Breed

The wide grasslands of Lithuania have always been par excellence a fine horse-producing country, sending animals in pre-war days to most countries of Europe, including even Ireland. The country being then a Russian province, they were all comprehensively known as Russians. These, however, were not the pure native breed, which is known as the Zemaitukas and has rarely been seen in Western Europe. The name comes from ‘Zemaitifa’, the name for the Western part of Lithuania. The plural form of the word is Zemaitukai.

The Zemaitukai are of very ancient origin, and the two main ancestral strains, those which at all events have had the most influence on the primitive type, were the Tartar pony of the steppes (Mongolian or Przevalski horse) and the Arab, from animals brought by invading Teutonic Knights from Western Europe. The latter was and still is, the predominating strain, refreshed by new Arab stock in recent years.

The appearance of the Zemaitukas is extremely characteristic. The prevailing colour is dun, with light mane and tail; mouse colour is also found and, more rarely, bay. All have a dark dorsal stripe extending to the tail. The head is small, with bright, intelligent eyes unusually widely spaced. The arched neck is short and very muscular, with a thick, wavy mane. The powerful forehand is a distinguishing mark of the breed. The legs are strong and clean, though light in bone, and the hooves hard and well-shaped. The height varied from 13 to 15 hands and the weight from 800 to 1,000lb. In general, they are compact, sturdy, well-made animals, full of latent fire and energy, and altogether worthy representatives of the ancient primitive pony type.

It is easy to see to what type the Zemaitukas belong from this description, which must seem very familiar, being so similar to so many of the Northern European breeds: the dun colour, the dorsal or eel stripe, the short and muscular neck and the thick wavy mane. Like all Russian horses and ponies, many of which are brought up not only in a more or less wild state but subjected to great variations of temperature, the Zemaitukas is one of the toughest horses to be found and owes much of this hardiness to the law of the survival of the fittest which, if it is harsh in itself, has done much in many parts of the world to produce so many breeds of outstanding stamina.

Tarpan Horse Breed

The Tarpan was the primitive wild North European horse of ‘Forest’ type, originally indigenous to Southern Russia, Poland and Hungary, and which became extinct many years ago. It came into being with the crossing of the ‘Forest’’ horse (a primitive Exmoor-like animal also found in America), which moved south at the onset of the Ice Age, and the southern horse of the Arabian type. Whereas the yellow Przevalski was the wild horse of the steppes and deserts, the greyish Tarpan was the wild horse of the plains and woods, and though of primitive type, was far less heavy in conformation and with a much more attractive head.

The distinguished German zoologist and Director of the Berlin Zoo, Professor Lutz Heck, noticed that occasionally among the Polish Koniks a pale mousy foal was born, in colour and type an exact replica of the vanished Tarpan. About 1932 he started experimenting in the hope of bringing back or recreating the Tarpan, by using Przevalski stallions on mouse-coloured Konik mares.

By the second generation, a Tarpan foal was born. At first, it was too robust an animal to satisfy, but by the strict selection, this Przevalski influence was corrected and now, some 70 years later, the Tarpan is breeding true to type. X-ray photographs of skulls, teeth, leg-bones and vertebrae confirm that these ponies are true Tarpans, exactly similar to those who died and left only their bones to show us what they looked like.

The Tarpan today is a 12 hand pony of a yellowish-grey mouse colour with black legs and tail, whitish belly, dark dorsal stripe, and light upright mane with a black stripe down the centre.

Kathiawari and Marwari Breed

In the Siwaliks, the southern foothills of the Himalayas, a number of species of ancient animals have been found, among them being one identical with the British horse, so the Thoroughbred and the Indian country-bred both may have a remote common ancestor in the horse of the Siwaliks, though they would hardly speak to each other now. The latter is, of course, found all over India, but mostly in the hard, dry northern plains from the Indus to the Ganges and south to the Deccan.

He is generally a wretched little creature, thin, weedy, very narrow, his front legs ‘coming out of the same hole’, as the saying goes, seldom more than 13 to 13½ hands high, but with feet and legs of cast iron, amazing toughness and powers of endurance and the ability to live on next to nothing. Contrary to popular opinion, the Indian has always been a bad horse master and an indifferent horseman.

A number of different varieties have developed, usually from the admixture of foreign stock, the most important and well known of them being the Kathiawari and Marwari, which being very similar in ancestry and characteristics can be taken together. Mention should be made, however, of the Unmol (meaning ‘priceless’), varieties of which were bred in northern Punjab. They are traditionally supposed to be descended from horses brought by Alexander the Great when he invaded India, and are described as being very strong, elegant and shapely, with a long mane and compact body. The pure breed, however, is now practically extinct; those that are still maintained by local maliks being well mixed with imported Thoroughbreds and Arab blood.

The Kathiawari takes its name from the peninsula of Kathiawar on the northwest coast of India between the gulfs of Cutch and Cambay. The common ancestors of the Kathiawari and Marwari (which is found in Rajputana) are said to be a shipload of Arab horses, which was wrecked on the west coast of India. These horses ran wild in the jungles and plains of Kathiawar and Marwar, and naturally mixed with the indigenous ‘country-bred’ pony.

The Arab strain certainly shows itself in the best of both these breeds, which have also special characteristics of their own, the inward-pointing of the tips of the ears, which almost meet, and the prevalence of sickle hocks. They run from 14 to 15 hands, and the most usual colours are chestnut, brown, bay, grey, piebald and skewbald, with some creams. The best bred of the Kathiawaris are in demand for racing, and in the days of height, limits were used for polo. It is not improbable that one of the colleagues of Kipling’s ‘Maltese Cat’ was a Kathiawari. Studs of these animals are maintained at Palitana and by the Nawab of Junagarh.

The Marwari figures prominently as a war-horse in the annals of Rajasthan, and in the Middle Ages horse breeding was the chief occupation in Marwar. Ain-i-Akbari mentions that the entire Rajput population of this region formed an imperial service cavalry of over 50,000 horses. Attempts to improve this breed have been made by the Maharaja of Jodhpur.

Like all ‘country-breds’, they are tough and hardy, possessing considerable staying powers and having an easy gait, and, be it said, an uncertain temper.

As neither of these two breeds had been used extensively by the British for polo or any other purpose for a number of years previously, it cannot be said that the withdrawal of the British Army can have had any particular effect on the numbers of ponies bred. Having regard to the wild nature of the country which is their habitat and the primitive agricultural needs of the natives, it may well be that these ponies will hold their own as well as any in the present times when the horse and pony population of the world is ever decreasing.

If this proves to be the case, it may happen that some grading-up by the introduction of ‘foreign’ blood may take place, as it has in the past.

You will be amazed to know that there are still ancient horse breeds in existence. Click to know more.

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