Horses in Estonia – what might you expect to find? Estonian horse husbandry is rich in terms of different breeding aims. In the autumn of 2017, the Estonian Agricultural Registers and Information Board (Et: Põllumajanduse Registrite ja Informatsiooni Amet) had over 16 000 horses from more than 100 breeds in their register. The most common breeds in Estonia (as of October 31st 2017) are the following:
- Estonian Native, 3 869 horses, 28,3 % of the total number,
- Estonian Sport Horse, 3 013 horses, 22,1 % of the total number,
- Tori Horse, 2 233 horses, 16,4 % of the total number,
- Estonian Riding Pony, 1 120 horses, 8,2 % of the total number,
- Trakehner, 846 horses, 6,2 % of the total number,
- Estonian Draft, 542 horses, 4,0 % of the total number,
- Shetland Pony, 288 horses, 2,1 % of the total number,
- Latvian Horse, 207 horses, 1,5 % of the total number,
- Dutch Warmblood, 202 horses, 1,5 % of the total number,
- Estonian Mini Pony, 142 horses, 1,0 % of the total number,
- Arabian Horse, 141 horses, 1,0 % of the total number.
We have spoken about the Estonian Native, the Estonian Draft, and the Tori Horse on our other pages. You probably also already know quite a bit about breeds such as the Trakehner, the Shetland Pony, the Dutch Warmblood, and the Arabian Horse. You can find plenty of information about them elsewhere, anyway. We would now like to speak a bit about four other breeds that are in our Top 11, and that are probably not that well known to you. These are the Estonian Sport Horse, the Estonian Riding Pony, the Estonian Mini Pony, and the Latvian Horse. The first three of these are newer Estonian breeds whose stud book is kept by the Estonian Sport Horse Breeders’ Association (Et: Eesti Sporthobuste Kasvatajate Selts), and not the Estonian Horse Breeders’ Association (Et: Eesti Hobusekasvatajate Selts). By the Latvian Horse we do not mean the Latvian aboriginal horse that is similar to the Estonian Native, but the Latvian universal horse with a 160-year breeding history.
ESTONIAN SPORT HORSE
The breeding goal of the Estonian Sport Horse is to get highly capable horses that are good for equine sports, both in terms of physiology and psychology. The minimum required wither height of the Estonian Sport Horse is 160 cm. Its breeding is based on the genetic components of horses that are registered as Estonian Sport Horses, full blooded and warm blooded horses that are kept in Estonia, and crossbreeds of the previous, if certain conditions are met.
The Estonian Sport Horse is rather similar to other European sport breeds, both in terms of breeding principles and genetic make-up. It has even been suggested that all European sport horses now form a single breed whose breeding goal is a high level of sporting achievement. Many European sport horse breeding programmes are liberal in their principles – compared to the breeding programmes of older breeds – and welcome all advantageous genetic components, be they from an Akhal-Teke, an English or Arabian fullblood, a Russian Trakehner or any other breed. Because this is how many sport horse breeders look at breeding, both in Estonia and elsewhere, there are actually no distinguishing features that make the Estonian (or any other) Sport Horse easy recognisable. The only criterion for judging the success of breeding is the sum of sporting achievements.
Because the function of the horse in human society has changed so much in the last 160 years (which is roughly the age of the Tori Stud), many older horse breeds have had to change their breeding goals but have nevertheless lost much of their importance to people. With the Estonian Sport Horse, there is no such worry. Equestrian sports are still popular and demand for good sport horses is high. It’s worth noting in this context that even though the Estonian Sport Horse breed is only a few decades old, it is now one of the most common breeds in Estonia, second only to the beloved aboriginal Estonian Native horse.
ESTONIAN RIDING PONY AND ESTONIAN MINI PONY
The Estonian Riding Pony and the Estonian Mini Pony are newer Estonian horse breeds that are based on the Estonian Native horse, as Estonian breeds always are. Their breeding has now reached a stage, however, where only Estonian Native mares are used while the stallions come from abroad.
The breeding goal of the Estonian Riding Pony is similar to that of the Estonian Sport Horse, i.e. to get horses with a great capability for sporting achievement in pony sports. At the same time they want the Estonian Riding Pony to be a good trekker and a lovely pet for children. All ponies and pony-sized horses are welcomed in the breeding, but the recommendation is to use Connemara, New Forest, and Welsh Ponies, and German, French, and Dutch Riding Ponies. The required wither height of the Estonian Riding Pony is 148 cm or less.
For the Estonian Mini Pony, the breeding goal is to get cute and friendly pets for children. As is usual for Estonian breeds, the primary component for the Estonian Mini Pony is the Estonian Native horse, which is crossed with Shetland and Welsh Ponies in main. The wither height of the Estonian Mini Pony is 120 cm or less.
The Estonian ponies – both the Riding Pony and the Mini Pony – must be eager to work, calm, trusting, and friendly. The most valuable breeding animals are calm and balanced in temperament, but also lively as is proper for descendants of the Estonian Native. For the Mini Pony whose primary job is to be a pet for children, being friendly and calm is obviously especially important.
The breeding of the Latvian Horse began at about the same time as they founded the Tori Stud in Estonia, i.e. in 1856. The Tori Stud was actually influential for the Latvian Horse in the beginning. There have been three different lines in the breeding of the Latvian Horse over time. At first, heavy draft work and carriage pulling lines were more important but nowadays the focus is on riding, as might be expected.
The Latvian Horse has been bred by crossing European horses with the local native breed, which is similar to the Estonian Native. They made the first breeding plan in 1890, which stipulated that ten European horse breeds would be used for the Latvian Horse. The most important of these were the Hanoverian, the Oldenburg, and to a lesser extent the Holsteiner Horse. The stud book was founded in 1927, and the breed was officially recognised in 1952.
The Latvian Horse is a warmblood whose wither height can be 170 cm and more. The sportier members of this breed weigh about 600 kg while the heavy pullers weigh about 800 kg.
Written by Kristjan Korsten | Sources: The Estonian Sport Horse Breeders’ Association, the Estonian Food and Veterinary Office, the newspapers “Maaleht” and “Postimees”, Wikipedia, etc. | Last updated in December 2017