The Hackney is an elegant breed of light horses developed in Great Britain for carriage driving. These equines are known for their high-stepping trots, which help them stand out in harness show arenas.

Hackneys come in two different height ranges. Hackney ponies are shorter than Hackney horses but share similar characteristics, packing expressive personality and movement into a smaller size. These ponies are more prevalent in North America than their larger cousins.

While most Hackney owners use their horses for driving disciplines, Hackney bloodlines have significantly influenced the development of several popular riding horse breeds. Unfortunately, full-size purebred Hackeys are at risk of going extinct.

This article will review the origin, history, breed characteristics, health problems, and nutritional needs of Hackney horses and ponies. Keep reading to learn more about caring for and feeding Hackneys.

Hackney Horse & Pony History

The Hackney breed developed alongside the increased use of carriages for transportation in Europe. Eventually, they became prized by equine enthusiasts and aristocrats on both sides of the Atlantic for their elegant looks and animated movement.


Hackney horses can trace their ancestry to the Norfolk Trotters of Norfolk, England. Nobility kept trotters for transportation as early as the 14th century, but the breed didn’t gain significant popularity until the 1700s.

During this century, breeders crossed Thoroughbred descendants of the Darley Arabian with native Norfolk Trotters to create refined, spirited carriage horses.

Foaled in 1760, Shale’s Horse is recognized as the first Hackney horse to resemble the breed standard we know today.

These horses began crossing the Atlantic by the late 1800s, around the same time breeding shifted to achieve a pony type. These ponies originated from crossing Hackney horses with small Welsh Ponies.

Sir George, foaled in 1866, is considered the first Hackney Pony. Today, 95% of all Hackneys registered in North America are ponies.

The Hackney name originates from the term used to distinguish light-riding horses from heavier war horses in Medieval Europe. By the time the Hackney Stud Book Society formalized the breeding of Hackneys in 1883, the breed was rarely used as a riding horse. [1]

Historic Use

Road improvements in the late 18th century encouraged the development of faster horses to pull carriages. Until then, humans primarily rode horses for transportation and relied on heavier breeds with the power to haul loads over rough terrain for driving. [2]

The lighter, faster carriage horses became a status symbol for wealthy citizens, and breeding programs began focusing on producing horses with more extravagant trotting movements. Many Hackneys also descended from trotting horses renowned for their speed and stamina.

Hackneys rapidly gained popularity in North America in the late 1800s during the golden age of driving. In the United States, breeders emphasized producing smaller Hackney Ponies more than breeders in England. [3]

Demand for Hackney horses declined significantly after the introduction of the automobile. Eventually, these horses found a new calling in the show arena, where most Hackney owners enjoy their horses today.

Breed Registry

The American Hackney Horse Society (AHHS) is the official breed registry for Hackney horses and ponies in North America. The organization was incorporated in 1891, just nine years after the formalization of the first Hackney Stud Book in England.

In addition to maintaining a registry of Hackneys, the AHHS also promotes the breeding, exhibition, and ownership of Hackney horses and Hackney ponies.

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