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What is a Jennet?

By B. Koch
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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The Jennet was a type of medium-sized Spanish riding horse that was especially popular during the Middle Ages. Jennets were well known because of their smooth gait, friendly dispositions, and beautifully patterned coats. The original Jennet that was popular during the Middle Ages no longer exists, but modern descendants share many of the same traits. Recreations of this type of horse have also been developed through selective breeding.

There is evidence that Jennet-type horses existed in Europe as early as 18,000 BC, as Paleolithic cave art has been found featuring horses with highly patterned coats resembling the Jennet. The horse's ancestors were first officially recorded in ancient Spain and over time mixed with other types of horses to create the Jennet, which stayed most prevalent in the Iberian Peninsula. They were popular horses during the Middle Ages and were considered a horse of royalty. Over time, this type of horse spread through Europe and the Americas and mixed with other types of horses; eventually, the bloodline became so mixed the Jennet breed disappeared.

Although extinct, many horse enthusiasts are attempting to recreate the Jennet by breeding its descendants. Descendant breeds include the Paso Fino and the Peruvian Paso. These descendants are still well known for their friendly, even temperament and superior gait. The exotic patterning for which the medieval version of this horse was known still occurs in modern horses but is less prominent. The recreated modern Jennet horse has its own breed, called the Spanish Jennet Horse.

The modern Spanish Jennet Horse is a moderate size, typically 13.2 to 15.2 hands (about 4.4 to 5 feet or 1.3 to 1.5 meters) tall, with a full, long mane and tail. Their disposition is considered to be energetic but docile as well as very intelligent. Their muscular and skeletal structure is streamlined, creating an elegant, graceful appearance. Modern Jennets may appear in any color or pattern, except gray.

One specific trait of this horse is its smooth gait, which is established at birth; no special training or shoeing is needed to acquire it. The gait is a regular, four-beat lateral gait with each foot hitting the ground separately. This results in an exceptionally smooth ride, where the rider scarcely moves up and down in the saddle.

The Spanish Jennet Horse is used for many purposes. As noted, this horse’s exceptional gait makes it preferable for riding, especially trail riding and endurance riding. They are also considered good horses for cow penning because of their natural agility.

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