Last Updated: April 16, 2021
Carriage-pulling horses used to be the staple of transportation before the invention of the automobile, and certain breeds were developed specifically for this purpose. These horses needed to be strong and large, with tons of stamina, and they were often called upon for other duties on farms too. This need for dual-purpose animals led to the development of the warm-blooded horses that we know today. They employ both the stamina and strength of cold-blooded draught horses with the speed, agility, and power of hot-blooded breeds.
While the use of these driving breeds declined with the use of motorized transportation, many are making a comeback and are used today for pulling carriages, driving, and agricultural work. In this article, we look at 14 popular driving horse breeds.
1. American Standardbred
The American Standardbred is a horse best known for their ability in harness racing and carriage-pulling but is also used around the world for pleasure riding and horse shows. They have excellent stamina and speed, an ideal combination for a driving breed, and they are exceedingly friendly and calm in temperament too. They are one of the fastest trotting horses in the world and are widely used in trail riding and ranching for this reason.
2. Cleveland Bay
The Cleveland Bay originated in Northern Yorkshire in the United Kingdom and is believed to be one of the oldest indigenous English Horse breeds. Throughout their history, the breed has been widely used for pulling carriages, light draught work, and farm work and has even been used by members of the royal family for driving. They are known for being extremely intelligent and for their strong shoulders and quarters that could cover ground swiftly while pulling heavy loads.
3. French Trotter
Developed in Normandy in the 19th century, French Trotter horses were selectively bred due to their unique ability to trot at high speeds. They have also been widely used in other disciplines, such as showjumping and hunting, due to their compact, muscular body and friendly, calm, and even temperament. The French Trotter was developed by breeding various trotting horses, such as the American Standardbred and Thoroughbred, with local varieties, like the Carrossier Normand.
Originating in the Friesland region of the Netherlands, the Friesian is an ancient breed that can be traced back to the Middle Ages. Development and refinement of the breed began in earnest in the 1600s by bringing in Andalusian and Arabian bloodlines and resulted in a strong, dependable horse with plenty of stamina. They are comfortable with being ridden and driven and are revered for their elegant, high-stepping gait.
The Hackney has long been viewed as the quintessential carriage horse and the epitome of what a driving breed should be. They are powerful animals with plenty of strength and stamina and a high-stepping gait that makes them ideal for driving and covering long distances. They were initially widely used as war horses and slowly developed into driving animals when crossed with Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds, which further developed the breed into the supreme driving horse that it is today.
Originating in Germany, the Hanoverian is a warmblood breed that often served as a military horse but was prized for their ability to serve as a carriage horse when the need arose. They are one of the oldest, most successful, and numerous warmblood breeds in the world due to their adaptability and athleticism. The breed has survived modern mechanization by being used in various modern disciplines, including dressage, showjumping, and eventing.
With a history dating back to the 14th century, the Holsteiner was developed in Germany and is thought to be one of the oldest warmblood breeds. They were originally bred as driving horses for war, with the strength and reliability that also made them ideal carriage horses. They were once known as one of the best carriage horses that one could own, and they are now widely used in dressage and eventing too.
One of the oldest carriage horses developed in the United States, the Morgan Horse was revered as an all-purpose animal, excellent for driving, carriage pulling, riding, and plowing fields. Up until the Civil War, Morgans were the premier cavalry horses and one of the few horse breeds that the government helped develop. Their friendly and calm temperament makes them excellent beginner horses, as well as their ease of training and tendency to form close bonds with their owners.
With their large head, muscular body, and flat hooves, the Oldenburg is an ideal carriage horse and one of the heaviest warm-blooded German breeds. Although they are strong animals, their large size makes them have less overall stamina and endurance than many other carriage breeds, so they are often bred with Thoroughbreds if used in this capacity. They are known to be powerful, courageous, and intelligent horses that are used widely in showjumping and dressage.
10. Orlov Trotter
One of Russia’s most popular breeds, the Orlov Trotter is known for their outstanding stamina, endurance, and speed and was highly valued for their carriage ability and beautiful elegance. They are powerful and agile animals that make great driving horses, and throughout the 1900s, they were primarily used for farming and transport. The breed is in danger in Russia, as there are only around 800 breeding mares in the country.
11. Shetland Pony
You may not think it due to their small size, but Shetland Ponies are surprisingly powerful animals that are capable of pulling large weights. The breed was widely used in mines throughout the 19th century to pull carts in mines and is still used today for pleasure riding and in traditional working roles, like agriculture.
Although these hot-blooded horses are far more well-known for their high speeds and agility in horse racing, the Thoroughbred is also used in driving and hunting. They are commonly used for polo and eventing, and former racehorses are commonly employed for riding or pleasure riding, provided that they get the correct training.
The Trakehner is considered to be one of the lightest and most refined of the warmblood horse breeds and was developed to be used as a multi-purpose horse on farms. The breed hails from the town of Trakehnen in East Prussia, from which they get their name, and is used widely in various disciplines, including dressage and show jumping. They were developed when it was noticed that traditional carriage horses did not have the stamina needed for long-distance travel, which led to the development of lighter carriage horses that also had the strength and power required.
14. Welsh Pony and Cob
Consisting of four closely related horse breeds, from the smallest “type A” to the largest “type D,” the Welsh Pony and Cob is a great driving breed. They are powerful, hardy, and easy to look after and have been put to many different uses. They were commonly used on postal routes and for coal mining. Today, they are popular choices for dressage, endurance riding, jumping, and of course, driving.
Featured Image: Alexia Khruscheva, Shutterstock
An avid animal lover, Roland started this blog to help all varieties of pets and their owners on their journey to living their best lives.