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Home > General > 21 Chinese Horse Breeds: History, Info, Pictures, & More

21 Chinese Horse Breeds: History, Info, Pictures, & More

tibetan pony in the mountain

China has a rich and ancient history dating back many thousands of years. Horses are thought to have first been domesticated by the Chinese between 3,000 and 2,300 BC, but no conclusive evidence supports the claim. Horse-drawn chariots were used during warfare from around 1,450 to 1,050 BC, but the riding of horses by warriors was not observed before 400 BC.

Today, China has one of the largest populations of horses in the world. Horses continue to be used in rural areas for transport and agriculture. More recently, horses have been enjoyed by the more affluent sectors of society for recreation through equestrian pursuits such as polo, horse racing, leisure riding, and other disciplines. Interestingly, gambling is prohibited in China, so no betting takes place in horse racing. In this article, we’ll discuss 21 of China’s most familiar horse breeds.

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21 Chinese Horse Breeds

There are over 40 breeds of horses and ponies in China. They can be divided into three broad categories, namely those that are native, those that have been introduced, and those that have been developed over the years.

Native Breeds

1. Tibetan

Image By: jllucks, Instagram
Origin Western & Central Tibet (Tibet Autonomous Region)
Height 12 hands high (48 inches)
Uses Riding, pack pony, farm work.

The Tibetan pony is an ancient breed believed to be descended from the Mongolian pony and other ancient Chinese species more than 4,000 years ago. This breed is culturally vital to the local people and religious figures. In the past, they were traded for goods and given to emperors as gifts.

They are powerful ponies with well-defined heads that can be almost any color, including black, bay, chestnut, and gray. They are strong, fast for their size, and possess incredible endurance. They are used for various tasks and pastimes, from draft work to racing.


2. Guoxia

Origin Debao, Jingxi, and Tianyan counties of southwest China
Height 11 hands high (44 inches)
Uses Riding, driving

The Guoxia is descended from Mongolian horses and is a small, strong horse used in agricultural orchards. Its name translates as “under fruit tree horse.” It was considered extinct until a herd was discovered in 1981.

Today, these gentle yet tough little ponies are used for riding and driving and are particularly sought after as children’s ponies. They are mostly bay, roan, or gray.


3. Baise

Baise Horse
Image Credit: Inesmeierfotografie, Shutterstock
Origin Guangxi region of China
Height 11 – 12 hands high (44 –48 inches)
Uses Riding, driving, draft work, meat

Owing to its origins, the Baise horse is sometimes called the Guangxi. Due to their shared physical similarities, They are strong and fast horses related to the Mongolian pony. It has important cultural ties to the people of the region and is often included in traditional wedding ceremonies.

The Baise thrives at the high altitudes from which it originates. They have strong hooves and legs that make them ideally suited to work in demanding terrains. Traditional colors are chestnut, black, bay, and gray.


4. Datong

Origin Northern Qinghai province
Height 12 – 13.2 hands high (48 – 54 inches)
Uses Packhorse, riding, meat

The Datong is a robust pony, well adapted to life at high altitudes, that is best known for its connection to the famous dragon horse of Chinese legend. Their origins date back over 4,000 years, making them one of the oldest native Chinese breeds.

During the 19th century, Hequ horses were crossed with the Datong, supposedly to improve the breed. Two types of Datong exist: the light and the heavy.  As the names suggest, the heavy type is a coarser, stouter pony with a heavier head, while the light type is a more refined, longer-limbed horse.

The Datong has a pleasing temperament and exceptional endurance, especially at high altitudes. They are commonly bay, black, and chestnut, occasionally gray, and rarely possess an attractive leopard coloration.


5. Balikun

Origin Xinjiang region of China
Height 14 hands high (56 inches)
Uses Riding, packhorse, draft work

The Balikun is one of the taller native Chinese horse breeds. It is a lightly built horse that is exceptionally well adapted to the freezing conditions of its native region, thanks to its thick coat. They have a muscular body, strong legs and feet, and a large head.

The breed was isolated about 200 years ago after breeding Mongolian horses and Kazakhs selectively. They are usually bay or chestnut.


6. Guizhou

Origin Guizhou Province in China
Height 11.2 hands high (46 inches)
Uses Packhorse, riding

This tough little pony is one of the purest in China and originated in a very remote region. It developed concurrently with agriculture in the area, around 770 BC, and was primarily used for transportation and trade.

There are two types of Guizhou pony; one is more suitable as a packhorse, and the other is better suited for riding. They are muscularly built with an attractive, quality head and are primarily bay, black, gray, dun, or chestnut.


7. Yunnan

Origin Wuron Mountains in China
Height 11 – 11.2 hands high (44 – 46 inches)
Uses Transport, riding

The Yunnan is a strictly preserved pure breed—having no outside influence—that originated in the Wuron Mountain region around 285 BC. At that time, they were used to pull carts and chariots.

They have a very attractive head, short neck and back, muscular body, and small, hard hooves. They have a kind temperament and are primarily black, chestnut, or bay.


8. Mongolian

Origin Heilongjiany, Gansu, Xinjiang, and Qinghai provinces. Inner Mongolia
Height 12 – 14 hands high (48 – 56 inches)
Uses Riding, packhorse, meat, milk

The Mongolian is one of the most ancient breeds of Asian pony from which many other native Chinese breeds are descended.

They are world-renowned for their endurance and ability to withstand the harshest conditions. They have wide bodies, short necks, and short, strong legs and are found in every color.

There are four types of Chinese Mongolian pony: the Baicha, the Wushen, the Abaga, and the Ujumqin.


9. Kazakh

Origin Northwestern Xinjiang
Height 13–13.2 hands high (52–54 inches)
Uses Riding, racing, milk, meat

As another ancient breed of Chinese horse, the Kazakh is larger and more valuable than the Mongolian (for riding purposes) and is likely descended from the Turkoman and Mongolian species.

Sometimes also known as the Hasake, the Kazakh is well-adapted to the region’s cold weather. It can be any solid color.


10. Hequ

Origin Qinghai, Sichuan and Gansu provinces
Height 12.2 – 13.2 hands high (50 – 54 inches)
Uses Riding, racing, packhorse, draft work

The Hequ dates back to the 7th century, but they have only come to be called the Hequ since the 1950s. Before then, they were known as the Nanfan horse, but they were also called the Hequl, Tangke, Qiaoke, and Nanfanhe. “Hequ” means “river zig,” as these little horses come from a region where the Yellow River makes a large zig.

In the 19th century, the breed was crossed with the Datong horse to improve it. There are three Hequ types: the Jiaoke, Suoke, and Kesheng. Each type varies in appearance and distribution.


11. Chakouyi

Origin Silk Road region of the Gansu Province
Height 13 hands high (52 inches)
Uses Riding, transportation

This hardy breed of horse with a history extending back about 2,000 years is famous for its ability to pace.

They are descended from the Mongolian, Kazakh, and Tibetan ponies. They can be black, gray, and, most commonly, bay. They have a sloped, well-developed croup (top of rump), short legs, and robust joints.

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Developed Breeds

12. Heihe

Origin Heilongjiang River Basin in Heihe City
Height 14.2 – 15.2 hands high (58 – 62 inches)
Uses Riding, packhorse, transportation, farm work

The Heihe is a result of crossing Russian Mongolians with local Soulun horses. This practice was strictly adhered to from the beginning of their development in the 1930s until the 1950s when the North Horse Farm was established. The Heihe was officially recognized as a breed in 1963.

They are tall, well-built, beautiful animals with strong legs and an amenable temperament. The local people rely on the horse for agriculture and transport. They are typically either bay, black, chestnut, or gray. There are two types: a lighter-built type and a heavier, more robust type.


13. Sini

Origin Sini River Basin
Height 13.2 – 14.2 hands high (54 – 58 inches)
Uses Riding

The Sini was developed in the early 20th century by crossing the Chinese Baikal and Sanhe horse breeds. Although an attempt to add other horses to the cross was made, they never persisted and were eventually discarded from the breeding program.

They usually are chestnut, bay, gray, or black. They are a well-conformed horse with lean musculature.


14. Jielin

Origin Baicheng, Changchun & Sipling Districts
Height 15 hands high (60 inches)
Uses Riding, agriculture, transportation, improvement of other breeds

The Jielin is a majestic Chinese horse breed. It is significantly bigger than many other Chinese breeds in height and build. They have noticeably large, heavily muscled bodies that are as powerful as they look.

They are descended from a long line of Mongolian horses, but they were crossed with the Don and Ardennes (introduced breeds) due to being too slight for the demands of agricultural work.

The result was the handsome equine we see today. The modern Jielin breed was officially recognized in the 1970s. They are docile and obliging horses that are mostly either black, chestnut, or bay.


15. Sanhe

Origin Eastern Inner Mongolia
Height 14.3 – 15 hands high (58 – 30 inches)
Uses Riding, driving, light draft work, racing

The Sanhe is considered one of China’s finest horses, resulting from imported Russian breeds being crossed with local horses in the region. The region from which they originate is Inner Mongolia, where three rivers form a lush grassland basin—an area considered perfect for horse breeding. “Sanhe” means “three rivers.” They are good-looking horses with excellent conformation that are typically chestnut or bay.


16. Lijiang

Origin Lijiang district
Height 11 – 12 hands high (44 – 48 inches)
Uses Riding, agriculture, pack ponies

This young breed was developed after World War II in response to the need for a strong pony for transportation. The Lijiang was developed by crossing Arabians, Kabarda, Ardennes, Yili, and Hequ with the smaller local ponies. The ponies are often chestnut, bay, or gray.


17. Heilongjiang

Origin Northern Heilongjiang Province
Height 14.2 – 15 hands high (56 – 30 inches)
Uses Riding, light draft work, transportation

The Heilongjiang was developed in the Song-Liao Plain in the northern Heilongjiang province of China, which is a very horse-proud region. The resulting breeding program was a scientific effort involving many farms and different local bloodlines.

They were created by carefully including various introduced breeds, namely, Ardennes, Soviet Heavy Draft, Orlov Trotters, Don, Vladimir Draft, Kabarda, and Russian Thoroughbreds to the horses local to the area. These primarily bay or chestnut horses consist of a heavier set type and a lighter built type.


18. Guanzhong

Origin Wei River Basin of China
Height 14.3 – 15 hands high (58 – 30 inches)
Uses Agriculture, transportation

This striking horse has a bold, honest temperament and solid, well-proportioned conformation. It hails from a region renowned for its agricultural productivity, which is partly dependent on the horses in the area.

In the 1950s, developing a breed that could keep pace with the agricultural demands became necessary, so larger Russian horses were imported to cross with the local ponies. The result still did not meet expectations, but the addition of Ardennes bloodlines further improved the breed. By 1965, the ideal was met, and the animals were interbred to establish the breed.


19. Xilingol

Origin Southeastern Xilinggral MengInner in Mongolia
Height 14.2 – 15 hands high (56 – 30 inches)
Uses Riding, light draft

The Xilingol was developed in the 1960s using a controlled breeding program by crossing introduced breeds with local horses. Russian Thoroughbreds, Dons, Akhal-Tekes, Kabarda, and Sanhe were used to create the Xilingol, which is renowned for being extremely fast.

The Xilingol is not only fast, but it is also a beautiful, athletically built horse with excellent conformation. It can be any solid color.


20. Buohai

Origin Northeastern Shandong Province
Height 14.3 – 15 hands high (58 – 30 inches)
Uses Riding, transportation, pack horse

The Buohai resulted from a government-introduced crossbreeding program. It was designed to improve the horses native to the northeastern part of the Shandong Province near the Buohai Sea and the Yellow River for the previous 2,700 years. The first attempts resulted in horses that were too light to meet the demands of the farm work.

By introducing Ardennes and Soviet Heavy Draft blood, the contemporary Buohai was produced. It was registered in 1974. There is still a bit of variation within the breed due to the introduction of other bloodlines, but that is in the process of being cleaned up.

This capable horse has a deep chest, flat back, and a “well-put-on” neck with a pretty head and hard, strong hooves. It is typically either chestnut or bay.


21. Yili

Origin Yili-Kazakh Autonomous District in China
Height 14 hands high (52 inches)
Uses Riding, light draft, milk, meat

The Yili, or Ili as it is sometimes also known, was developed in the first half of the 1900s. Early in the 20th century, Russian immigrants introduced stallions to the area to try and improve the native Kazakh horses. Around 1936, Anglo-Don, Orlov Trotter, and Don horses were introduced. In 1963, the draft-riding type of Yili of today was accepted as standard.

They have an honest nature and satisfactory conformation, and the stud horses can be quite attractive. They are normally bay, chestnut, gray, or black.

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Conclusion

The native Chinese horse breeds are singularly unique, having little to no interference from other world breeds during their entire ancestry. They possess ancient and undiluted bloodlines that can be traced back thousands of years. What these native breeds lack in stature, they make up for in functional value and worth. They have evolved with the Chinese people as an integral component of their lives, particularly in rural and agricultural settings.

Later, as Chinese society’s needs evolved, some of these tough little native ponies were crossed with various introduced breeds, resulting in the development of contemporary Chinese horse breeds. These horses are all generally taller, but some are also stockier. All native, developed, and introduced horse breeds fill essential roles in modern China.


Featured Image Credit: Abis Photos, Shutterstock

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