Popular European Horse Breeds and Their Traits 2022 [personalities & Characteristics]


Norwegian-Fjord Breed

This attractive pony is one of the most distinctive and interesting breeds found throughout Europe. Actually, two types of this breed are recognized, the fjord-hest of Western Norway and the doele-hest of ‘valley-horse’ of the interior. Both have the same characteristics, but the ancient original type seems to be the one of the west.

The chief feature of the breed is, of course, the distinctive color, between cream and dun. A dark dorsal stripe runs from tail to forelock through the mane, which is usually clipped to 4-5 inches to stand up in a fine crest. The legs are dark, and occasionally zebra markings occur. Bays and browns are also found, but dun is the prevailing and ancestral color. Height is about 14 hands.

The Fjord pony has a well-shaped head with a broad and flat forehead, big eyes and eyebrows, and a sharp cheek ridge. The head is rather large but seldom rough. The Fjord pony has small-truncated ears that are rather broadly placed. The neck is short and rough.

Consequently, the connection between head and neck is rather stiff. The neck is well raised. The withers are rather short and round. The back is of medium length with well-developed muscles. Long backs with less well-developed muscles are unpopular inbreeding. The croup is rather narrow and rounded. The outer corner of the hip is rather far forward as compared with the inner corner.

This makes the croup somewhat narrow, but it also, on the other hand, makes the pony more strongly coupled. The thighs are muscular but often rather shallow. Long second thighs and bent hocks are to be avoided inbreeding. The legs are dry and clean and a little coarse. The movement is light with a rapid change of feet. Most Fjord ponies are thrifty and easily fed and they are therefore well suited for smaller farms and for vegetable gardens both in Norway and in other countries.


By nature, the Norwegian pony is docile and friendly, and fond of company. Its pace is akin to a shuffling trot and it has a will of its own, but it is hardworking and tireless. The ponies are never clipped and never rugged. In the winter they are housed in communal stables with cattle, pigs, and other livestock and are fed on hay only unless timber hauling or other especially heavy work is to be done when they are given oats and bred.

Schleswig Horse Breed

This horse is bred in the western part of the Schleswig Province. In the Middle Ages, it was much appreciated, as well as the Friesian, as a saddle horse to carry heavily armored knights. Since that time its breeding has been well patronized by German rulers. At the end of the 19th century, the Schleswig Horse Breeders Association was organized to control its breeding and produce a type of horse that could be useful as both an artillery horse and a heavy carthorse. Schleswig Province belonged at one time to Denmark, and since that time one may often find a dash of the blood of heavy Danish horse in the Schleswig.

Ukrainian Horse Breed

The Ukrainian saddle horse has been developed at the stud farm of Ukraine in the same manner as English Hunters. Large mares of the West European saddle horses were mated with Thoroughbred stallions. This has resulted in a horse with exceptionally short legs showing a wealth of bone, a strong body with a well-shaped back, good girth, and ‘riding’ shoulders. It is a well-proportioned animal and potentially a good hunter, capable of carrying plenty of weight. It is claimed by the Ukrainian that it shows considerable jumping ability.

Gudbrandsdal Horse Breed

Very much resembling the Swedish and Finnish native pony, being also hardy, strong, and rather small, are two Norwegian breeds. Most of the horses are to be found on the north or west coasts of Norway and are usually dun with a black stripe along the back. The Gudbrandsdal Valley (Ostland) breed is very well known abroad and in Sweden and Poland, and can be seen all over Norway. It is a horse of medium size with a good gait.

Any consideration of this horse should be made in connection with all the Scandinavian and North European horses, which, as remarked elsewhere, are remarkably similar in many characteristics.

Klepper Horse Breed

The Kleppers are supposed to descend from native mares of the Baltic provinces of Livonia, Estonia, and of the islands of Dago and Oesel, which were crossed with eastern horses. Standing from 13 to 15 hands, they have a good outlook, possess great strength and endurance and some of them show great ability in trotting.

In considering this breed it is as well to bear in mind that by the admixture of alien blood from time to time, and influenced also by soil and climate, several variations of the breed have been evolved, each bearing its own name. Nonetheless, all have retained a certain similarity and each one is stamped with the characteristics of the original wild horse.

In consequence, the ability of the Klepper, or of any of its associate breeds, to exist on the most meagre rations, their hardiness and their abnormal strength for size is very pronounced. Their pre-potency in stamping their type on their progeny is perhaps second only to that of the Arab, and, despite their normally grim and rigorous existence, they are noted for having exceptionally long lives.

The characteristic color of many North European breeds is dun, with the eel-stripe through the back to the tail, and the mane and tail black. With these breeds is included the Klepper, and there is little doubt that the breed can to some extent be classed as one of the great families, with many so different in type, that runs through all the northern regions.

Finnish blood introduced to the Kleppers produced the Viatka pony, 13 to 14 hands, and of two types – Obvinka and Kazanka; all are of good conformation and looks, strong, hardy, and fast.

Friesian Horse Breed

This breed, one of the oldest in Europe, is entirely indigenous to the Netherlands, and as it is found today its production is limited in the main to the province of Friesland, where it is claimed that it is bred with increasing success in the so-called meadow districts and in sandy soil areas. Its popularity is said to be largely based on the admirable character of the horse, for it excels in docility, willingness, and cheerful temperament, enabling unskilled laborers to handle the horse without risk. It is, furthermore, an economical feeder and will keep its condition on rations that would mean starvation to some breeds.

A finely chiseled head with small ears is carried on a shapely neck with an exceptionally long mane, which has been known to reach the ground. The back is strong, and ribs deep and well-rounded, though the tail, which carries much hair, is set rather low. The legs also are heavily covered with hair, sometimes right up to the knee joint, and it should be noted that the color is always black, though a small star is occasionally met with. Neither docking nor trimming of the mane or tail is tolerated in the Friesian horse and would bar registration in the Friesian Studbook, which was founded in 1879.

Prior to being entered in the studbook, the stallions and mares have to comply with high standards of conformation and pedigree, purity of breed being of major importance. After a special examination, they are submitted to a strict veterinary inspection.

During the years of the Second World War breeding activities greatly increased, since in this period all sorts of difficulties were put in the way of mechanized traction. The efficient management of the Studbooks and the excellent breeding material available made it possible to create a large horse population of quality even better than before. Because of its impressive color, its tractability, and natural, balanced carriage, the Friesian stallion has become popular as a circus horse, and it is claimed that the demand is ever increasing.

As a nation, the Dutch have always been very attracted to the harness horse in the show ring, and it is a frequent and popular spectacle to see in the ring Friesian horses drawing Friesian gigs, the occupants being, perhaps, a gentleman with his lady, both in the old Friesian costume, while to complete the picture the Friesian National Anthem is played. Height about 15 hands.

Iceland Horse Horse Breed

The ponies of Iceland are not indigenous but immigrants and their history are almost exactly contemporaneous with that of the inhabitants. The original settlers in Iceland were two Norwegian jarls, Ingolf and Leif, who, refusing to submit to Harold Fairhair when he made himself sole king of all Norway in 870, removed themselves to Iceland in 871 and finally settled there in 874. Other settlers followed from Norway, and later in the same century from the Western Isles.

These settlers brought with them their families, household goods, and domestic livestock, including ponies. So there is good evidence that the horse was introduced into Iceland from both east and south-west – Norway and Ireland – and the present animal is a mixture of two early varieties of the Celtic type of a horse which we find so widely distributed over north and west Europe. The ultimate place of origin of the southwestern or Hebridean stock was Ireland, for there was a good deal of traffic between Ireland and the Hebrides and Iceland. Horses figure also in the Icelandic sagas, two famous ones being Starkad’s chestnut stallion and Gunnar’s brown described in the ‘Saga of Burnt Njal’.

The Norse settlers in Iceland, in addition to the ordinary domestic uses of their ponies, indulged in the pastime of horse fighting. They also ate horseflesh on special occasions until their conversion to Christianity at the end of the 10th century.

Iceland ponies are usually graded into riding and pack and (to a lesser extent) draught, although the latter are all ridable if necessary. The riding ponies are broken to an ambling gait. They have been for the thousand or so years of their history the only means of transport in Iceland.

In appearance, they are short and stocky, with large heads and intelligent eyes, very short, thick necks, and heavy mane and forelock, and are from 12 to 13 hands. They are hardy in the extreme and possess a very keen sight. They also have a pronounced homing instinct, and the customary way of returning a pony after a long trek is to turn it loose, and it will usually find its way home within 24 hours. Little ordinary horse training or horse mastership is possible with them, and the usual method of control is by voice. In character, they are docile and friendly, although, like all these small pony breeds, they are sturdily independent by nature.

Attempts to produce a finer, more breedy type of Thoroughbred cross in order to produce a good child’s pony have failed, the best characteristics of both strains being lost. It would seem that the Iceland pony is a mixture rather than a breed and will not breed true outside its own blood.

Mention should be made here of a similar type, the ponies of the Faroe Islands. Very much the same in appearance and character, their prevailing colors are dark brown and chestnut and occasionally black, while the most frequent colors of the Iceland pony are grey and dun.

Up to comparatively recent times, there was a steady trade in England for the Iceland pony, many going to work in the pits, others finding themselves between the shafts working mostly in the towns. From the description given here of these small, sturdy ponies it will be correctly assumed that they gave very great satisfaction, and even today one hears the wish expressed that some Icelanders could be seen as in the old days. It has a close resemblance in outline, conformation, and color to many of the Northern breeds – Scandinavian, Highland, Norwegian, and, to a lesser extent, the Shetland and Connemara. In that group are gathered ponies that possess a toughness rarely found elsewhere, certainly never to be exceeded.

East Bulgarian Horse Breed

Selection work on the breed started on the Kabiuk Farm towards the end of the 19th century, using a stud of Anglo-Arabs, cross-bred English mares brought from private horse breeders in Poland, the second group of cross-bred English mares brought from certain state farms in Bulgaria, and a certain number of native and Arabian mares. During the first 15 or 20 years improvements were made through English Thoroughbred or cross-bred sires (out-breeding), and then through line-breeding over the next three decades or so, until the creation of the East Bulgarian breed.

In 1951 the Military Stud Farm Bozhurishte turned over its stud to the Ministry of Agriculture, which created a foundation stock as the S. Karadja State farm near the town of Balchik in the Dobrudja plain (near the Black Sea coast). The Bozhurishte horse has been bred in close genetic link with the English crossbred of the V. Kolarov State Farm and with the East Bulgarian strain. At present, the Kolarov and Karadja foundation stock are almost identical in type.

The East Bulgarian horses of the stud farms and stallion stations are distinguished by their well-developed, compact, and graceful form and good motory mechanism. The average height is 16 hands.

Selection work on the East Bulgarian horse is carried out not only upon outward characteristics and progeny but also following performance tests of the foundation stock, both mares, and stallions.

Swedish Horse Breed

Besides the native pony type, there is in Sweden a general utility type of horse, the result of crosses between the local ‘cold-blooded’ horses of the north and west of Europe and the ‘warm-blooded’ animals from the East, the latter blood not direct but through various European breeds. These in recent times have been mainly Anglo-Norman and Trakehner stallions, which have introduced Thoroughbred strains into the native stock and brought about a considerable improvement in the breed.

The resulting type is a compromise between ride and draught, the army demanding remounts more and more Thoroughbred in character and agriculture requiring heavier and stronger animals for farm work. In general, this type is a ‘warm-blooded’ horse, strong, compact, with short clean legs and a good temperament, useful for both saddle and draught.

In Northern Sweden, there is a special type of draught horse, known as the North Swedish Horse. Earlier attempts to establish the breed had failed, but in 1900 an association was formed with the object of creating the North Swedish Horse. The method was a steady grading-up of the existing local stock by crosses to Gudbrandsdals from Norway and proved successful. In 1944 there were 400 stallions in service to about 15,000 mares a year, producing some 8,000 pure North Swedish horses annually. By then the importation of Gudbrandsdal had practically stopped, but the Oldenburg was being imported in increasing numbers.

The North Swedish Horse is eminently suited to light-draught agricultural work in Northern Sweden.

The most popular heavy-draught horse in Sweden is the Swedish Ardennes, comprising more than 60% of the country’s horse stock. The Ardennes was first introduced from Belgium in 1837 before they had been crossed with the heavier Brabancon. In 1901 a Studbook was opened for the breed, and since 1924 the Breeding Association for the Swedish Ardennes Horse has kept pedigrees and registered all foals.

In 1950 a horse census in Sweden showed the number of horses of all ages to be 439,760. Of these, about 16,000 were ‘warm-blooded horses, 138,000 ‘cold-blooded light-draught and 286,000 ‘cold-blooded heavy-draught.

Polish Thoroughbred Horse Breed

By the term, ‘Polish Thoroughbreds’ is meant horses of pure English Thoroughbred stock as bred and developed in Poland. The first English Thoroughbred was introduced into Poland early in the 19th century by four men in particular: Count A. Zamozski, E. Eberhard, F. Ursyn Niemcewicz, and, rather later than the first three but no less prominent, Count Krasinski.

The Polish Horse Racing Association, analogous to the Jockey Club of England, was formed in 1841; but breeding racehorses was an expensive hobby, and did not extend beyond the efforts of a few rich families until 18772 when economic conditions improved generally. The introduction of the totalisator to race meetings in 1879 contributed materially to the improved financial conditions and so to the wider development of Polish Thoroughbred breeding.

The most important studs during this period were: L. Grabouski’s stud, founded in 1846 at Leczna and later transferred to Serniki; Jan Ursyn Niemcewicz’s at Stoki in 1850; Count L. Krasinski’s, at Krasne in 1857; Count August Potocki’s, at Jablonna in 1866; W.W. Mysyrowicz’s at Los in 1867; Baron L. Kronenburg’s at Brzez; Jan and Edward Reszka, at Borowno and Skrzydow in 1833; H. Block’s, at Leczna in 1893; Prince Lubomirski’s, at Kruszyna in 1895; and Michal Berson’s, in Leszno in 1897.

All these studs were of a very high standard, thanks mainly to the good broodmares imported from England, France, Germany, and Austria. One of the best-known stallions in those days was ‘Flying Fox’, imported from England by E. Blanc, who paid 37,000 guineas for him. He stood at Jardy at a fee of 10,000 francs.
Thoroughbreds bred in Poland ran with success all over Europe, notably in Russia at Moscow, Petrograd, and Tsarskoe Selo, as well as Baden-Baden, Vienna, and Hamburg.

In the 1890’s the number of big private stables declined, and were replaced by big training stables on English lines, which has in training large numbers of individually owned and bred horses. After 1903 with the death of the great amateur promoters of Thoroughbred breeding, such as Ludwik Grabowski and Count Krasinski, the breeding of racehorses in Poland declined.

There was, however, a considerable revival after the First World War, through the efforts of Frederik Juriewicz, who was responsible for saving over 200 Thoroughbreds evacuated to Odessa at the beginning of that war. One of these horses won the Derby at Odessa in 1918. In 1919 they were returned safely to Poland via Romania.

A general description of the Polish Thoroughbred must necessarily be for practical purposes identical with the English Thoroughbred. To what extent the racehorse of Poland will again affect racing in Europe is entirely problematical.

As is generally known, the racing Thoroughbred of France not only survived quite successfully the Second World War, but after the lapse of but a very few years from its cessation, was once again competing with the English racehorse with very considerable success, not only in France but in England itself. What has been said in general commendation of the Polish-Arab and Polish Half-bred certainly applies to their Thoroughbred.

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