The Hackney Horse and the Hackney Pony are versatile performers. They can be shown as a single or pair in the show ring as well as In-Hand. Hackney Horses are also driven in both Carriage and Combine Driving Events as singles, pairs, tandems, unicorns and four-in-hands. In the sport horse disciplines, today's Hackney Horses are competing in Hunter/Jumper, Dressage, Eventing, English Pleasure, and Competitive Trail Riding/Driving.
The origin of the Hackney began in Norfolk, England as the Norfolk Trotter. The breed was developed in the 14th century when the King of England required powerful but attractive horses with an excellent trot, to be used for general purpose riding horses. Since roads were rudimentary in those times, Hackneys were a primary riding horse, riding being the common mode of equine transportation. It had been selectively bred for an elegant style and speed. Breeders mated the Norfolk mares to grandsons of the foundation sires of the thoroughbred. The trotting horses were more suitable as war horses than amblers with their pacing gaits. As a result, in 1542 King Henry VIII required his wealthy subjects keep a specified number of trotting horse stallions for breeding use.
The Hackney made it to America on ships crossing regularly between Britain and the United States during the 1800's. Ships carried both the Hackney horses and the smaller ponies, which certain breeders were selectively encouraging. Due to improvements in roadways in the mid-1800's, the roads no longer demanded heavy dray animals which tug carts from deep ruts. The swift trotting Hackney became ideal for travel. The horse and pony were both used for transportation via carriage and ridden on the roads in both countries.
The Hackney Horse's height ranges from 14.2 hands to 16.2 hands tall. They may be any solid color, including bay, brown, chestnut and black. Hackneys often have white markings, often due to the influence of sabino genetics. They have a well-shaped head, sometimes with a slightly convex nose. Their eyes and ears are expressive and should show alertness. The neck is crested and muscular with a clean cut throat and jaw. The chest is broad and well-defined; the shoulder is powerful, long and gently sloping. The Hackneys have an average length of back, muscular, level croups, and powerful hindquarters. The tail is set high and carried high naturally.
In the trot, they exhibit showiness and an exaggerated high knee and hock action due to very good flexion of their joints. Their action should be straight and true with a distinct moment of suspension. The front legs reach up high with sharply bent knees that are stretched well forward with a ground covering stride. In a similar exaggerated action, their hind legs' are well propelled underneath them. In addition to inherent soundness and endurance, the Hackney Horse has proven to be a breed with an easy, rhythmic canter, and a brisk, springy walk.
In about 1729 a Norfolk Trotter stallion and an Arabian stallion contributed to the foundation stock for the modern Hackney Horse. The resulting Norfolk Roadster was a heavily built horse that was used as a work horse by farmers and others. It was also a fast horse with good stamina. Another famous horse was the stallion Original Shales, foaled in East Anglia in 1755. He was by the stallion Blaze, the son of the famous undefeated racehorse, Flying Childers who was a grandson of the great Darley Arabian (one of the three foundation stallions of the Thoroughbred breed). Original Shales sired two stallions—Scot Shales and Driver—both of which had a great influence on the Norfolk Trotter. Messenger (GB), a 1780 grandson of Sampson was a foundation sire of the present American Standardbred horse. Hambletonian 10 had at least three crosses of Messenger in the third and fourth generations of his pedigree (3x4x4). In the 1820s "Norfolk Cob" was recorded as having done 2 miles in 5 minutes 4 seconds and was one of the famous horses of that breed along with "Nonpareil," who was driven 100 miles in 9 hours 56 minutes 57 seconds.
In 1820 Bellfounder, a Norfolk Trotter stallion who was able to trot 17 miles in an hour with 14 stone up, was exported to America where he was the damsire of Hambletonian 10. In this era, match-trotters competed under saddle, not harness. Later with improvements in roads, the Hackney was also used in harness off the tracks where he gained high regard as a riding and driving horse.
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