What to Know About the Hackney Horse

Medically Reviewed by Vanesa Farmer, DVM on January 10, 2023
5 min read

The Hackney is an elegant horse breed from England that was introduced to the US in the late 1800s. This stylish horse was a top choice for pulling carriages in the 19th century and was bred specifically for this task. While you might not need a horse to pull your carriage anymore, the Hackney horse is still a very popular breed for a number of reasons. If you’re considering owning a Hackney, here’s what you need to know about personality, characteristics, and care.

The Hackney is a carriage horse breed that has two branches: the horse and the pony. Both types were developed specifically for pulling carriages efficiently and with style. The Hackney traces its roots back to 1760, when wealthy farmers in Norfolk, England, began breeding Thoroughbreds with a local breed, the Norfolk Trotter. The Norfolk Trotter is a large harness horse, and farmers crossed it with Thoroughbreds to create a new breed with strength, stamina, and style.

Over the next 50 years, the Hackney horse continued to develop into its own distinct breed. It was a strong, yet light horse that had style and personality, making it the perfect equine for pulling carriages around town. In 1866, the Hackney horse was bred with the Welsh pony to create a smaller breed, which then became the Hackney pony. The Hackney was imported to the US in the late 19th century, both horses and ponies. Today, about 95% of registered Hackneys in the US are ponies, not horses.

Even though the Hackney horse is a well-known breed in the United Kingdom and America, it’s not a popular breed on a global scale. It’s estimated that there are only 3,000 Hackneys found around the world, most living in Britain. Currently, there are only about 200 registered Hackney horses in all of North America. Because of these numbers, the breed has a critical status until numbers start to increase.

The Hackney horse is known as much for its personality traits as it is for its physical characteristics.

Hackney horse size and appearance. The Hackney horse is a strong, muscular horse that stands between 14.2 and 15.2 hands tall at the withers (58 to 62 inches, or 147 to 157 centimeters). As this is a powerful horse, the Hackney weighs about 1,000 pounds (450 kilograms). The breed standard states that the Hackney should have its head and neck raised with a straight or slightly convex profile. The neck and back are both moderate in length, with the neck having a good arch, while the chest is deep. The neck is attached to high withers on muscly shoulders that have a slight slope.

Despite being muscular, the Hackney horse’s features are fine and trim. It has clear eyes that are set far apart, small ears, and a fine throat. Moving along the body, this horse has trim legs with flat bones and round, curved hooves. For coloring, the Hackney horse can be any of the following:

  • Chestnut
  • Black
  • Brown
  • Bay

Hackneys are dark in color, including their manes and tails, although some may have white markings on their bodies.

Personality. Hackneys are famous for their spirit and personality. Since these horses are mostly for show now, they are used to being performers and showing off. Hackneys are docile with their owners but need good handling and training, as they can be nervous and high-strung.

As carriage horses, Hackneys have a specific fluid trot that they are famous for, in which they lift their knees high and their hocks bend back. This trot is what allowed Hackneys to swiftly pull carriages along with both speed and style. Roads in England improved in the mid-19th century so that carriages could move better down the streets. Smoother roads meant that horses could move faster, so the Hackney became very desirable for its strength and speed.

Once carriages were replaced by automobiles, the need for Hackneys went down. Instead of pulling carriages through the streets, Hackney owners began preparing their horses for competitions and shows. Today, the Hackney horse competes in several carriage and driving events that showcase its trot, elegance, and personality. Hackneys are also swift jumpers and good riding horses, so people ride them both in the show ring and outside of it.

In the show ring, Hackney horses are usually shown in harness — either alone or in pairs. Sometimes they are shown in hand, being led by a trainer standing on the ground. In hand, the Hackney is expected to move in a four-beat walk that straightens the legs and extends the hock while giving the horse’s head some freedom to move. Since the movement is all about straight legs, the horse will lose points if the legs cross.

Like most horses, the average Hackney horse's lifespan is around 30 with the proper care. Taking the right care of your horse, whether you own a horse for recreation or show, is a vital part of keeping it healthy and in top condition. Adult horses under 20 years old should have at least one vet check-up a year, while adult horses over 20 should have at least two or more, depending on their health.

Part of keeping your horse healthy is making sure that it is up-to-date on vaccinations, deworming, and other parasite control. You should groom your horse each day to brush away loose hair, dirt, and debris. This keeps your horse’s coat healthy and gives you the chance to check its body for any signs of illness or injury. You should also pick your horse's hooves each day to remove any debris. The hooves need to be trimmed every six weeks or so, either by a vet or a farrier. Depending on the activities or work your horse is doing, it may also need shoes that are fitted by the farrier.

Your Hackney horse will need to eat between 10 and 13 kilograms of roughage each day, either hay or through grazing in a pasture. If your horse is especially active, you may need to supplement its diet with oats or grain feed. It should have access to food and fresh water at all times so that it can graze and drink freely. Hackneys are quite active, so if your horse isn’t training, make sure that it gets plenty of daily exercise.