Last Updated on February 28, 2022 by Allison Price
When someone asks “What is the oldest horse breed?” many names are mentioned. However, there is general agreement that the oldest identifiable horse or pony breeds are the Icelandic and Norwegian Fjord horse breeds, the Caspian, Arabian and Middle East horses, the AkhalTeke from Turkmenistan and the Mongolian horse.
What is the Oldest Horse Breed?
The Icelandic horse is the oldest known breed of horse. They are at least 10,000 years of age and have connections with Mongolian horses as well as Viking ponies. Their history is deep in the equine community.
Horse Breeds In Order Of Antiquity
These six oldest horse breeds are:
- Icelandic (from Iceland or Scandina at minimum via) – Minimum 10,000 years old
- Caspian (from Iran – at minimum 5,400 years old
- Arabian (from Middle East) – minimum 4,500 years old
- Mongolian (from Mongolia, Central Asia) – minimum 4,000 years old
- AkhalTeke (from Turkmenistan – at most 3,000 years old
- Norwejian Fjord – 2,000 Years Old
We will provide more information about each breed. We won’t be focusing on the physical attributes as much as we will on the history and significance of each species.
1. The Icelandic Horse
The Icelandic horse breed was probably developed from the Mongolian horses of their ancestors. They evolved further from ponies brought by Viking settlers to Iceland in the 9th and10th centuries. They may have acquired a gene mutation from Medieval England that enabled them to walk.
Their comfortable gait was well-suited to long-distance riding and rough terrain that the Norsemen were accustomed to. Interbreeding was prohibited in the 10th century. Today’s breeds, which are popular for their endurance and gait, have remained virtually unchanged for over a thousand years.
2. The Caspian Horse
Since the Mesopotamian civilisation, the Caspian horse is a common sight. Their descendants settled in Northern Iran where they can still be found in certain areas.
Although they are smaller than the Arabian, their athletic build makes them popular for crossbreeding and participating in equestrian events where intelligence and athleticism is required. They are loved by their gentle nature and make great family pets.
The oldest known Caspian horse skeleton was found to date back to 3400 BC. Many believe that they are the ancestors and forefathers of Arabian horses.
The Caspian Horse, an ancient breed, was nearly extinct before it was rediscovered in 1965. Louise Firouz, an American horse breeder, was responsible for the breed’s revival and protection. However she has since died. The Caspian Horse has been listed as endangered.
3. The Arabian
The Arabian horse breed is perhaps the most well-known in the world. It holds a top position among horses racing, for starters.
They were born in the Middle East, and they were first domesticated by Bedouins approximately 4,500 years ago. They were used as speed horses in raids and transport at the time.
Horse enthusiasts and horse lovers all over the globe have interbred Arabian horses with mares. They are tall and powerful, and carry their tails high. Their offspring are well-known for being refined with strong bones, speed bursts and great stamina.
4. Mongolian Horse
The Mongolian horse is one of the oldest pure species in existence today. They can be dated back at least 4,000 years by bone, but it is likely that they are much older. The Mongols revere this breed as an ancient warhorse. They use them in daily life for transport, sport, and even their milk.
Due to their history and propensity for roaming the vast Central Asian plains, Mongolian horses are believed to have influenced many other breeds, including British, Japanese, and Scandinavian species.
5. The Akhal-Teke
The AkhalTeke is easily identifiable by their metallic shiny coats and endurance. They were also influenced heavily by Mongolian breeds.
The Akhal-Teke, father of many modern horse breeds like the Thoroughbreds and Thoroughbreds are outstanding show horses. They can also travel great distances with no food or water.
6. The Norwegian Fjord Horse
These sturdy horses were bred in Norway’s mountains and terrains. They are known for their ability to travel over land and water. They were loved by Viking cavalrymen for their ability to ride, but they could also be used as draft horses.
Although their ancestors were Mongolian horses, their appearance has not changed much over the past 2,000 year. They are loved by their long history of domestication, and their smooth, balanced gait make these horses a family favorite.
How Some Horse Breeds Survived for Thousands of Years
When searching for an older horse, one of the main criteria is whether clear genetic traits can still be identified over generations. Another option is to look for a breed that is still in existence. Some descendants of the breeds mentioned below still exist today. Some have survived through the introduction of successor breeds. Others have still been “rediscovered”.
The history of man’s horse companions is, in any case, as much about human civilization and endurance than it is about the horse species. The growth of communities has been aided by domesticated horses. They have helped to fight armies, they helped explorers find new horizons, and they helped farmers till their lands. The list goes on. Without horses, we wouldn’t be where we are today.
Many well-known horse breeds follow dominant civilizations
It is not surprising that stable populations of the oldest horses were found in the same area as some of the oldest civilizations. These civilizations were keen to expand their territory beyond their own borders through exploration, conquest and trade. These are the genes of the most valuable, dominant breeds. They spread throughout all areas of influence.
Historical evidence has shown that humans first came into contact with wild horses following the end of the last Ice Age. It is possible that this was as far back as 10,000 BC. The domestic horse breed was likely to have emerged between 4,000 and 6 000 years ago. The first horses to be deemed useful were those that could do drudgery (e.g. draft horses) and for war. Different species were created through breeding and nurturing.
The Last Wild Horse in the World
The Mongolian Horse has been discussed previously. There is a rarer horse breed than any other. They can be found in the Gobi Desert’s Mongolian Steppes. These horses are the Przewalski horse, the last wild horses left in the world.
These horses were short and stocky and used to roam the steppes of East Asia and Central Asia in an ancient time. They have disappeared from the wild in most places, except for a few that were reintroduced to China, Mongolia, or Kazakhstan.
The Last Word
One interesting thing to remember about the discussion on the oldest horse breeds is that many of these breeds still exist today due to genetic traits that have been passed down through generations and refined through animal husbandry, cross-breeding, and other means.
I’m Allison, born and raised in San Diego California, the earliest memory I have with horses was at my grandfather’s farm. I used to sit at the stable as a kid and hang out with my Papa while he was training the horses. When I was invited to watch a horse riding competition, I got so fascinated with riding!