Even if you know nothing of the Hackney breed, you will never forget this horse if you see one.

Truly one of the most show-stopping horses in the world today is the Hackney horse. This equine has a flair that is hard to top with its snappy gaits and pert head carriage. People take notice when a Hackney trots by. It is not to be confused with a Hackney Pony, which stands 14.2 hands or smaller. Primarily used as driving horses and for harness races, the Hackney has a loyal following in many countries and there is ample reason for this popularity.


The Hackney originated in Norfolk, England in the late 1700’s. They were a cross between Norfolk Trotters and Yorkshire Trotters. Also known as Roadsters, both of these trotters were prized for their movement and trotting speed. They were bred for the purpose of transportation, and they were full of stamina and endurance. Both the Norfolk and the Yorkshire Trotters could trace their lineage to a single stallion named Original Shales. This horse was born in 1755. His sire, Blaze, and his grandfather, Flying Childers, were the first great race horses of their day.  Flying Childers was a grandson of the Darby Arabian whose bloodline later became one of the foundations of Thoroughbred stock.

In the early 1800s, a father-son duo named Robert and Philip Ramsdales started crossbreeding Norfolks and Yorkshires on a regular basis with great success. One of the daughters of this combination set a record for trotting 17 miles in 53 minutes in1832. The horse was only 14 hands tall.

In 1833 the Hackney Horse Society was formed for aficionados of this crossbreed. Fifty years later, the official Hackney Stud Book Society was opened to register breeding stock and promote the horse as a unique breed.

In its heyday, the Hackney was considered top-of-the-line transportation. They were in high demand, not only in England, but in other parts of the world. In 1878 the first Hackney was shipped to America by a man named A.J. Casset. He helped to popularize them in the United States and helped found the American Hackney Horse Society in 1891.

Hackneys were shipped by the boat loads to the United States in the last half of that century.  Beginning in the 19th century, the numbers of Norfolks and Yorkshires started to dwindle to the point that those breeds are now extinct. The Hackneys also suffered a decline in numbers, but because of their showiness and flair, they found new life in the show ring.

The Hackney Today

Still considered the “Rolls Royce” of harness horses, the Hackney is a popular horse to show in driving classes as well as harness races. They can be shown as a single horse, as a pair, as a unicorn, with four in hand, and in obstacle courses. They are also being shown under saddle.  Saddle events include dressage, eventing, hunter jumper, English pleasure and competitive trail riding. In fact, they are gaining such popularity as a saddle horse, the United States Dressage Federation added them to the annual all-breeds awards in 2004.

Hackney Standard

Hackneys are a slight horse, standing between 14.2 and 16.2 hands tall. They are usually bay, black, brown or sometimes chestnut, although those are the minority. It may have white markings, such as a stripe or stockings. The head is usually small with a refined muzzle. The ears should look alert. The neck should have some length to blend nicely into a powerful chest and shoulders. The body is compressed, with a level top line, and rounded ribs. The loin is shorter and well-muscled with a long croup. The tail is carried high and is either long or docked. The legs are moderate in length, with strong joints and muscular thighs and hindquarters. The horse will have a good pastern angle and length. This horse has a reputation for overall soundness.

The action of the Hackney horse is its hallmark. It should be dazzling, brilliant and spectacular.  The shoulder should be very free, and the knee action has great elevation and covers a large amount of ground with each step. The hind action is much the same, though to a lesser degree.  The hocks should be brought up under the body and raised high. The flexion in a Hackneys’ joints is hard to surpass. The overall affect is spectacular, leaving the onlooker breathless and enthralled.

This is truly a horse to see in action. Pictures and videos do not do it justice. They are beautiful and have beautiful temperament to match.

In Australia, the studbook for the Australian Hackney horse is kept by Australian Pony Studbook Society here http://www.apsb.asn.au/society.htm