Hackney horses were once a common sight in Great Britain as they carried wealthy passengers in grand carriages.
But now the numbers of the famous Hackney horses have fallen so low they have been put on the rare breeds ‘critical’ list.
The Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST) says that with the number of female breeders in existence reduced to fewer than 300 the situation is dire.
Breeder Barbara Stockton from The Hackney Horse Society (formed in 1883), said the situation was increasingly desperate.
During the 18th and 19th century, the Hackney horses were in high demand. They were famed for their beauty, high head carriage and lofty knee action.
This was an era of great flamboyance and the ownership of smart and flashy carriage horses was a real status symbol.
Having smart looking Hackney Carriage Horses was the mainstay during that time, when flaunting wealth was a lifestyle.
Hackney horses were bred to be elegant and strong with the power to pull the heavy carriages. They had the ability to keep going for miles at a trot.
The admiration of the early ancestors of the Hackney horses goes back for centuries. They were highly thought of by Henry VII, Henry VIII and Elisabeth I who all passed acts concerning horse breeding and the value of the Hackney. Henry VIII even penalized anyone exporting an animal without authority
In the early 1700’s breeders began to cross the native hackney with Arabian stallions to add some refinement to the breed.
The most important Arabian was the Darley Arabian. Hackneys can be traced back through the stud book to this horse.
The Darley Arabian
At the beginning of the 1900s large numbers of Hackneys were still being exported all over the World to places such as America, Australia, South Africa and Argentina as well as the rest of Europe.
Hackney classes at large horse shows were proving popular. The Hackney horses also played an important part in the First World War as cavalry mounts and artillery horses.
Once considered the English Taxi, the demand for Hackney horses was soon to end.
By the beginning of the 20th century the car had arrived and the Hackneys began to be replaced by motorized vehicles. Hackney horses were deemed unable to contribute to society and declined considerably.
The Hackney then took on a new role as show horses, but in the long-term the breed cannot survive only for the show rings.
Although usually considered carriage horses, the Hackney horses with their stamina, soundness and intelligence can be enjoyed in many other ways, including cart driving, dressage, show jumping and pleasure riding.
The Hackney horses are of particular use for the disabled as a carriage horse, and for those who cannot ride a horse in the usual way.
As Barbara Stockton states, under the revised Rare Breeds Survival Trusts listing, the Hackney Breed has now sadly been categorized as “critical”.
In the equine world a breed with fewer than 3,000 females is put on the watch list and when there are fewer than 300 they enter the critical stage.
According to Ms. Stockton, ‘being in a recession makes it difficult to build up numbers and breeders are declining in number’.
‘This should be very concerning for all devotees of the Hackney Horses, especially as the Hackney has such a long and proud heritage’.
‘Flying Childers’ one of the most famous early Hackneys
‘The word needs spreading that, although spectacular harness horses, they are also extremely versatile and make great riding horses.’
‘If you have ever had anything to do with Hackneys, either as an owner or spectator, if you have thrilled to see these magnificent horses producing their athletic movement, or enjoyed their elegance, the breed needs your support now.’
Hackney Horse Society
Rare Breeds Survival Trust