Endangered Horse Breeds

by Matt

Could your favorite breed of horse go extinct?

When we think of extinction, we typically picture wild animals who are suffering from loss of habitat. But it’s not just exotic or wild creatures that are in danger of disappearing forever. There are horse breeds who are on the brink. You could argue that they’re suffering from loss of habitat, too–lost jobs, barns, and pastures when the Industrial Age replaced horses with machines.

Many of the threatened or endangered horse breeds of the world were once working horses. The Cleveland Bay, the Hackney horse, the Suffolk Punch, and the Shire are all horses who are considered critically endangered by The Livestock Conservancy, a nonprofit organization which works to protect disappearing breeds of farm animals. These are breeds who were carefully bred over centuries to work as carriage or farm horses, their foundation sires and dams selected for strength, stamina, and performance, who were simply left out of work and unneeded after cars and tractors replaced them.

Luckily for many working breeds, they have strong supporters helping them hang on. In the 1960s, the British royal family stepped in to save the Cleveland Bay breed, which at the time had only six purebred stallions. Today, there is a growing interest in the Cleveland Bay both in North America and the United Kingdom. There is a revival of interest in uncommon breeds (and their potential uses) on both sides of the Atlantic, which has been good news for the Cleveland Bay and other unique horses, like the Shire.

Ponies are trying to make a comeback from the brink as well, especially British Native Ponies. With the exception of the Hackney pony, who is far more popular than its endangered horse cousin, several pony breeds are on the critical and threatened lists, including the Caspian, Newfoundland, Dales, Dartmoor, and Exmoor ponies. Enthusiasts have stepped up–the Fell Pony was resurrected from a low of four registered fillies in 1955. Hardy and tough, ponies prove their mettle in everything from driving to showing to endurance, making these endangered breeds worth fighting for.

Perhaps the most surprising horse breed on the threatened list is the Lipizzan. Arguably one of the most famous breeds in the world, the subject of Disney movies, children’s books, and countless photo shoots, Lipizzans are actually quite rare, with an estimated global population of just 3,000 horses. With herds decimated by wars, and body and action that aren’t fashionable in the modern dressage arena, this royal breed, founded in the sixteenth century, are still looking for a niche in the modern world.

Want to help conserve horse breeds on the brink? Organizations such as The Livestock Conservancy work to preserve heritage breeds of all livestock species. Each breed also has their own dedicated community. If you’re in the market for a horse for any discipline, visit their websites–perhaps your next horse will be part of the solution for an endangered breed. For breed associations, visit the Heritage Breed list at The Livestock Conservancy.

7 responses on “Endangered Horse Breeds

  1. Suzan Jackson says:

    I was wondering if there is any information on the Moroccan Spotted Horse, which I do believe is near if not already extinct. There was an association by the name of The Moroccan Spotted Horse Cooperative Association of America. I understand that the association “died” around 1979 or 1980. Are there any of these horses around yet, and if there are, where are they?

    • equinearc says:

      The best information (to me) I’ve found on the Spotted Moroccan horse comes from the North American Spotted Draft Horse Association webpage: “The Spotted Moroccan was a sturdy horse of a Saddlebred type which was very popular in the 1940s as a parade horse.”

      With the registry defunct (again; it appears to have only last a few years in this century) I’d guess the Spotted Moroccan was a cross-bred saddle horse bred primarily for color. The Internet provides lots of differing answers to their original breeding, agreeing on a Spanish Barb foundation stallion, but providing everything from Morgans to French horses as the original dams. Since spotted Morgans were very popular for parades in the early 20th century, that’s probably a good guess for their origins.

    • Heidi Hansen says:

      The man who had the registry died last year and a woman named Suzan Johnson bought it and has spent the last year organizing it. There a are remnants of the breed around. There are/were two herds in Iowa ; the Fred Fox herd and an other one in eastern Iowa. There is the Keith Cory herd in Pine River Minnesota, their bloodlines come from the Albert Smith herd and Fred Fox. There is a Facebook page where you can talk with owners and enthusiasts.
      H. Hansen

  2. Lizzie says:

    This is really sad that the Frisian horse is endangered.

  3. Elie says:

    I am concerned about mankind’s involvement factoring into their extinction, horses deserve to be on this beautiful planet! 🙁

  4. Shayna Bell says:

    Are only wildhorses endangered? 🐴

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *