Horse Origins & Breeds

Icon of a book Information to Make Informed Choices

Domestic animals have been bred by humans for centuries. Selective animal breeding has been used to modify the characteristics and traits of domestic animals, and involves the application of different types of scientific knowledge and research:

  • Genetics
  • Animal physiology
  • Reproductive technologies
  • Statistics.

The increasing use of technology in animal breeding has allowed animal breeders to breed for very specific traits. This use of technology includes biotechnology, which includes any use of science or technology to alter the characteristics of a particular breed or animal. Selective breeding is one form of biotechnology. It involves the process of mating two animals in an attempt to produce offspring with more desirable characteristics or traits. Selective breeding is a form of biotechnology that people have used for thousands of years. Artificial insemination, inseminating a female with sperm, and in vitro fertilization, fertilizing an egg outside of the body, are both forms of biotechnology.

Genetic engineering is another form of biotechnology, and uses technology to add DNA to an animal. Simply put, its goal is to add one or more traits that are not already found in that animal. Genetic engineering in animals is a very new science.

Biotechnology can provide benefits for both animals and people. It can improve an animal’s resistance to disease and increase its productivity – including, for example, the number of eggs laid by hens and the amount of milk produced by dairy cows. When it comes to companion animals, biotechnology is used to select genetic traits in animals that have desirable physical or performance traits. However, biotechnology can also raise a number of ethical and moral issues and questions. Some people believe that the genetic selection of certain physical or performance traits can be associated with distress and serious health issues for the animal.

Knowledge of the unique traits and background of horse breeds is important when choosing one. It is also important to consider why you want to raise a horse, as they are bred for many different activities, including work, riding, racing and showing.

Photo of three horses grazing in a large open fenced in field.
Figure 2.1: Horses Grazing.
Photograph courtesy of Reg & Marcia Johnston

What to Know About Horse Breeds

Selecting a horse breed involves a number of considerations. There are 20 or more different purebred breeds of horse to choose from in North America. They differ in size, shape, colour, disposition, conformation, ability and adaptability.

Horse breeds were developed to produce horses that were best suited for particular functions or activities. The pedigree, or the family history, of a particular breed is often tracked by groups or associations interested in that breed. Horse breeds are often named after the place in which they originated or an activity that they are very skilled at.

What does the Code of Practice say about horse breeds?

“Responsible breeding includes the selection of mares and sires that are proven in their field, have good conformation and temperament, are healthy and free from known hereditary conditions that will impact the welfare of the offspring.”

Icon of a graded written submission Making A Choice (Activity)

What’s involved in making an informed decision about the animal you want to raise and care for? There are a number of different factors to consider, including:

  • Type of domestic animal
  • Breed of the animal

You have chosen to work with, or are working with, a specific type of domestic animal. Domestic animals that share characteristics are grouped into breeds, and often described with the breed name. Animal breeds have very similar, defining characteristics or traits that are passed on to their offspring when they reproduce.

Animals also have names that reflect their sex and stage of life.

Take a few minutes to complete the following activity.

Activity Instructions

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  2. Scroll down to the “Making A Choice” activity item in the booklet.
  3. Complete each of the activities outlined in the instructions.
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