Hackney: Horse Breed Profile

Training, Grooming, and Care Tips

Bay Hackney Horse competing in a driving show.

 Julian Finney / Getty Images

With its high-stepping, flashy knee action and easy trainable nature, it’s no wonder that the Hackney Horse is such a great driving horse. But despite this horse’s talents in the show ring and as a pleasure driving horse, this breed is endangered. With less than 200 of these horses living in the United States today, the Hackney is rare and hard to find. 

Breed Overview

Weight: 1,000 to 2,000 pounds

Height: 15 to 16 hands

Body Type: Sleek body with refined neck and head

Best for: Intermediate and advanced carriage drivers or competitive drivers

Life Expectancy: 20 to 35 years

Hackney Horse History and Origins

The origins of the Hackney Horse begin in Norfolk, England in the mid-1700s. Breeders crossed the Norfolk Trotter with Thoroughbreds, gradually developing the Hackney breed. During the 1800s, this breed became highly popular in Britain because of its speed and power as a light carriage horse.

In the late 1800s, the Hackney was imported to the United States. While still used as a driving horse, the Hackney was frequently crossed with pony breeds for smaller, more compact ponies known as Hackney Ponies.

Today, the Hackney Horse is relatively uncommon and it’s estimated that fewer than 3,000 of these horses are alive today. Of those horses, the majority are located in Britain, with only about 200 residing in the United States. Conserving this breed is a high priority. In contrast, the Hackney Pony is highly popular and doesn’t have the same conservation needs as the Hackney Horse.

Hackney Horse Size

Hackney horses are usually between 15 and 16 hands tall, weighing between 1,000 and 1,200 pounds. Stallions tend to be larger and more muscular than mares and horses who are gelded early on in life. Hackney Ponies, which originated from Hackney horses that were bred to Welsh and Fell ponies, stand at 14.2 hands high and under.

Bay Hackney Horse being shown in hand.
Kit Houghton / Getty Images 

Breeding and Uses

Hackneys are mainly used for driving, and their high-stepping action makes them flashy, impressive carriage horses. Hackneys are usually shown in single, pair, and four-horse driving arrangements. They also compete in combined driving events, their speed and agility giving them an advantage.

While these horses are most commonly used for driving, they can be ridden and the Hackney does well in dressage and jumping.

Because the Hackney has been an endangered breed, breeding programs are limited and hard to find. With the recent increased interest in carriage driving, these horses are being sought out more often, so it’s possible that more breeding programs will be created or will grow in size in the near future.

Colors and Markings

Hackneys have primarily dark, solid-colored coats in bay, chestnut, and black shades. Horses may have white leg or face markings.

Unique Characteristics of the Hackney Horse

One of the most distinctive features of the Hackney is its unique trot. These horses move fluidly, yet carry their legs with unusually high knee and hock action. This prancing-like movement makes for a brilliant, eye-catching performance that’s ideal for the show ring, giving the impression that the horse is simply floating over the ground.

Some Hackneys are shown with docked tails. This practice originated as a way to prevent the tail from being caught up in the harness or carriage, and today it’s seen as a breed standard in some classes.

Diet and Nutrition

Most Hackneys will do well on a traditional diet or hay and/or grass, with a feed concentrate or ration balancer to make up for nutritional deficiencies in the forage. Horses that have a heavy competition schedule or that are in significant work may require dietary adjustments to maintain weight and to supply the energy needed for the show ring.

Common Health and Behavior Problems

The Hackney is known for being docile and easily trainable, but is also sensitive and responsive horse. These horses tend to be friendly. If mishandled, they can develop negative behaviors.

These horses tend to be hardy and are known for often staying sound during their entire driving or competition careers. They aren’t typically prone to any genetic conditions. Training and driving can affect the Hackney’s soundness, though. Their high-stepping action can cause joint pain, stiffness, and arthritis, so it’s important to encourage natural movement in a horse and to provide joint support in the form of supplements or therapies, like massage. 


Most Hackneys are shown with braided manes and long, flowing tails, but achieving that show ring look takes lots of grooming and preparation for months or years in advance. The tail takes the most work. Be prepared to remove tail tangles by hand and regularly apply a spray-in conditioner to maintain the tail’s health. Braiding the tail into a tail bag or tying it up into a mud knot will also help to preserve its health, especially in the challenging winter months.

Regularly conditioning and brushing the mane will keep it healthy. Before shows, the mane will need to be pulled to an appropriate length, then braided. It takes time to learn how to braid well, so this is a skill that an owner or groom should start developing months in advance.

Regular, thorough grooming and good nutrition will also help to achieve the brilliant, shiny coat that’s ideal when competing.

  • Easy to train

  • Beautiful high-stepping action

  • Ideal for driving

  • Rare and hard to find

  • High-stepping action can lead to joint pain

Champion and Celebrity Hackney Horses

Hackneys are highly popular in the show ring, so many champion horses exist. Some of the most well-known Hackneys hail from the breed’s early days:

  • Phenomenon, a Hackney mare who lived in the 1800s, was ridden under saddle. She trotted 17 miles in 56 minutes.
  • Phenomena, Phenomenon’s daughter, trotted 17 miles in 53 minutes in 1832.

Both of these mares are an excellent example of the breed’s speed.

Drawing of a Hackney Horse trotting.
 NNhering / Getty Images

Is the Hackney Horse Right for You?

The Hackney is friendly, trainable, and beautiful – all the qualities that many riders and drivers look for in their horses. If you enjoy driving or want a horse that you can both ride and drive, the Hackney might be a great choice. Keep in mind that it can be difficult to find a Hackney for sale near you, because of the breed’s low population in the United States.

How to Buy or Adopt a Hackney Horse

If you’re ready to buy a Hackney Horse, you’ll need to do some research and some hunting. Chances are that you’ll have to travel a good distance to buy your Hackney, since there are so few of the horses present in the country. Plan to spend in the range of $10,000 and up for a horse.

If you love all of the qualities of the Hackney but don’t mind a slightly smaller equine, consider buying a Hackney Pony, instead. Hackney Ponies are smaller but just as flashy, and they’re much more common in the United States. You can find ponies starting around $5,000, and may even be able to find some available through a rescue.

More Horse Breeds

If you’re interested in similar breeds, check out:

Otherwise, you can check out all of our other horse breed profiles.