Horses have had a long history in China. One of the world’s oldest civilizations has kept documentation of horses being used as early at 1600 BC. Chinese horse breeds were generally used for sporting purposes and this tradition lasted for centuries. It wouldn’t be until the 4th century BC that horseback riding would become part of Chinese culture.
Many of the modern horse breeds tend to come out of Europe, but China has been very influential in the development of the equine world as well. Several horse breeds have been maintained over the centuries, creating distinctive looks and temperaments.
Here are some of the top Chinese horse breeds to consider.
#1. Lijiang Pony
This breed is one of the newest to come out of China. It is currently restricted to the Lijiang District. It is a region that has a varied climate and several areas of high altitude. The Lijiang Pony was developed because, in the days after World War II, a stronger horse than the one native to the region was required for transportation purposes. The local economy was going to crash without a new horse breed being developed.
Several different breeds were introduced to the local pony breed, including Arabian, Ardennes, and other Chinese horse breeds. This crossbreeding program created a pony breed of horse that is about 12 hands and incredibly strong. There is a current population of about 4,000.
#2. Baise Horse
Sometimes called the Guangxi, this is a pony-sized horse breed that comes from Southeastern China. It prefers to live at higher altitudes and loves to roam open spaces. Adult horses are typically around 11 hands, but the breed has a straight profile and a heavy head. Strong hooves and legs help it handle the sometimes rough terrain of the Guangxi region.
This breed of horse is often included in traditional wedding celebrations in the region. It’s a breed that is willing and able, but also strong and quick. It’s used for recreational riding and as a pack horse today.
#3. Riwoche Horse
This breed came to the attention of the world in 1995. It has a look that seems primitive. Along with its small size, some initially believed the Riwoche horse could be an evolutionary link between the ancient wild horses and the modern domestic horse. That turned out to be an incorrect assumption.
Their unique look is because of narrow nostrils that are reminiscent of a duck’s bill. It has a bristly mane, a beige coat, and many features that look like ancient art that depicts horses.
#4. Tibetan Pony
Found throughout Tibet, this breed is believed to have developed from Mongolian breeds in the past. Oral traditions say that the Tibetan Pony descended from ancient stock, but there is also evidence that shows breeds in the area have been pure-bred for more than 1,000 years. Despite their smaller size, these horses are incredibly strong. It is another pony horse breed that can be used extensively as a draft horse. They are also used for riding and pack work.
Strength isn’t this breed’s only coveted trait. The mountainous region has helped the Tibetan pony to have a remarkable sure-footedness. These horses are also quite resilient and ready to work every day. They have strong legs, solid joints, and are fast enough that they are sometimes used for racing and other forms of competition.
#5. Balikun Horse
This light horse breed is also used for recreational riding and pack work, but its size also helps it to be used for some draft work as well. It stands at 14 hands on average, with a thick, short neck and a well-muscled frame. The tail is low-set on this breed, but the back is flat and strong. It’s most notable physical trait, however, is its extremely thick coat. Balikun horses are known to live on steppe pastures at temperatures which reach as low as -40F.
Its natural habit is frequently harsh, which has helped the breed develop a superior level of sure-footedness. Balikun horses are often used for transportation purposes because of their ability to carry a heavy pack for dozens of miles every day.
#6. Guizhou Pony
This small pony was developed in a mountainous region of China, with a history of agricultural work that dates to around 800 BC. Trade in the area focused on salt and horses, which made the Guizhou Pony a highly-sought commodity. Although some other horse breeds have been brought into the region to improve the Guizhou Pony, those attempts have been relatively unsuccessful. It is a breed that is still bred in it pure form and is a native breed.
The horses have a straight profile, a solid build, and a compact stature. Their ears are small and sit up naturally. Two types exist: a riding type and a pack type. Riding Guizhou Ponies have a sloped neck and a chest that has some added depth and width. Their temperament is like that of cold-blooded horses.
#7. Heihe Horse
This breed of horse comes from the border region between China and Russia. It is a land of changing terrain, with tundra and forest biomes both readily available. The average temperature can be quite cold in winter, but quite warm in summer. This makes the region a good agricultural area and has led to the development of the Heihe horse as one of China’s most versatile breeds.
The horse is believed to be descendant from the horses that migrants brought to the area during a 19th century lumber and gold rush that occurred in the region. In 1930, Orlov Trotter bloodlines were added to the Heihe to firm up its conformation. It’s an obedient horse, which is medium in size, and ears that are noticeably long. The hock isn’t usually straight, but it does have short cannons and long forearms.
It has also adapted to the extreme climates that are available in its local region. These horses prefer the cold, often staying outside in temperatures lower than -30F without any health issues.
#8. Xilingol Horse
This horse breed is found in the central regions of Inner Mongolia. It is a light horse breed that is often used for drafting and riding. It is also relatively new as a breed, having been developed in the 1960s. It stands at 15 hands and comes in all solid colors.
#9. Yili Horse
This rural horse breed comes out of Northwestern Xinjiang and is more of a livestock breed for the local population. Outside of riding and milk, these horses are also bred for food purposes. The breed is believed to have originated around 1900 through the crossing of Russian horses with local Mongolian breeds. It has withers that are very pronounced with a back that is strong, but short.
In the early days of the breed, the goal was to create more of a trotting horse. With the need for food locally, however, and an added need for equine work, the breed’s focus since the 1960’s has been to create a refined draft-type horse.
#10. Ferghana Horse
This horse breed was one of the earliest imports in the region. Often featured during the Tang Dynasty, the Ferghana Horse is often the breed that is thought of when people think of Chinese horse breeds. Its profile is widely depicted in Chinese art. Emperor Wu of Han China sent tens of thousands of warriors out to the Ferghana region simply to bring back horses. With his first army defeated, he sent a second to negotiate specifically for the horses, which eventually brought 3,000 of them back to stablish this breed.
The Ferghana horse is an ancient breed that does not exist today. One notable feature about the horse was that they were said to sweat blood. It is believed that this was caused by a small worm that would create skin sores that would seep blood without changing the temperament or energy of the horse.
This breed of horse comes from the prefecture of Baise in Southern China. The name translates to “under fruit tree horse.” It is not currently reported as an official breed, partially because it was thought to be extinct. It was rediscovered in 1981 and has had a breed association established since then to aid in its preservation.
Guoxia horses are gentle, very hardy, and well-rounded. They work well for a child’s mount, but are too small for riding purposes otherwise.
#12. Nangchen Horse
Although this horse has been bred pure since the 9th century, it only came to the attention of the equine world in 1994. These horses are fast and powerful, with traits that are like the hot-blooded breeds. Their ancestry, however, is believed to be free of common source influences like the other Chinese breeds.
Chinese horse breeds have been pure-bred for centuries. They are uniquely equipped for their local environment and have been an integral part of the local economy. Many are some of the hardiest breeds in the world today. That is why they are such an attractive option for so many, especially since so many new breeds have appeared on the global stage in the last 30 years.