Modern Horse Development: Comprehensive Origin Story!

Would it surprise you that none of the ancient types of horses were “horses” by today’s definition? Modern horse development comes with quite a few items which define a horse, the most important one being their height rather than their type.

What is actually considered a horse and what is a modern definition of a horse animal? 

A horse is an animal standing more than 14.2 hands high (58in) at the withers, the highest point of the back. Anything less than this height is a pony. Hands are so-called because the height was measured initially in clenched fists placed one on top of the other, and the average measure of a man’s fist is four inches.

Continue reading till the end to find out more about the development of the horse!

How Did The Modern Horse Development Progress?

The increased stature of the horse, along with many other refinements, seems to have started with the primitive man.

The Steppe Horse Type Physique and Appearance
The Steppe Horse Type Physique and Appearance

As once he had the knowledge and the facilities to keep alive the wild horses he caught, must soon have become trapped in the greatest of all horse problems man has ever given himself to cope with: “How to improve what he had for his own specific purposes?”

How did Ponies Evolve?

The primitive pony types must have had a hard time in their first relations with a man. 

In modern horse development history, initially, the ponies who were caught would have been: the sick and the lame, the very young and the very stupid. These were no doubt hobbled or tethered in the most primitive fashion and fed on inadequate fodder, resulting in starvation and deformity of the breed. 

Horses depend on a variety of diets that is inadequately met by even the most superb grass. Beyond doubt, only unlimited range, not the richness of pasture, kept the wild herds alive.

Taking what he had or had heard of, man inbred or outcrossed for speed, for strength, for endurance, for size, for the sweetness of nature, for hardiness, for beauty, for athletic ability. Thus, there are many “breeds” on record (though some are so alike that they are indistinguishable). 

The Forest Type of an early Horse
The Forest Type of an early Horse

The range of size and ability is enormous. Stretching from the huge Shire, the biggest horse in the world, which is often so tall that a man cannot see over its back, to the tiny Shetland pony, the smallest recorded specimen of which was only 6.2hh (26in), and the dog-sized Falabella, one of the world’s most popular pony breeds

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How did Shire Horses Evolve?

The Shire, traditionally evolved from the medieval Great Horse of Britain who started the modern horse development.

They carried armored knights into battle, and have become the perfect draught-horse, combining a docile nature with stamina and excellent strength. Comparatively, it is not as strong as the Shetland, which, for its size, is considered the strongest of all breeds. 

Shetland Horses and their Strength

The Shetland can pull twice its weight, making it twice as strong as most of the heavy breeds, and a 9hh Shetland is recorded (1820) as having carried a 170-lb man 40 miles in one day. The Shetland’s strength has astounded many visitors to its native habitat. 

Other selected qualities have produced other astonishing breeds of Equus. For example, the hardy, desert-bred Arabian, which is beyond compare for endurance. 

During the Crimean War, a bay stallion named Omar Pasha carried a dispatch rider the 93 miles from Silistra to Varna at high speed to bring news of the Russian repulse.

The War Horse of the Middle Ages with a knight on its back
The War Horse of the Middle Ages


The rider delivered his message and fell dead of exhaustion, but his Arab mount seemed as fresh as ever.

The Creation of the Thoroughbred Horse Breed

The speed with which selective breeding for a particular quality can be brought into effect can be seen from comparing the English Thoroughbred with its ancestor, the Arabian. 

The Thoroughbred, bred solely for speed, had its inception in James I’s attempts to keep his hot-headed Scottish nobles out of trouble by introducing racing at his hunting lodge in the little village of Newmarket. 

James imported Oriental stock and bred it onto the fastest of the local mares.

However, it was not until the end of the 17th and the beginning of the 18th century that the three great foundation stallions from which all Thoroughbreds are descended were put to work in earnest to start the Thoroughbred racehorse. 

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When did Thoroughbred Horse Breeds First Appear?

All three stallions were Arabians. In 1793, Thoroughbreds were for the first time recorded as a breed in the General Stud Book, which starts with a list of 100 Oriental stallions and 43 part-bred Oriental mares. 

In its issue of 4 April 1842, the magazine Hippologische Blaetter recorded a trial between Arabs and Thoroughbreds that took place only a quarter of a century after the founding of the G.S.B.

Thus, horses bred for speed from stock bred for endurance failed in a very short span of years to have any comparison in what was strictly an endurance test by today’s standards. 

Today, breeding for speed has so far outdistanced breeding for stamina in the Thoroughbred that it is unthinkable that he should be asked to race for one hour, let alone for three. 

On the other hand, his Arab forebears would have no chance with him on the racecourse: the fastest British time recorded at Epsom, a high-speed track for the shorter races, is that of Indigenous, who in 1960 went 5 furlongs carrying 131 lb in 53.6 seconds, an average of just over 42mph – and no Arab could live with that.

Horses have been bred, of course, for reasons other than strength or speed. 

What Is a Capriole Maneouvre?

Capriole is the most significant refinement of the horse, which embodies to the full it is intelligent ability to respond to the wishes of a man, is shown in the amazing manoeuver of the trained Lipizzaner stallion that is called the capriole. 

In the capriole, the horse leaps vertically from a standing start to the height of a man, kicks out with its hind legs, and descends with its feet more or less on the same spot where it started. 

Capriole maneouvre is a breathtaking display of cooperation between horse and rider, which is well today purely as a spectacle of horsemanship. But the capriole originated as a battle maneuver to gain clearance for a rider surrounded by enemies, and as such, it must have been a formidable weapon of war.

The Pedigreed Horse Breeds | Where did they come from?

The division of horses into pedigreed breeds is mostly a thing of modern times. 

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During the Middle Ages, you got about indeterminate types such as:

  • Haquenai: The haquenai (the medieval equivalent of the bicycle) if you were very poor,
  • Palfrey: palfrey (sports car) if you were richer and flashier. 

“Breeds” of horses, all descended from the same mixed stock, came to be widespread first for commercial purposes when communications improved to the extent that a whole nation could learn the advantages of possessing a particular type of horse for a specific function. 

And was therefore encouraged to ask for proof of “the real thing,” and secondly – and only very recently – because people were allowed, through the development of motorization, to regard the horse not as a working animal but as a luxury object to having around the place only because they liked him. 

Tracing the pedigree of any given animal back over a century or more, one runs invariably into the equivalent of “by Squire Thorner’s blackout of Farmer Jones’s good mare.

Before this, it is only guesswork, and before guesswork lies the primitive prehistoric types from which all horses trace and from which the modern breeds must descend.

Conclusion about the Modern Horse Development

Therefore, it must be evident that modern horse development and pony breeds development begin and end in the middle. Further, those new horse breeds are evolving, and that established ones may not continue in the foreseeable future. 

In trying to list all, or most, of the breeds of horse and pony, the question continually arises. “When is a breed not a breed?” The answer may be, “When it hasn’t got a Breed Society.”

Today’s horse is almost universally a thing of people’s leisure time. But the function does not matter; the reason for the continued existence of the horse is unimportant. 

What matters to the millions who appreciate this very special kind of animal is that the horse, no matter how indefinite its future shape or purpose, is here and always will be.

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