Are Hackney Carriage Horses … History?

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 UK:

Rare Breeds Survival Trust: 

Photographs: BNPS.CO.UK

Story Sources:
Hackney Horse Society
Rare Breeds Survival Trust
Mail Online


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17 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I have seen Hackneys on numerous occasions. They are beautiful. I wasn’t aware that they’d gotten to be so rare, and it makes me sad.

    • Hi Dom,
      Let’s hope they make a notable recovery. They are such wonderful horses!

      All the best,

  2. They are so beautiful and have such history it would be a shame if they disappeared forever. I hope their numbers come up and people start to realize they can be used for disciplines other than as carriage horses.

    Thank you for this post it was very informative.

    • Hi Grey Horse Matters,
      I sure agree with you … let's hope more people add them to their stables!

      All the best,

  3. they are so impressive. i hope they can make a comeback!

  4. I am blessed to have five of these wonderful horses, and cant imagine life without them. I find them to be highly intelligent, and very kind. A wonderful kids horse!

    • Hi Theresa,
      So great to hear from someone who has them. I hope more people realize what wonderful horses they are.

      All the best,

  5. We have joined the ranks of Hackney horse owners and exhibitors. They are indeed athletic, intelligent, elegant and hardy! Very much worth the effort of preserving!

    • Hello Linda Kaye,
      Terrific news … so glad you exhibit them as well. From your description, they sound like the horse everyone would want.

      All the best,

  6. I own a Hackney Horse stallion. I have found it very difficult to locate a mare that is not closely related to my stallion. Potential buyers have asked if I’d be offended should they decide to geld him. I say “Yes, because he is rare. The breeding is going extinct. Why geld something so rare?” There answer is “because he’s a stallion.” I wouldn’t know it because he behaves like a gelding – pure gentleman. Sadly, there are not many shows to take him to because he doesn’t like to be ridden (bad experiences in the past) and I don’t carriage/cart drive him.

    • Hello Renee,
      How fortunate you are to have a Hackney Horse. He is valuable, indeed, being a stallion. He provides hope for the future. And, hopefully, you will find a mare that will be the perfect match.

      I wonder if the Hackney Horse Society would be able to help find a good match. This wonderful breed needs help for survival.

      All the best,

  7. Hello Renee, I have a 4 year old Hackney mare that I have just broken to ride, although she isnt keen at all. She was bred on the Isle of White and bought to the UK mainland with four other Hackney mares / fillies who are living around the corner from us. One 9 year old brood mare another 4 year old a 3 and 2 year old. They are a lovely sight when they gallop towards us.
    Helen (staffordshire)

  8. i have a hackney horse stallion a complete and utter gentleman i wouldn’t geld him if you paid me a fortune i love him and every thing about him just the way he is !!!! he rides and drives we show him in hand and driving classes he goes in two and four wheelers he’s a star ! regards julie (stockport )

    • Hello Julie,
      That is wonderful news! Congrats to you!

  9. Hackneys are the Rolls Royce of carriage horses!
    I have loved them all my life and that is a long time.
    I am doing my bit for the breed

    • Hello Babs,
      Thanks for you note. So very glad you are doing your part for this gorgeous horse.

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