A sport horse isn’t a breed, and in fact I never came across the term until relatively recently – I mean 20 or 30 years ago.
Many of our sport horses come from Ireland, where they breed wonderful thoroughbreds too, of course. The Irish Sports Horse often has a lot of quality – here’s a photo of one.
But sport horses have become almost like a breed in the way they are described and people buy them, so maybe one day they will have their own classification.
To me a sports horse is one that is normally crossed somewhere with a Thoroughbred. It has to be athletic and often suitable for multiple disciplines. So it may become a showjumper or a dressage horse, or an eventer. But being suitable for multi-disciplines inevitably means that the horse will be a jack-of-all-trades to some extent. He may be good at a number of things, but he probably won’t excel in any one.
So you’d probably have to get a horse that is bred for jumping if you wanted to be a serious showjumper, for example. Or a horse bred for its movement and concentration if you want a top dressage horse.
These specialist horses are incredibly expensive of course, so most people buy a “sports horse” and try to turn it into a super horse by good training. Sometimes it pays off.
This lovely coloured sports horse looks suitable for a number of disciplines. Coloured horses, piebalds as we used to call them and pintos as they call them in America, are becoming more and more popular. That was certainly helped by the Queen’s lovely stallion Mars, who sired some top horses.
I love the thoroughbred. Look at those fine lines, intelligent head and limbs built for speed. They are the ultimate racehorse, of course, and in the UK most thoroughbreds are bred for racing. The majority never come good, so they get trained for other disciplines, or sadly some just fall by the wayside.
Many of our top sports horses have at least some thoroughbred blood, and they add speed with their light legs and quick movement. Unfortunately those same legs are vulnerable when they fall because they have less bone than other breeds.
Sovereigns owned and bred the best of these thoroughbreds and our Queen today still maintains that tradition with her love of horses and breeding programmes.
The three stallions who are the foundation stock of all English thoroughbreds and from whom all our present-day thoroughbreds descend are the Darley Arabian, Goldolphin Arabian and the Byerley Turk. These three were imported in the late 17th century and bred with the best English and imported carriage mares. These mares were stronger and heavier than the Arab and Turk. Many other fine stallions were later imported improving the bloodlines until we reach present day.
Thoroughbreds are wonderful to ride and light of foot, but many are not suitable for novices or riders who lack confidence. They tend to be sharp – easily spooked and quick to shy or move rapidly sideways. This can easily unseat an inexperienced or insecure rider. These days I prefer a horse with some steadying influence in its blood – maybe a warmblood or a draught.
That sort of cross tends to produce a horse with more weight and bone with a more sensible attitude – which suits me.
My lovely Bayside had more than a touch of English Thoroughbred.
The Percheron is a draft horse, of course, of French origin. Percherons were originally bred as war horses, then they were used to pull stage coaches and agricultural machinery. They’re big, strong-muscled horses, usually grey or black, and are recognised for their intelligence and easy nature.
In the late 18th century, they were crossed with Arabs to add a little lightness and speed. This is something I’ve only just discovered. Early Percherons must have looked even stronger and stockier than their modern counterparts.
Before the First World War, the breed became popular in the USA and thousands were shipped out. This stopped though during the war, when Percherons were needed as war horses once again. Some were even shipped back to join the fighting. It was a bad time to be a big horse!
In 1918 breeding began in the UK and the British Percheron Horse Society came into being.
After a few ups and downs, Percherons are now pretty popular again in the US, where 2,500 are newly registered each year. And they are still used extensively as draft horses – though the French breed them for food.
Nowadays, when Sport Horses are so popular, the Percheron has been cross-bred with lighter breeds like Thoroughbreds and Arabs to produce competition horses. But purebreds are still used extensively for pulling carriages and you can see from the picture at the top of this post that they also make good police horses.
My Bayside was half Percheron
If you own a Percheron or a cross-bred Percheron, I’d love to hear from. You can contact me here
This blog, “Bayside, my favourite mare”, is in honour of the most lovely horse I ever owned. She was called Bayside and her sire was an Anglo-Arab, out of a Percheron mare.
She was a beautiful girl, big, kind and easy-going. Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos of her following a fire at the flat where all my pictures were stored. So I’ve decided to write a blog and to find out more about the three breeds that made her so special.
Bayside was dapple grey, 16.3hh and 10 years old when I got her. We didn’t do anything special, just hacked around the Sussex countryside near Horsham and had some fun. We went on the odd sponsored ride and occasionally entered a small local show for a laugh, but mostly we just hung out together.
She was a safe horse and never made me fear for my life, like some I could mention! But she was still quite fast and had lots of stamina. I had her for 8 years until we lost her, and she left me with many fond memories.
It’s an unlikely mix – Percheron, Thoroughbred and Arab, but somehow it worked. So I’m going to learn much more about these breeds and their characteristics. And because I have a head like a sieve, I going to document everything I learn, so I can go back to it from time to time.