Before automobiles revolutionized the transportation industry, the way families got to town so they could run their errands was by horse and carriage. You needed to have a strong, dependable horse to pull your carriage, but that horse would often be called upon for other duties as well. This led to the need of a warm-blooded horse that had some of the temperament qualities of a cold-blooded horse.
That was why these carriage horse breeds were developed. Although many of these breeds declined in popularity because of mechanization, both on the farm and on the roads, their dependability is helping them to make a comeback.
Here are some of the most popular carriage horse breeds that are still used today in some regions or population groups for their original purpose.
#1. Cleveland Bay
Coming from Northern Yorkshire, the Cleveland Bay is believed to be the oldest indigenous English horse. It is a horse that can stand up to 17 hands and weigh up to 1,500 points. It has excellent feet and flat cannon bones, giving it a very clean-legged appearance. Cleveland Bay horses were often prized as a carriage horse because their strong shoulders and powerful quarters could cover ground quickly while pulling plenty of weight.
This breed is also known for being extremely intelligent when working as a carriage horse. They can recognize poor roads, avoid difficult situations, and can double as a good plow horse as well.
This warm-blooded breed often served as a military horse and often doubled as a carriage horse when the need for transport arrived. Created as a breed in the early 18th century, George II is credited with started Hanoverians by crossing local mares with Thoroughbreds. This helped the local population have horses that were stronger and more inclined to work.
Hanoverians have adapted to mechanization by focusing more on athletics in the modern equine age. You’ll find them at horse shows and competitive events at a world-class level.
This is another German carriage horse breed, but one that is older than most others. It has a history which can be traced back to the 14th century. Originally developed to be a weight-bearing horse for the purposes of war, this strength and reliability helped to create a steady temperament within the breed that allowed it to work as an excellent carriage horse.
Holsteiners are heavily muscled and draw great power from their movement and flexibility. Standing at 17 hands when fully grown, there was a period in the 19th century when this breed was considered one of the best carriage horses anyone could own. Today, you’ll find Holsteiners in some competitive events, though they are more often used for recreational riding purposes.
This breed of horse is believed to be historically ancient. Friesians are believed to be direct descendants of the original horses that are depicted on cave drawings and paintings. This specific breed comes out of the Friesland region of The Netherlands and have served multiple duties over the generations. They have been a dependable carriage horse, a war horse, a work horse, and even a sporting horse.
Efforts to refine this breed for carriage work began in the 16th century. By bringing in Andalusian and Arabian bloodlines, breeders were able to create higher knee actions and a craning neck to support more carriage awareness.
This breed is also free of the hot-blooded tendencies of Thoroughbred blood, which has been kept out of the genetic profile for the last 200 years. It is a solid, dependable, and strong horse that is often up for a good challenge.
Many carriage horses were bred to be heavy because of the huge pulling needs that modern transportation required in the 17th-19th centuries. About halfway through that period, King Friedrich Wilhelm I noted that heavy carriage horses just didn’t have the endurance required for long-distance travel. Even when used as a war horse, carriage horses were struggling to keep up with modern techniques.
This led to the development of a lighter carriage horse, which would be the trademark look through the 19th century. The horses needed to be able to cover plenty of ground and stay comfortable, but still be strong and proud. More than a dozen farmsteads were created, allowing the breed to thrive and grow.
Oldenburgs are the heaviest of the German warm-blooded carriage horse breeds. It still has the physical characteristics that a good carriage horse needs today: flat hooves, a heavy neck, and a larger and heavy head. The overall size of the horse means it has less overall endurance compared to some of the other carriage horse breeds, but it also means it can pull more weight over those shorter distances.
This breed has a very liberal registration policy. Cross-breeding is often encouraged, with registration possible under many different circumstances. One of the more popular ways to take advantage of Oldenburg genetics is to cross with a Thoroughbred. This result creates a horse that works hard, has a fierce independence, but a strong loyalty to their owner or handler.
This horse is popular today for recreational and competitive driving. The challenge that owners face with this carriage horse breed is that competitive commands tend to be different from recreational commands. Standardbreds tend to be a routine-based horse, so it can be difficult to re-train horses that are used to be competitive to become a recreational horse.
Although Standardbreds have a similar profile to the Thoroughbred, they do tend to be longer in the body and have better muscle volumes. Their personality is surprisingly laid-back and they love people, which makes them well-suited to being a carriage horse. This breed is often regarded as being the fastest trotting horse in the world.
This breed has the epitome of the carriage horse look when you see its profile. There is a certain elegance to the head carriage. When combined with its high-stepping action, long distances can be covered with its combination of strength and stamina. Originally developed in the 14th century, this breed has transformed from a general riding horse to a war horse. Then it moved from a war horse to a carriage horse.
Numerous breed influences have helped to refine the look of the Hackney over the years, including Standardbred bloodlines. This has further helped to develop the temperament and traits that are wanted in a good carriage horse.
#9. Morgan Horse
Morgans are one of the earliest carriage horse breeds that was developed in the United States. The foundation sire, named Figure, would eventually have his name changed to be the same as his best-known owner. The carriage tendencies that came with this breed made it a popular horse for multiple needs, making it one of the few horses that the US Government would help to develop. Up through the Civil War, Morgans were the cavalry horse of choice.
Beginning in the early 20th century, Morgans would be exported to help influence other carriage breeds, including the Hackney. It is a breed that is compact, friendly, and extremely versatile. They train easily, despite having a bit of stubbornness, and form close partnerships with their owners and handlers.
#10. French Trotter
Coming out of Normandy, the French Trotter is a mix of Thoroughbred and Norfolk Trotter genetics. These horses were selectively bred because of their unique ability to trot at high speeds, making them a coveted addition for those who competed in sulky races. Early in the breed development, these horses were quite heavy and muscular. These traits have been reduced over the last few generations, but can still be seen from time to time.
The stamina, jumping ability, and overall showmanship of this breed has made it highly desirable for modern competitions as well. Only a select few horses have the required profile to compete, however, so this breed is one of the few carriage horses that sees high productivity levels as owners attempt to breed competitors. This makes it very easy for the average person to own a French Trotter today.
This Hungarian breed generally has a darker coat, is heavy-boned, and trots at a pace that is perfect for carriage driving. Most of the current population can be found in Easter Europe. It is characterized by having a broad chest, large hooves and joints, with dry legs. Nonius horses are one of the heaviest driving breeds, with some individuals comparable in size to heavy draft horses.
The breed itself is quite rare and is under preservationist status. It is a slower breed than most, so it isn’t suited to modern dressage or jumping competition. Smaller Nonius horses tend to have higher levels of Arabian genetics, which makes them well-suited for recreational riding purposes.
These carriage horse breeds helped to create our modern society. Although we no longer have the need to rely upon a horse for transportation power, these breeds are using their versatility and talent to adapt to the modern world. Only time will tell what can happen with these breeds in the future.