Hackney horses are members of a venerable breed which has its roots in the 1300s. Many people think of Hackneys as the quintessential English carriage horse, and these well bred equines have a distinctive high-stepping gait which makes them popular in the show ring. Several farms in both England and the United States breed Hackney horses and ponies, most of which are trained for driving. They also make very suitable riding horses, and they are known for having excellent endurance and good tempers.
The development of the Hackney breed began when a desire for a sturdy riding horse emerged in England in the 14th century, and various horses with incredible stamina and smooth gaits began to be bred. The roots of the modern Hackney horse can be found in the mid-1700s, when people crossed the famous Norfolk Trotter with the newly emerging Thoroughbred. The result was the Hackney horse, which blended desirable traits from both breeds; the studbook for Hackney horses was established in 1883.
The most identifiable trait of Hackney horses is their incredibly flexible knees. The horses have a high stepping, showy gait, especially in the trot. In order to be accepted into the Hackney studbook, a horse must be brown, black, bay, or chestnut, with some small white markings permitted. The horses classically have small, refined heads like their Thoroughbred cousins, along with muscular, compact bodies and long necks.
The size of a Hackney horse can vary, but the horses are generally between 14.2 and 16.2 hands tall. Hackney ponies are smaller, with some distinct pony traits; the Hackney pony was developed by Christopher Wilson, who crossed Hackney horses with Fell Ponies, extremely hardy British ponies well known for their sassy attitude and surefootedness. Hackney ponies have an infamous reputation for being rather tenacious, and every bit as strong as their horse counterparts.
These English horses can be used for both riding and driving, and many Hackney horses can be found competing in various divisions in shows. Some people also jump Hackney horses, relying on their famous sound feet and intelligence to help them through challenging courses of jumps. Hackneys are also very easy to ride, since they have smooth, pleasant gaits and they are very responsive when well trained. Although this breed almost disappeared when horses began to be supplanted by cars, several breeders fortunately saved the Hackney from extinction, realizing that these showy and beautiful horses might come into demand again.