The evolution of the Hackney horse into the high performance harness horse, ballerina of the show that we know today has been long and fascinating. The word 'Hackney' comes from the French "haquenee", a language commonly spoken in England in Medieval times. This describes a riding horse with a particularly comfortable trot or amble and over the years the term became synonymous with a general purpose ridden and driven animal whose stamina and soundness were greatly admired and whose favoured pace was the trot. These horses were just at home taking the farmer to market, working on the farm or enjoying a days hunting. In the day when if you needed to travel any distance you went astride a horse, they were also the sort of horses available for hire. These early ancestors of the Hackney were highly thought of by the monarchs of the time, with Henry VII, Henry VIII and Elisabeth I all passing acts concerning horse breeding and the value of the Hackney. Henry VIII even penalised anyone exporting an animal without authority. Although not destriers, the great war horses ridden by noblemen, Hackneys were used as light cavalry in the numerous wars and skirmishes during this period.
In the early 1700's breeders began to cross the native hackney with the blood of imported Arabian stallions This cross added some refinement to the Breed but took nothing away from the inherent qualities of the original horses. As the evolution of the Hackney progressed breeders began to concentrate their efforts in producing harness animals due to the general improvement in road conditions and demand for coaching animals. Hackneys were prized for their stamina and soundness and for their ability to eat up the miles at trot rather than any high knee action at this time. Road races usually under saddle were a common place events with much money changing hands in the form of wagers. With horse drawn vehicles becoming more sophisticated came a demand for a showier animal with high head carriage and lofty knee action. The Regency period was one of great flamboyance and the ownership of smart and flashy carriage horses was a real status symbol.
In the later half of the eighteenth century areas in England became particularly famous for their own type of improved trotting horse and the fame of the Norfolk Trotter, the Lincolnshire Trotters and the Yorkshire Roadster became widespread. The Hackney continued to play an important role in the general horse world with many being exported to be used in breeding programmes on the Continent and North America where breeds that have a large amount of Hackney blood include Holsteins, Gelderlanders, Dutch Warm Bloods, Saddle Breds, Morgans etc. Hackney blood is dominant when outcrossed and appears to influence rather then be influenced.
In 1878 in Norfolk a meeting was held in Downham Market where it was resolved by the horse breeders present to establish a register for English Trotting horses. Henry F. Euren the editor of the Norwich Mercury undertook the task and 'm 1883 the Hackney Stud Book Society was formed and the first stud book Volume 1 produced a little while later. The current Stud Book Volume is No. 54 published in 2000, over one hundred years of Hackney history he 'm those volumes.
Possibly the greatest evolution of the Hackney has taken place in the 20th century. At the beginning of the 1900's large numbers of Hackneys were still being exported all over the world to places as far flung as America Australia, and South Africa and Argentina as well as the continent. Hackney classes at the large horse shows were extremely popular and Hackneys were also playing their part in the First World War as cavalry mounts and artillery horses. The time between the war years saw a large growth in the professionally trained show Hackney as opposed to the privately produced animal but with the advent of the Second World War things began to look very precarious for Hackneys.
The motor car was obviously here to stay and with all available land being used for the war effort, Hackney breeding was deemed non-essential. Fortunately they survived this period thanks to the dogged determination of a few breeders and maybe thanks to the petrol rationing which left the horse as an economical form of transport. After the war the emphasis on breeding shifted to producing the show animal, we know today. This spectacular show harness animal, with his presence, athleticism, elegance, stamina and soundness is a product of many centuries of careful breeding. Their value as a cross to produce show jumpers and today's sports horse is very well recognised, and they continue to have remarkable success in all forms of driving competitions
The evolution of the Hackney Pony as distinct from the Hackney Horse occurred in the latter half of the 19th Century when a Mr. Wilson of Westmoreland set out to breed a Hackney pony. He wanted not just a undersized Hackney horse but an animal with distinct pony character. He brought mainly Fell brood mares and also experimented with a Welsh pony cross. His chosen foundation stallion was a brown stallion called Sir George, an animal with outstanding looks, presence and action, standing just under 14hh. Mr. Wilson believed in maintaining the hardiness of these ponies and to some extent restricted their height by leaving them to fend for themselves over winter out on the moors. The "Wilson Pony" was a success and many other breeders began emulating his work. The War years brought about The War years brought about the same mixed fortunes for the Hackney Pony as for the Hackney Horse but after the Second World War they too began to be bred primarily for the Showring, which is now the natural home for these effervescent equines. They excel at all forms of Driving competitions, enjoying all the attributes of their larger cousins, yet still having that indefinable quality of pony character that makes them such fun. ...
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Bertram Mills with his black Hackney Team