16 British Horse Breeds

When you look at the British horse breeds, you’ll notice that they tend to go to the extremes. You’ll either have ponies that are small and often used for recreational riding, or you’ll have some of the largest draft horses in the world. Numerous breeds have originated from this region over the centuries. Some may have become extinct over time, but all still have an influence on the modern equestrian world.

Here is a look at the top breeds which are known to come from Britannia. 

#1. British Spotted Pony

What makes this breed so unique is its spotted coat, which is almost like that of a leopard. Height for this breed can vary greatly, ranging from 8 hands to over 14 hands. A larger variant of the breed also exists, but is considered to be part of the Appaloosa breed today. It is a fairly rare breed as well, with only 800 horses currently registered.

Part of the reason for the rarity of the breed is that other types of spotting, even for pure bred horses, is not allowed by the registry. The hooves must also be striped.

#2. Cleveland Bay

Developed during the 17th century, this breed originated in Yorkshire and is a horse that is well-muscled, but somewhat short in relation to the size of its body. It is the oldest established breed in Britain and was initially developed to be used as a pack horse. Bloodlines from Barbs, Andalusians, Arabians, and Thoroughbreds have helped to firm up the breed over the years. It is quite rare today, however, with about 500 horses known to exist globally.

#3. Dales Pony

This is one of the native pony breeds from Britain. It is known for its strength and stamina. Originally a working pony when domesticated, the semi-feral background of this horse has led it to have an enormous amount of courage and stamina. The British used this breed extensively during the two world wars. Most of the horses have a black coat, but several other colors are allowed. White markings are generally discouraged. 

#4. Dartmoor Pony

This is one of the hardiest breeds of horses in the world today. They are a semi-feral breed that has been used as a working animal for quarries in the past, but today they tend to be left alone to graze along the moors. They have a smaller heat, with wide-set eyes, but ears that are constantly alert. About 800 ponies are known to be out along the moors right now, though evidence of this horse dates as far back as 3500 BC.

#5. Exmoor Pony

Native to Britain, this is another semi-feral breed that lives in Somerset and Devon. What makes them unique is the fact that they seem to be related more closely to horses that were found in Ancient Alaska instead of the Dartmoor Ponies that are their close neighbors. Exmoor Ponies have a distinct jaw structure, which offers the development of a 7th molar. No other living horse breed has this feature.

#6. Fell Pony

This is a versatile working breed that comes from the mountains of Britain. Originally bred on the fell farms of the northwest, today it is used more as a driving or riding breed. Thanks to the local conditions of the region, this breed is known for its hardiness and sure-footedness. They can adapt to virtually any climate and has a self-preservation instinct that is quite strong. In many ways, they look like a smaller version of a Friesian horse. 

#7. Hackney

The breeding of the Hackney was directed toward carriage driving. It is a breed that is known for its high-stepping gate and strength in the harness. Originally developed in the 14th century, there is a pony-version of the Hackney breed as well. This is one of the few breeds that allows white markings thanks to the influence of sabiano genetics that were used to help strengthen the breed in the past.

#8. Lundy Pony

This breed was initially developed on Lundy Island. It originated in 1928 when the owner of the island introduced about three dozen New Forest Pony mares to a Welsh Mountain stallion. This created a breed with added height. The isolation on the island helped the herd develop naturally on its own, though warring amongst the stallions led to the need to implement herd control methods. This breed is extremely rugged and adaptable, but also good-natured, and often used as a mount for children.

#9. New Forest Pony

This is one of the most recognized British horse breeds in the world. Their bay, chestnut, or grey coat is complimented by a lighter mane and tail, giving an appearance that is somewhat like a palomino coloration. There are maximum height standards as part of the conformation, so larger horses are excluded from the registry. As a breed, these horses are known for their gentleness and intelligence. They are also quite hardy and sturdy, with a versatility built into them tanks to the rugged conditions of the New Forest region. 

#10. Norfolk Trotter

Many of the trotting horses of the Middle Ages were just not strong enough to handle the climate of Britannia. This led to the crossing of draft horses with trotters, creating distinct breeds that were tall and strong, but more suited to driving rather than agricultural work. This breed was an all-around travel horse that could carry a heavy cart at speeds approaching 20 miles per hour. Standardbreds and Hackneys continue to carry the lineage of this breed. 

#11. Old English Black

This extinct horse breed was quite similar to Clydesdales and other large draft horses. Evidence suggests this breed was initially started around 1100 AD by crossing native British mares with the large draft horses of Central Europe. The bloodlines of this breed have heavily influenced both Shires and Clydesdales, so many of the features continue to live on although the breed itself is no longer distinct. 

#12. Shire

This striking draft horse is usually black, grey, or bay and has white feathers. It is one of the strongest horse breeds in the world, with teams able to pull multiple tonnage over distance. This breed has often been popular for delivery work, especially ale, but they are also used quite often for forestry work. It has been used in Britain since as early as 1145 AD as a breed.

The breed itself was in some trouble about a century ago with a genetic roadblock in place, so other draft breeds were brought in to strengthen it. The addition of longer feathers came about through this process, creating a taller and heavier horse at the same time. 

#13. Suffolk Punch

This heavy horse gets the “Punch” in its name thanks to its strength and solid appearance. They are energetic horses as a breed, good doers, and have remain consistent in conformation since being founded in the 16th century. Like many heavy draft horses, they fell out of favor around World War II as the agricultural world became mechanized, but conservancy efforts that were initiated early helped to save this breed.

It has served as an artillery horse and continues to work in the field of forestry when access is limited. This breed is always chestnut in color, which some white in the feathers and on the forehead.

#14. Thoroughbred

This is the classic sporting horse that has come from Britain. Except for the Arabian, it is the only horse breed to be classified as a true hot-blooded breed. It is strong, fast, and quite willing when it comes to racing, though there are some concerns about the circulatory system and leg frailty within the breed. Thoroughbreds have often been used to shore up other breeds, with many warm-blooded breeds having at least one Thoroughbred in its lineage or foundation. 

#15. Welara

This breed of horse was developed in the early 1900s by Lady Wentworth. It is the combination of a Welsh Pony and an Arabian. To be registered, a Welara horse must stand at 11.2 hands at minimum, but must not be more than 15 hands. There are four different sections of Welsh Pony and crossing an Arabian with each section tends to produce a slightly different type of Welara.

These horses are typically good-natured and friendly, often being used as riding ponies for children or smaller adults. Some have feathered feet, but all have the look and refinement that comes from the Arabian bloodlines. 

#16. Yorkshire Coach Horse

This horse breed is now extinct, but it was a long-legged coach horse that offered great strength. It was often in-demand by those with a high socioeconomic status. Developed by combining Cleveland Bay horses with Thoroughbreds, it is theoretically possible to revive this breed if so desired.

These British horse breeds have helped to shape the modern equine world in numerous ways. Although some of the breeds have become extinct, others have gone on to thrive and become some of the most popular horses in the world today. Whether they are small, tall, heavy, or light, these horse breeds all have one trait in common: they have a ruggedness that comes from the unique climate and conditions that Britain offers.