10 Recently Extinct Horse Breeds

Illustration of four equines in the wild

Ruskpp / Getty Images 

With some notable exceptions, it's a much less serious matter when a horse goes extinct than, say, an elephant or a sea otter. The genus Equus persists, but certain breeds fall by the wayside, and some of their genetic material lives on in their descendants. That said, here are 10 horses and zebras that have gone extinct in historical times, either because of a lapse in breeding standards or active depredation by humans who should have known better.

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The Norfolk Trotter

Norfolk Trotter illustration
Confidence, a Norfolk Trotter.

J. H. Engleheart / Wikimedia Commons / public domain 

Just as the Narragansett Pacer (#4 below) is associated with George Washington, so is the slightly earlier Norfolk Trotter inextricably entangled with the reign of King Henry VIII. In the mid-16th century, this monarch ordered England's nobles to maintain a minimum number of trotting horses, presumably to be mobilized in the event of war or insurrection. Within 200 years, the Norfolk Trotter had become the most popular horse breed in England, favored for its speed and durability. This equine could carry a full-grown rider over rough or nonexistent roads at a clip of up to 17 miles per hour. The Norfolk Trotter has since disappeared, but its modern descendants include the Standardbred and the Hackney. 

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The American Zebra

American Zebra fossil on display
American Zebra.

Daderot/Wikimedia Commons / public domain 

Although it's stretching credulity to say that the American Zebra went extinct in "historical" times, this horse merits inclusion on the list because it's the first identified species of genus Equus, which includes all modern horses, donkeys, and zebras. Also known as the Hagerman Horse, the American Zebra (Equus simplicidens) was closely related to the still-extant Grevy's Zebra (Equus grevyi) of eastern Africa, and may or may not have sported zebra-like stripes. Fossil specimens of the American Zebra (all of them discovered in Hagerman, Idaho) date to about three million years ago, during the late Pliocene epoch. It's unknown whether this species survived into the ensuing Pleistocene.

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The Ferghana

Chinese man riding a white horse while leading a black horse

Han Gan / Wikimedia Commons / public domain

The Ferghana may be the only horse ever to occasion a war. In the first and second centuries B.C., the Han Dynasty of China imported this short-legged, muscular equine from the Dayuan people of central Asia, for the use of the army. Fearing depletion of their native stock, the Dayuan put a sudden end to the trade, resulting in the short (but colorfully named) "War of the Heavenly Horses." The Chinese won, and, according to at least one account, demanded ten healthy Ferghanas for breeding purposes and a bounty of 3,000 additional specimens. The now-extinct Ferghana was known in antiquity for "sweating blood," which was probably the symptom of an endemic skin infection.

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The Narragansett Pacer

Narragansett Pacer illustration
Narragansett Pacer.

Internet Archive Book Images / Wikimedia Commons / public domain

Like many of the extinct horses on this list, the Narragansett Pacer was a breed, rather than a species, of equine (the same way a Labrador Retriever is a breed, rather than a species, of dog). In fact, the Narragansett Pacer was the first horse breed ever to be engineered in the United States, derived from British and Spanish stock shortly after the Revolutionary War. No less a personage than George Washington owned a Narragansett Pacer, but this horse fell out of style in the ensuing decades, its cache depleted by export and interbreeding. The Pacer hasn't been seen since the late 19th century, but some of its genetic material persists in the Tennessee Walking Horse and the American Saddlebred.

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The Neapolitan

Illustration of Neapolitan horse being led by person

Print Collector / Contributor / Getty Images 

"His limbs are strong, and well-knit together; his pace is lofty, and he is very docile for the performance of any exercise; but a nice eye may discover that his legs are something too small, which seems to be his only imperfection." So goes a description of the Neapolitan, a horse bred in southern Italy from the late Middle Ages to the Enlightenment. While equine experts maintain that the Neapolitan has gone extinct (some of its bloodlines persist in the modern Lipizzaner), some people continue to confuse it with the similarly named Napolitano. As with other recently vanished horses, it may yet be possible to re-breed the elegant Neapolitan back into existence.

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The Old English Black

Illustration of Old English Black standing by fence
Old English Black.

Louis Moll; Eugène Nicolas Gayot; François Hippolyte Lalaisse, cropped and reworked by Kersti  / Wikimedia Commons / public domain 

What color was the Old English Black? Surprisingly, it was not always black. Many individuals of this breed were actually bay or brown. This equine had its roots in the Norman Conquest, in 1066, when European horses brought by William the Conqueror's armies interbred with English mares. The Old English Black is sometimes confused with the Lincolnshire Black, a breed of Dutch horse imported to England in the 17th century by King William III. According to at least one horse genealogist, the now-extinct Old English Black developed into the Black Horse of Leicestershire, which itself developed into the Dark Horse of the Midlands, which today is survived by modern Clydesdales and Shires.

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The Quagga

Quagga profile on land

Nicolas Marechal / Wikimedia Commons / public domain 

Probably the most famous extinct equine of modern times, the Quagga was a sub-species of the Plains Zebra that lived in the environs of modern South Africa and was hunted to oblivion by Boer settlers, who prized this animal for its meat and pelt. Any Quaggas that weren't immediately shot and skinned wound up being humiliated in other ways, exported for display in foreign zoos, used to herd sheep and even dragooned into pulling carts of gawking tourists in early 19th-century London. The last known Quagga died in an Amsterdam zoo in 1883. Some scientists hold out hope that this zebra can be bred back into existence, under the controversial program known as de-extinction.

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The Syrian Wild Ass

Illustration of two Syrian Wild Asses
Syrian Wild Ass.

De Agostini / Biblioteca Ambrosiana / Getty Images 

A subspecies of onager, a family of equids closely related to donkeys and asses, the Syrian Wild Ass has the distinction of being mentioned in the Old Testament, at least, according to the views of some Biblical experts. The Syrian Wild Ass was one of the smallest modern equids yet identified at only about three feet high at the shoulder, and it was also notorious for its ornery, untameable disposition. Presumably known to the Arabic and Jewish residents of the Middle East for millennia, this ass entered the western imagination via the reports of European tourists in the 15th and 16th centuries. Relentless hunting capped off by the depredations of World War I gradually rendered it extinct. 

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The Tarpan

Tarpan running

Nastasic / Getty Images 

The Tarpan, Equus ferus ferus, aka the Eurasian Wild Horse, holds an important place in equine history. Shortly after the last Ice Age, about 10,000 years ago, the indigenous horses of North and South America went extinct, along with other mammalian megafauna. Meanwhile, the Tarpan was being domesticated by the early human settlers of Eurasia, allowing genus Equus to be re-introduced to the New World, where it once again flourished. As huge debt as we owe to the Tarpan, that didn't prevent the last living captive specimen from expiring in 1909, and since then efforts to re-breed this subspecies back into existence have met with dubious success.

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The Turkoman

Turkoman horse profile, running
Turkmene, Turkoman horse.

F Joseph Cardini / WIkimedia Commons / public domain 

For much of recorded history, the settled civilizations of Eurasia were terrorized by the nomadic peoples of the Steppes, Huns, and Mongols, to name two famous examples. And part of what made these "barbarian" armies so terrifying was their sleek, muscular horses, which trampled villages and villagers whilst their riders wielded spears and arrows. Long story short, the Turkoman Horse was the mount favored by the Turkic tribespeople, though as a military secret it was impossible to keep. Various specimens were imported into Europe, either as gifts from Eastern rulers or as plunder from warfare. The Turkoman has gone extinct, but its noble bloodline persists in the most famous and muscular breed of modern horse, the Thoroughbred.

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Strauss, Bob. "10 Recently Extinct Horse Breeds." ThoughtCo, Sep. 1, 2021, thoughtco.com/recently-extinct-horses-1093352. Strauss, Bob. (2021, September 1). 10 Recently Extinct Horse Breeds. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/recently-extinct-horses-1093352 Strauss, Bob. "10 Recently Extinct Horse Breeds." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/recently-extinct-horses-1093352 (accessed March 31, 2023).