What Are Principal Horse Breeds in Britain? (Most Common British Horses)

There are 7 most common horse breeds in Britain. They are: Clydesdale, Cleveland Bay, Hackney Horse, Shire, Thoroughbred, Suffolk and Anglo-Arab. As a bonus, we will also write about the Irish Draught Horse breed , at the very end of this article.

Table of Contents (Horspedia)

The Clydesdale Horse | One of the Most Common British Horse Breeds (Quick Facts and Specs)

The Clydesdale is a heavy horse that originated in the Clyde Valley in Lanarkshire, Scotland. This horse breed cam as a result of crossing local mares with heavier Flemish stallions first imported at the beginning of the eighteenth century.

Clydesdale Horse

The considerable demand for a strong draught horse suitable for farm work and for transporting coal from the Scottish mines meant that the breed quickly flourished, and great emphasis has always been given to breeding individuals with sound legs and good feet.

The Clydesdale horse is smaller than the Shire horse and, for such a large animal, has active paces. The various coat colours usually include a good deal of white on the face and on the legs the latter carrying profuse feathering and sometimes also on the body.

Clydesdale Horse (Size Colours Characteristic and Uses)

  • size: 16.2 h.h. (165 cm)
  • main colours: usually bay or brown, although grey and black also occur
  • characteristic: active paces
  • uses: heavy draught work

Cleveland Bay Horse | Another Common British Horse Breed (Quick Facts)

The oldest and purest of the indigenous British horse breeds, the Cleveland Bay was used in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as a pack animal.

Cleveland Bay Horse Breed

It originated in Cleveland where it evolved from the bay coloured Chapman horse of Cleveland – and has remained relatively free from external influences, although some Thoroughbred blood was introduced into the breed around the end. of the eighteenth century.

The Cleveland Bay is a handsome horse with a large convex head, good shoulders, a deep girth and a strong, fairly long back.

The hindquarters are powerful, and the legs are short with good bones and feet. Notable characteristics of the breed include its intelligence, strength and stamina.

Due to the shortage of pure-bred mares, it is currently classified as critical by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust.

Cleveland Bay Horse (Size Colours Characteristic and Uses)

  • size: 16-16.2 h.h. (160-165 cm)
  • main colours: bay
  • characteristic: longevity
  • uses: driving & light draught work
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Hackney Horse | Common Horse in Britain (Quick Facts)

The Hackney Horse is a descendant of the now tinct Norfolk Roadster, a rend trotting horse developed in the eighteenth century.

The best Roadsters were descendants of a horse called Shales, who was a son of the Thoroughbred, Blaze, by Flying Childers, and can thus be traced back to The Darley Arabian.

The Hackney, therefore, has both Thoroughbred and Arab blood in its veins.

In the nineteenth century, the Hackney horse breed was in demand as a good-quality military and carriage horse, but today is chiefly seen being driven in the show ring – an activity for which its extravagant, elevated trot and spirited disposition are ideally suited.

Hackney Horse Breed

The neat head carried high on an arched neck, and the high-set tail, add to the overall impression of vigour and alertness.

Hackney Horse (Size Colours Characteristic and Uses)

  • size: 15 h.h. (150 cm)
  • main colours: bay, brown, black & chestnut
  • characteristic: high, floating action
  • uses: driving

Shire Horse | A One Tonne British Great Horse of Medieval Times (Quick Facts)

One of the largest horses in the world, the Shire is a descendant of the Old English Black horse, whose forebear was the ‘Great Horse’ of Medieval times.

An immensely strong, big-barrelled horse, with long legs. carrying much feathering, the Shire has a fine head in comparison to its overall size.

Shire Horse | British Great Horse of Medieval Times

Despite this great size, and its strength – an average Shire weighs 1 tonne and is capable of moving a 5-tonne load – members of the breed are gentle in temperament and are easily managed.

With the ever-increasing mechanization that occurred during the twentieth century the breed could have died out, but the Shire remains remarkably popular.

However, it is now much more likely to be seen in the show ring than working in the fields.

Shire Horse (Size Colours Characteristic and Uses)

  • size: 18 h.h. (180 cm)
  • main colours: bay, brown, black & grey
  • characteristic: strength
  • uses: showing & heavy draught work

Suffolk Heavy Draught Horse (British Top 7 Horse Breed) | Quick Facts

The Suffolk is a heavy draught horse that originated in East Anglia at the beginning of the sixteenth century.

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This is the purest of the British heavy breeds, and every Suffolk in existence today may be traced back to one individual, Thomas Crisp’s Horse of Ufford (Orford), foaled in 1768.

Suffolk Heavy Draught Horse

The modern Suffolk is a compact horse with a large body set on short, clean legs. Despite weighing approximately one tonne it is an active animal and is still used on the land as well as appearing in the show ring.

Although members of this breed are without exception chestnut in colour, this may be one of seven shades ranging from almost brown to a pale ‘mealy’ colour.

The Suffolk is noted in particular for its long life, for its ability to thrive on meagre rations, and for its exceptionally gentle nature.

Suffolk Horse Breed (Size Colours Characteristic and Uses)

  • size: 16-16.2 h.h. (160-165 cm)
  • characteristic: longevity
  • main colours: chestnut
  • uses: heavy draught work & showing

Thoroughbred British Horse Breed (Quick Facts and Specifications)

Arguably one of the most beautiful horses in the world, the Thoroughbred is also the fastest and the most valuable, supporting a multi-national breeding and racing industry.

The breed evolved in England in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when native ‘running horses’ (horses used in early racing contests) were crossed with oriental stallions.

Thoroughbred British Horse Breed

The foundation sires were The Byerley Turk (imported in 1689), The Darley Arabian (1705), and The Godolphin Arabian (1728).

These three horses produced the four principal Thoroughbred lines: Herod, Eclipse, Matchem and Highflyer (Herod’s son).

The Thoroughbred excels in all branches of equestrian sport in which speed, courage and stamina are prerequisites.

It has a fine head set on an elegant neck, good sloping shoulders, a deep girth to allow for maximum lung expansion, powerful hindquarters, fine limbs with large, flat joints and strong legs with plenty of bone.

The Thoroughbred Horse Breed (Size Colours Characteristic and Uses)

  • size: up to 16.1 h.h. (162 cm)
  • main colours: all solid colours
  • characteristic: speed and stamina
  • uses: riding (especially racing)

Anglo-Arab British Horse Breed (Quick Facts and Specs)

A cross between a Thoroughbred and an Arab, Anglo-Arab originated in Britain, although it is now bred on a much larger scale in France.

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In the former, the requirement for stud-book entry is a minimum of 12.5 per cent Arab blood, while in the latter the requirement is at least 25 per cent.

Anglo-Arab British Horse Breed

The modern Anglo-Arab is a tough, hard, athletic and versatile horse. The outline tends towards the Thoroughbred, with a straight head profile, well-sloped shoulders and prominent withers.

However, the frame is more solid than that of the Thoroughbred, and the croup is longer. Although the Anglo Arab is not as fast as the Thoroughbred, it has the greater jumping ability and is also well suited to dressage.

Anglo-Arab Horse Breed (Size Colours Characteristic and Uses)

  • size: 16-16.3 h.h. (160-167 cm)
  • main colours: all solid colours
  • characteristic: toughness & versatility
  • uses: riding

BONUS | Most Popular Horse in Ireland – The Irish Draught

The origins of this Irish light draught horse are uncertain, but the first Irish Draught Stud Book was opened in 1917.

The breed suffered serious losses during World War I, with many of the best mares requisitioned by the British Army.

The Irish Draught Horse

More recently, the export of Irish Draught horses to the European continent caused further depletion in numbers, until legislation to curb this trade was passed in the mid-1960s.

The Irish Draught horse is an excellent farm worker, but its chief value lies in producing top-class hunters and showjumpers when mares are put to Thoroughbred stallions.

The best examples of this breed have excellent shoulders and good, sound legs; there is only a little feathering on the fetlocks.

The action is free and straight, and most Irish Draught horses are naturally capable jumpers. They make excellent sports horses and hunters.

The Irish Draught Horse Breed (Size Colours Characteristic and Uses)

  • size: 15-17 h.h. (150-170 cm)
  • main colours: grey, bay, brown & chestnut
  • characteristic: free action
  • uses: harness work