Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder. But if asked to identify the 10 most beautiful breeds in the world, horse lovers tend to choose examples from among those on this list. They're from places ranging from exotic Turkmenistan and India to the plains of the United States and the Iberian Peninsula. You may not agree with every breed on the list, but chances are good you'll agree with quite a few.
One of the world's oldest breeds is the Arabian. These horses have dark black skin to protect against the rays of the desert sun from their homeland on the Arabian Peninsula. Small horses, typically around 15 to 15.2 hands, they may be any solid color such as black, bay, gray or chestnut. With their large, wide-set eyes, dished faces, and flowing manes and tails, the Arabian is often considered the most beautiful horse breed in the world.
Arabians face strong competition for the title of most beautiful horse in the world from the Akhal-Teke, the national breed of Turkmenistan. These horses are usually shades of gold ranging from pure palomino to pale cremello, with the characteristic metallic sheen that makes their coats shine like newly minted coins. They are tough horses bred for endurance and stamina.
Hailing from the Iberian Peninsula, the Andalusian may also be one of the oldest breeds in the world. They're bred for boldness, courage and athleticism. Historically, the Andalusian was used for battle and bull fighting, but today they're often found in the exhibition arena or show ring as dressage mounts. They have luxurious flowing manes and tails, a Roman or convex profile, and a muscular appearance. Gray horses are the most common, followed by bay; true black Andalusian horses are rare but still found within the purebred strains.
The Gypsy Vanner descends from Gypsy horses brought to England and bred by Romanies or gypsies to pull their wagons. Because these horses had to pull significant weights, they needed to be as strong as draft horses but also perform additional duties as riding horses. They sport the abundant leg feathers, manes and tails of draft horses and beautiful tobiano or overo pinto coat colors.
The Friesian horse was bred in the Netherlands as far back as the Middle Ages. It is the descendant of the so-called Great Horse that the knights rode into battle. Friesians stand about 15 hands high and have abundant leg feathers, manes and tails. The manes and tails are never trimmed and may trail on the ground. Only black Friesians may be registered in the breed's studbook, though chestnut Friesians are occasionally born. They're used for dressage, exhibition and circus work, and carriage driving.
The Marwari of India are the only breed in the world whose ears naturally turn, curve, and touch or point to one another. These small, 15-hand horses have flat, round feet, sturdy backs and delicate, intelligent faces. They're bred for courage and stamina, and may be found in all solid and pinto colors.
The Paso Fino
Another Spanish breed to make the top list is the Paso Fino. Berber horses with Arabian blood, brought to Spain by the Moorish invaders, were bred with native Andalusian horses to produce a unique, smooth gaited and beautiful horse. The Paso Fino has five gaits: walk, canter, and the paso fino, corto and largo, three gaits unique to the breed. The impact of the horse's footfalls is dispersed differently in the three paso gaits to the trot, with less motion conveyed to the rider. These gaits made them ideal riding mounts for cavalry and anyone riding long distance.
Bred to work on the hilly slopes of the Tyrolean Alps, the Austrian Haflinger horse is a sturdy, small horse used for farming as well as sleigh and carriage pulling. Their beautiful flaxen manes and tails offset a burnished copper-penny chestnut coat that often develops dapples in the summertime. Their manes and forelocks are so luxurious that they often cascade in a thick waterfall over the eyes.
American saddlebreds are often called the "peacocks of the show ring,” and like the peacock, they love to show off their beauty. These tall horses display a willowy, graceful head and neck carriage. They have a fiery action and movement that belies the smoothness of their gaits. Saddlebreds perform either three or five gaits; the five-gaited saddlebred includes the typical equine gaits of walk, trot and canter, but adds a slow, four-beat slow gait and the rack, a fast high-stepping movement. Any color is accepted in the breed, but bay, black, brown and chestnut are most common.
The Rocky Mountain Horse
Among this list of beautiful horse breeds, the Rocky Mountain Horse of America is the newest breed on the list. The first recognized horses appeared in the early 20th century in Kentucky. The horses move with a distinct, ambling four-beat diagonal gait that clocks in anywhere from 7 to 20 miles per hour. Rocky Mountain horses are often unusual colors, such as liver chestnut, champagne and cremello, as well as bay, black, brown and chestnut. Their unique gait and unusual coloring gives them a memorable and striking appearance.
Jeanne Grunert has been a writer since 1990. Covering business, marketing, gardening and health topics, her work has appeared in the "Chicken Soup for the Soul" books, "Horse Illustrated" and many national publications. Grunert earned her Master of Arts in writing from Queens College and a Master of Science in direct and interactive marketing from New York University.