A breed is defined as a group of animals similar enough in form or function to be distinguished from other groups, and which, when bred together, reproduce this consistent phenotype. Granted, this can be a rather nebulous definition, especially when a breed is still in the formative stages. Most of the more than 395 horse breeds in existence today have a recorded history of less than 20 30 generations, and periodic or continual introduction of animals from outside the breed often occurs. Very few breeds have been formed in strict isolation, or without the influence of other breeds over time. A description of all breeds is beyond the scope of this article, but it is important to note that breeds may generally fall into one of three basic groups: draft breeds, light breeds, and ponies.
Draft breeds, also known as coldbloods, have traditionally been bred for heavy harness or agricultural work. The prototype draft horse developed in the forests of Northern Europe. They are characterized by large size, both absolutely often standing 17 hands high (hh), or more and proportionally (a greater circumference of bones and joints relative to smaller riding horses). Characteristics also associated with draft horses include a convex facial profile; small eye; long distance from eye to muzzle; short, high-set neck and thick throatlatch; short back; steep croup; short pasterns; and large hooves. Popular modern draft breeds include the Percheron, Belgian, Clydesdale, Shire, and Suffolk Punch.
The next group is the light breeds. This includes most breeds found worldwide. Some breeds in this category may include heavier horses, which at one point may have included horses used for harness or agricultural work, but which are now bred for riding purposes, such as the warmblood breeds. Also included in this group are the breeds bred for pleasure riding or driving. Generally, horses in this category range from 14.2 hh to 17 hh, weigh between 850 and 1500 lbs., and come in a wide variety of shapes. Many breeds, such as the Quarter Horse, Saddlebred, Tennessee Walking Horse, Morgan, Appa-loosa, and Paint Horse, were originally bred for specific purposes, but have since become very versatile in their usage. Most can trace their roots at least in part to the Thoroughbred or Arabian, two breeds classified as hotbloods.
Ponies make up the third group. Ponies are classified as 14.2 hh or smaller. Ponies vary widely in their conformation and usage, and they generally developed where environmental conditions were harsh and vegetation relatively scarce. Most modern pony breeds descend from the original European Celtic pony, although a number of breeds share roots with the Caspian pony. Modern ponies have often been crossed with light horse breeds for improved refinement and rideability. Common pony breeds include the mountain and moorland breeds of the Welsh, Shetland, Connemara, Fell, Dales, Exmoor, and Dartmoor regions of the United Kingdom and Ireland. Other popular breeds include the Pony of the Americas and the Hackney. While typically thought of as a child's mount, ponies are enjoyed by people of all ages and routinely compete in all the same events as their larger cousins.
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