Hackney Horse History
Elegance on the Road
The development of the Hackney breed matched, stride for stride, the improvement in both the quality of life and the use of public roadways in Britain. Prosperous farms, not nobility, were responsible for developing this high-tech carriage and riding horse. As noblemen were busying themselves with fox-hunters and Thoroughbred race horses, the wealthy farmers took to the roads to show off the tangible fruits of their labors. A pair of perfectly matched bays with elegant head carriage, trotting along smartly, their knees rising almost to their noses...ah, that was the proof of abundant crops, calves and lambs.
The origins of the Hackney as we know it began in Norfolk, England where the horses called Norfolk Trotters had been selectively bred for elegant style and speed. Seeking to improve on both counts, breeders mated the Norfolk mares to grandsons of the foundation sires of the Thoroughbred. The first Hackney as we know the breed today is said to be The Shale’s Horse, foaled in 1760. During the next 50 years, the Hackney was developed as a special breed.
The seas were being crossed regularly during the 1800s, by ships bearing both Hackney horses and the smaller ponies which certain breeders were selectively encouraging.
Vast improvement in British roadways in the mid-1800s also contributed to the development of the swift trotting horse. These roads did not always demand dray animals which could tug carts from deep ruts. Now, a man could say 'Trot On' and really go! These new and better roads fairly invited competition between farmers, both riding and driving swift trotting horses on the to market.
The breeding of Hackneys in England was formalized by the founding of the Hackney Stud Book Society in 1883.
This was the Golden Age of Driving, when automobiles were not even a dream. The Hackney was the ultimate driving machine of the 1880s both in America and in Britain. The first Hackney pony imported to America was 239 Stella, brought to Philadelphia by Mr. A. J. Cossatt in 1878.
In 1891 Mr. Cossatt and other Hackney enthusiasts founded the American Hackney Horse Society, an organization and registry which thrives today. From 1890 until the Depression, wealthy Americans brought boatload after boatload of horses and ponies of the most noted strains.