The horses we know today have descended from an animal that lived some 50 million years ago called eohippus. The animal had toes, was about the size of a medium sized dog, and was a non- aggressive herbivore. Its survival depended upon his running speed. Natural selection determined that the fastest animals should predominate and as eohippus developed, he changed. He became single-toed, and his size increased as grazing improved. He remained a herbivore, he remained non- aggressive and fast moving and these factors made him useful to man.

The earliest recorded use of the horse in Africa comes from the time of Moses when the Egyptian army used horse-drawn chariots. Illustrations show small, compact animals with small heads. We may also assume that they were not numerous for they seem to have not been used as draught animals.

In Asia and Europe the horse became domesticated and serious breeding began. At first, breeding aimed at producing a sturdy big horse which would carry a man and his weapon. This was accomplished by choosing the biggest animals from the wild herds that still roamed the continents, for breeding purposes. Early breeding of this sort certainly occurred in Arabia where the pastime of horse breeding carried great prestige, being a sign of wealth and power. It is from the crossings of these early days that today’s Arab springs. We shall see later on how important this breed has been in the development of many of today’s breeds.

We now turn to consideration of the breeds that are represented in Southern Africa. We must point out that there is no truly indigenous breed of horse. Most horses have been derived from stock imported over the past century or so.



This is a pure breed whose origins were described above. It is a hot-blooded animal, distinguished as a horse of exceptional beauty and refinement. Its small head with characteristically dished profile, large eyes and small muzzle, is carried high on an elegant neck. The Arab is renowned for its tremendous powers of endurance and great weight-carrying capacity despite its relatively small size (14 – 15 hh).

The standard colours of the Arab are grey or bay with chestnut also being accepted. The Arab is often used by breeders today to improve the characteristics of other breeds.

Figure 1: The Arab

Source: Pakamisa Private Game Reserve


This is another horse of ancient origin. The Barb was found as long as 2 000 years ago on the Barbary Coast of Africa, a region noted for the excellence of its horses. Like the Arab, the Barb has had considerable influence on the development of many breeds that are, today, quite distinctive. It was exported to Europe, notably England, during the seventeenth century. Standing about 14,2h it is the all-purpose riding horse of North Africa. It is not the most handsome of horses, having a long head, sloping quarters and a low-set tail. It is, however, a remarkably tough animal showing a fine turn of speed over short distances and great endurance over longer ones. Combined with these virtues is the additional one that it is an economical feeder. It may vary in colour: bay, brown, chestnut, black or grey being equally common. The average Barb will grow to a height of between 14 and 15hh.


The origins of the Basuto may be found in the Arab and Barb horses imported into the Cape Province from Java. These were crossed with thoroughbreds to form the cape horse which, eventually, found its way into Basutoland where unfavourable climatic conditions developed it into what is recognised today as the Basuto pony.

The Basuto is an exceptionally tough, hardy and enduring animal, which although well adapted to African conditions, cannot be termed an indigenous breed. It is an excellent weight carrier, and was used extensively during the Boer War. It may grow to a height of up to 14.2hh and proves its versatility by being used for Polo, racing as a pack animal as well as for riding.

The usual colours are found: bay, brown, grey and chestnut. It is a thickset creature, has a long neck and back with a quality head, upright shoulders and hard feet. It is extremely sure-footed.

This concludes the first section on the breeds that owe something of their origins and development to Africa. There are other breeds that have been introduced from overseas to improve the local breeds. Among these, the Thoroughbred, the Hanoverian and the Welsh Cob may be cited.


This is the racehorse par excellence and is considered the most beautiful breed of horse in the world. The Thoroughbred has a fine head set on an elegant neck, good sloping shoulders, deep girth, powerful quarters and strong legs with plenty of bone. The breed was developed in England crossing Eastern stallions with native mares to produce, for the racing enthusiasts of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the fastest horses in the world.

Since that time the Thoroughbred has been exported all over the world and has had an influence on breeding matched only by that of the Arab.

The Thoroughbred is found most frequently on the race track. It is also found in the showing ring and the show-jumping ring. It is rarely used as a labour horse.

The usual colours are brown, bay and chestnut, although any solid colour is permissible. The height may vary between 14,2 to well over 17hh, the average being about 16hh.

It must be realised that the Thoroughbred is not a hardy horse and it needs special management. It is not suited for any kind of farm work because of the fine bone structure found in the legs. It needs special feeding if it is to maintain condition. Thoroughbred is hard to train as its hot-bloodedness makes it high-spirited.

Figure 2: The Thoroughbred

Source: lauristonfarm

Welsh Cob

This is a stocky, hardy animal, remarkable for its powers of endurance. It performs well in harness and has an impressive trotting ability. It stands at 14,2hh and may be any colour except piebald or skewbald.


This breed originated in the German states during the seventeen century when Spanish stallions were imported and crossed with local mares to produce a good strong all-round animal, suitable for riding, driving and heavy draught work.

The modern tendency is to cross Hanoverian with the Thoroughbred to produce an animal suited to dressage and show-jumping.

All solid colours are permissible, the usual ones being brown, chestnut and black. The Hanoverian usually stands around 16 to 17hh.


This breed contains some of the largest horses in the world. It originated in England, and is an immensely strong, big-barreled horse with long legs that carries striking feathers. The first settlers in South Africa brought some horses of this breed to the country not so much to work as to improve existing breeds, the progeny being a thick-set horse capable of heavy work on farms. The Shire may be bay, brown, black or grey, and it will stand as much as 18hh.

Figure 3: The Shire

Source: wikimedia

Shetland pony

This is the traditional child’s pony, as immortalised by Thelwell . It comes from the northern coastal regions of Scotland. Its popularity as a child’s pony stems from its strength and small stature. It is a good working breed. In this country, Shetlands have been bred with Basutos to produce progeny that are both hardy and strong.

The most favoured colour is black but any colours are permissible including piebald and skewbald. A usual height would be 9.3hh.

Figure 4: The Shetland Pony

Source: wikipedia

Anglo Arab

This is a greatly valued breed rated second only to the Thoroughbred in distinction. It stems from two pure strains: The Thoroughbred and the Arab. The Anglo-Arab was initially a cross between an Arab stallion and a Thoroughbred mare and vice-versa. Subsequent re-crossings are permissible provided there are no strains of blood other than Arab and Thoroughbred in their pedigrees.

The Anglo-Arab is noted for its stamina and its good temperament. It is supremely good as a hack, in dressage and in cross-country events. The breed combines the typically Arab qualities of stamina and soundness with the Thoroughbred’s scope and speed.

Predominant colours are bay, brown and chestnut. The height is usually 15 – 16hh.

American Saddler

A distinct breed, originally brought into the country as the Kentucky Saddler, it was developed by American plantation owners of the nineteenth century who wanted a horse that would carry them comfortably for many hours a day. Selective breeding produced a showy horse with easy gaits, an equable temperament and great stamina.

Today the American Saddler is produced primarily for the show ring, competing in light harness as a three-gait saddler or a five-gait saddler. The American Saddler has a small, elegant head set on a long, muscular neck, strong shoulders, back and quarters. The predominant colours are bay, brown, black and the average height is 15 – 16hh.

American Trotter

This horse is a descendant of the Thoroughbred, Arab and Morgan Breeds. Highly selective in- breeding has produced a saddle horse with a peculiarly broken gait known as a fox-trot. In this gait, the horse walks briskly with its front feet and trots with the hind. Speeds of up to 16 km/hr are achieved by Trotters in this gait. It is a strong compact horse with an attractive head, short back and plenty of depth through the girth. The height is usually 16hh.


Bred as a harness horse, the Hackney is endowed with a characteristic high-stepping action in its trot. For this reason the Hackney is used as a trotting horse. Today, it is seen most frequently in driving classes at shows where it’s extravagantly elevated trot and spirited disposition show to advantage. The neat head carried high on an arched neck and the high set tail adds to an overall impression of alertness and vigour.

The usual colours are bay, brown, black and chestnut. The usual height is a little over 15hh.


A native of Ireland, the Connemara has been exported to many parts of the world. Recently, Arab stock has been introduced to add quality and refinement to the stock, and, when put to a Thoroughbred, a somewhat larger, very versatile riding horse results which is suitable for almost any purpose.

The Connemara has a quality pony head, good length of neck, depth through the girth and a good sloping shoulder. The back is straight, the quarters well-developed while the tail is well put-on. The legs have plenty of bone and the breed has good, hard feet. It is a sure-footed and agile pony with a kindly, tractable nature.

It may be grey, bay, black, dun or brown. It usually stands between 13 and 14.2h.


It is interesting to note that in America, horses may be registered by breed as is the case in Europe but may also be registered for colour. An example of such registration is the Palamino.


This horse has a golden body with no markings other than white on the face. The mane and tail are white, silver or ivory in colour and the eyes should be dark. This type of horse is usually a pony standing about 14.2hh.


Another example of a horse that is distinguished by its colouration rather than other features is the Pinto. This type originated in America and was used by Red Indians. Some examples may be found in this country. Pintos may be piebald (black and white), or skewbald (bIack, white and brown).


This type of horse is thought to be descended from the Arab. It is distinguished by its lack of pigmentation, producing a pink skin, a pure white coat and very often, pale white eyes. The skin is very sensitive to the sun, and vision is often weak or otherwise defective. Since it is so sensitive to sunlight it is seldom encountered in this country.


This is another American horse that is distinguished, in the main, by colour. The Appaloosa is the famous spotted horse which is now found across the world.


Horses are used for sport and recreation in the main. We shall examine these uses and points to look for in choosing an animal. Horses are used in ranching and are used by the Police and the Army as working animals. The subject is a vast one and we can hope to give no more than a general guide to the important points to look for when assessing an animal.


We have already discussed the Thoroughbred racing. Flat racing and steeple-chasing are associated with the Thoroughbred. The Thoroughbred, destined for the track has often begun training when sold as a yearling. During its second year, it will be broken and if successful, will race until the age of about six years. There are exceptional horses that go beyond this age but the majority of horses bred and trained for racing fail to make the grade, often becoming physicaIIy and psychologically injured during the training process.

Trotting (sometimes known as the Harness Horse)

Popular choices would have the conformation found in the Morgan and Hackney types. This choice is determined by the need for high trotting action combined with speed and stamina. Trotters are usually broken to harness at about 3 or 4 years of age and can expect to race until they reach the age of approximately 15 years.


There is no particular breed that is used exclusively for Polo. (It should be noted that no matter what its size, the animal used for polo is always called a polo pony). Today’s pony will stand at about 15,2hh and it is not unknown for a Thoroughbred trained for flat racing to be tried in polo. The polo pony must have tremendous energy and boldness to keep up with play and must be extremely maneuverable. The pony should have sturdy legs that can stand the physical stresses incurred and the instant turns the game requires. A hundred years ago, in India, small native-bred ponies were used for polo. Today’s pony, if it is bred for the game, will possibly have, amongst its ancestors, an Argentinian-bred animal. The polo pony is broken at about 5 years and will continue playing up to the age of approximately 15 years.

Riding Horse (The Hack)

There is obviously no special breed of riding horse. A popular choice would be the Connemara but much would depend upon the owner/rider. It is probably true to say that there are few horses today that are kept purely as riding horses. They tend to be used for riding and some other branch of equestrianism; show-jumping, cross-country, dressage, gymkhana, trekking etc. In Southern Africa a satisfactory hunting-class ride may be found in the Basuto-Thoroughbred cross. A riding horse will be broken at about 5 years of age and will have an active life of up to 25 years.

Figure 6: A First-Class Riding Horse

Source: wikipedia

Farm Working Horse

This would probably not be a draught animal in today’s time but it would probably be a sturdy animal with plenty of stamina. If the horse is to be used for tending cattle on a ranch then some of the attributes of the polo pony would be useful – sure- footedness and quick turning among them. The farm horse would need to be selected by temperament for the kind of life  it is to lead. It may well be that in present times of ever increasing problems with oil-based fuels; the farm working horse may come into its own again.

Show Jumper

There is probably as much glamour attached to the top show-jumping horses today as is accorded the successful track performer. The show jumper is not of any particular breed, size or shape, and it  is accepted that there are a few weaknesses in the animal. Importantly, there must be strong hind- quarters since this is the source of power and spring. It is not unusual to find Thoroughbreds among today’s top show jumping performers since speed round the course is important, as well as aiding  the horse in jumping the wide fences that today’s course builders favour.


The dressage horse is trained to show elevation, excellent balance and good carriage. One of the definitions of dressage refers to the harmonious development of the physique and training of the horse. The objective of dressage is to produce a horse that is calm, supple and keen, showing a perfect understanding with its rider. The most famous of the dressage breeds must be the Lipizzaner, but other notable dressage breeds would include the Hanoverian and the Anglo-Arab. The breaking- in age would be about 3 years and the horse would continue in competition up to the age of 20.

Child’s Pony

Probably the best found in this country would be the Basuto cross Shetland. The Child’s pony will have an even temperament enabling children to achieve higher riding skills. The child’s pony will be broken-in at about 3 years and will work quite happily up to the age of 25 years.

Cross Country

This type of horse will combine the basic attributes of the dressage horse, the show jumper and some of those of the steeple-chaser. The cross-country horse will be required to show courage and ability in jumping a variety of fixed obstacles that must be approached at the gallop. While there is  no question of this being a race, there are time limits to meet, and the horse must show a good turn of speed between jumps. The successful horse must have strength and staying power. The Thoroughbred is tending to be a favoured choice these days. The horse bred with cross-country and eventing in mind will be broken-in at the age of about 3 and will remain in competition until the age of about 15 years.

Police Horses

This horse has to be versatile and must pass rigorous training before it is accepted for duty. Usually, the horses need a particular kind of temperament if they are to succeed with the ability to ignore noise, traffic, large and unruly crowds etc. Police horses tend to be ridden by a variety of rider with varying abilities with the consequence that although the horses are very good natured they often have rather hard mouths.