There are approximately 300 breeds of horses and ponies in the world today, with many at risk of becoming endangered. Here is a look at some rare horse and pony breeds.
The Marwari Horse
Native to India from the Marwar region, the Marwari horse has been used throughout history as a cavalry horse.
Descended from native Indian ponies crossed with Arabians, and possibly some Mongolian influence, they stand between 14 and 17 hands. They come in all colours, with their most distinctive feature being inwardly curving ears, which touch or overlap when pricked, and can swivel 180 degrees.
During the takeover of India by the British Empire in the 19th century, the Marwari horse was considered inferior to the thoroughbred, causing many to be killed and slaughtered. This caused a dramatic drop in numbers combined with India's strict export laws for horses and the fact that a cavalry mount was no longer required.
However, during the early 20th century, steps were taken to preserve the breed, and in 1999 The Ingenious Horse Society of India was formed and a stud book created. A few horses were later exported to various countries and many are now used for riding safaris in India.
The Akhal-Teke Horse
The Akhal-Teke horse has been around for over 2500 years.
The breed developed in the Kara Kum desert, that covers most of Turkmenistan, and can survive on sparse amounts of food and water. Believed to be a descendant of the Arabian horse, they lived closely with nomadic humans, which explains why they are considered a "one-man" horse. Standing between 14.2 and 16 hands, their lean bodies compare to that of a greyhound. They were used as transportation by nomadic horsemen for raids, due to their speed and endurance, and also took part in the losing fight against the Russian Empire.
Many carry a gene for cream dilution, resulting in palomino, but they can be any colour. Their most distinctive feature is a metallic shine to their coat, due to hollow hair fibres that reflect light. Blue coloured eyes are common, and they have a sparse and delicate mane and tail but no forelock.
The first official breeding farms began in Russia during the late 1880s, with thoroughbreds introduced to improve the breed but proved unsuccessful. The Soviet Union then ordered horses to be slaughtered for meat and at one point only 1250 Akhal-Teke horses remained. Today, there are just 6600 Akhal-Teke horses in the world with the majority in Russia and Turkmenistan, along with a few being bred in other countries.
The Przewalski's Horse
The origins of the Przewalski's horse are uncertain, but they are known to have once roamed the steppe along the Mongolia/China border.
The Przewalski's horse remains the only true wild horse in the world today and has 66 chromosomes compared to 64 in a domestic horse, indicating that it may be a completely different species. Standing between 12 and 14 hands, it is stockiliy built with short legs and neck, and the colour ranges from brown to dun with a dark, dorsal stripe, an erect black mane with no forelock, and a white muzzle.
They were extinct in the wild, with the last one seen in 1966, but the breed avoided extinction by the efforts of zoos and breeding programmes worldwide, with many being reintroduced into several sites across Mongolia during 1992. There are now 1500 alive in the world today, with 400 roaming wild.
The Exmoor Pony
Native to the British Isles, the Exmoor pony can be traced back to pre-historic times.
They are extremely hardy and have unique features to help them cope with harsh weather. In winter they grow a double-layered coat and proudce a "snow chute," which is a group of short, coarse hairs at the top of the tail, designed to channel rain and snow away from the body. A thick, upper brow protects their eyes, and their jaw structure is distinctively different to other horses with the development of a seventh molar.
They stand between 11.2 and 12.2 hands and are bay with pale hair around the eyes, muzzle and the underside of the body. Alert, intelligent and kind, they make ideal children's ponies and are good jumpers.
Numbers dropped during the Second World War as they were used as target practice by soldiers and thieves stole them for meat. After the war, a small group of breeders worked to save the breed and today there are now 2700 Exmoor ponies worldwide.
Preserving Rare Horse and Pony Breeds
Unfortunately, advanced technology has played a significant role in making many breeds of horses and ponies redundant, along with the loss of natural habitat. Only by funding breeding programmes can we hope to ensure the survival of these unique and rare breeds.