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New Zealand: Rare
Importation: 1880s

Hackney Horses

A Rare Breed of British Origin

Roadster horse 1838
Roadster horse 1838

      The Hackney (formerly called the Roadster) has a long history. William Youatt, writing in 1838, considered the Road Horse to have developed into the premier English breed. Its essential role was as a working harness horse developed for relatively fast transport on improving roads – as its original name implies. This is reflected in the 1838 woodcut (right) which shows both a signpost and a milestone in the background.

      However, the Hackney type was evolving long before this – principally in Yorkshire. References as early as the thirteenth century speak of “Fayre trotting horses” and advise that mares to breed from should be “strongly made, large and fayre, and have a trotting pace ...” (‘Fayre’ [fair] in this context meant ‘kind and gentle’ – in other words, with a good disposition.)   Early publications stress that the Hackney was bred for work, not for fancy.

Hackney mare, England, early 20th Century
Hackney mare, England, early 20th Century

      A Hackney Stud Book was first published in 1884, and a Hackney Horse Society was formed. Subsequent to this, a Hackney pony was developed and recognized as a separate breed.

      With the advent of the Railway, and at a later date motor transport, Hackneys like most horse breeds declined rapidly in numbers, but the breed was kept going by fanciers who made them fashionable in the show ring.

      Hackney type horses were introduced into New Zealand in the mid-1800s for carriage work, and subsequently a number of registered stallions were imported.

Hackney horse 'Almondo Tango'
New Zealand Hackney 'Almondo Tango'
(Photo by Jeni Bassett, Equine Attitude)

      When Hackney numbers declined drastically world wide during the Second World War, only a few breeders and exhibitors remained in New Zealand and stock became very inbred.

      A New Zealand Hackney Society was formed in 1976, and a first Stud Book was published in 1980. A number of importations were made from Australia (where some top English stock had recently been brought in), and at least one importation was made from England. However, once again numbers have declined dramatically, and this historic breed is greatly endangered in New Zealand.

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