THE WORLD'S MOST IM­POR­TANT HORSE BREED

Now ex­tinct in its pure form, the Hobby is the foun­da­tion for the Thor­ough­bred, Quar­ter Horse and many other mod­ern breeds.

EQUUS - - Front Page - By Deb Ben­nett, PhD

Now ex­tinct in its pure form, the Hobby is the foun­da­tion for the Thor­ough­bred, Quar­ter Horse and many other mod­ern breeds.

Men­tion the term “hobby horse” to any­body un­der the age of 90 and they are likely to think of an an­tique wooden rock­ing horse or the spring-loaded plas­tic “Won­der Horse” they rode as a tod­dler. Be­cause the Hobby be­came ex­tinct in pure form about 200 years ago, few peo­ple re­al­ize that it is an ac­tual horse breed.

I In fact, by far and away, the Ho Hobby is the most im­por­tant and i in­flu­en­tial horse breed ever to h have ex­isted. The Hobby can lay th this claim be­cause it be­came the mare (distaff) blood­line upon which the Th Thor­ough­bred was founded and later h helped in the same way to found the A Amer­i­can Quar­ter Horse, now the world’s most popular and nu­mer­ous breed. More­over, it was largely upon Hobby mares that the Mor­gan was es­tab­lished, and the Mor­gan and all the many breeds de­riv­a­tive of it are thus also “Hob’s chil­dren.”

The Hobby was highly popular and ap­proved of in its day---and its day was a very long one, for its roots go back more than 3,000 years. The Hobby orig­i­nated as the re­sult of mankind’s first large-scale ef­fort at out­cross­ing, and its his­tory is a fas­ci­nat­ing one. The pur­pose of this se­ries is to help you be­come fa­mil­iar with the char­ac­ter­is­tics of mod­ern breeds, yet their sto­ries can­not rightly be told with­out first gain­ing an ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the con­for­ma­tion, gaits, ath­letic abil­ity and tem­per­a­ment of the Hobby.

In the first in­stall­ment of this se­ries (“The Ori­gin of Horse Breeds,” EQUUS 439) I pre­sented care­fully re­searched maps show­ing the ge­o­graphic ar­eas oc­cu­pied by the sub­species of Equus ca­bal­lus at the pe­riod im­me­di­ately pre­ced­ing do­mes­ti­ca­tion. The maps show that the horse species had adapted nat­u­rally over time to ar­eas with dif­fer­ent cli­mate and ter­rain. Most wide­spread mam­mal species show this ten­dency to dif­fer­en­ti­ate, thus form­ing mor­pho­log­i­cally dis­tinct sub­species.

With the be­gin­ning of do­mes­ti­ca­tion, peo­ple be­gan to in­flu­ence which mares a given stal­lion would cover. In na­ture, there was prob­a­bly al­ways a low fre­quency of mat­ings of in­di­vid­u­als be­long­ing to sub­species with abut­ting ter­ri­to­ries, and his­tor­i­cally it is quite likely that in cer­tain ar­eas---es­pe­cially the trans-Cau­ca­sus that lies be­tween the Black and Caspian Seas, and along the Rhine-Rhone bound­ary in western Europe---there was both nat­u­ral and man­made in­tro­gres­sion be­tween dif­fer­ent horse sub­species.

All such mat­ings in­volved noth­ing more com­pli­cated or un­usual than that a stal­lion should go---or be rid­den---to the de­sired herd of mares. This ob­vi­ously lim­its the size of the area in which any given stal­lion could have in­flu­ence. Long-dis­tance equine trans­port had to wait un­til peo­ple learned how to build large, sturdy ships that could carry horses. With the first cargo ships to ply the Mediter­ranean came the great­est revo­lu­tion that has ever oc­curred in horse breed­ing: stal­lions from the east­ern Mediter­ranean were brought more than 2,000 miles west­ward---a jour­ney they would never have ac­com­plished with­out hu­man

aid---to cover mares in Ibe­ria, France, Eng­land and Ire­land (be­long­ing to the “blue” sub­species). In con­for­ma­tion as well as in way of go­ing the east­ern and western horses were quite dif­fer­ent, but among the hy­brids pro­duced were some very su­pe­rior in­di­vid­u­als. Lo­cal peo­ple quickly no­ticed this and in ev­ery area they oc­curred, bred them on.

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