The history of horse breeding goes back thousands of years. Though the precise date is not known, humans may have domesticated the horse as far back as 4500 BC.
For thousands of years horse breeders have worked to improve the physical performance abilities, appearance and conformation of their horses. This has led to the development of not only different breeds, but also families or bloodlines within breeds that are ideal for excelling at specific tasks.
The Arabian horse of the desert naturally developed speed and endurance to travel long distances and survive in a harsh environment. Its domestication by people added a trainable disposition to the Arabian’s natural abilities.
In northern Europe, native heavy horses had a naturally thick, warm coat. With domestication they were put to work as a farm animal that could pull a wagon and a plow. Through selective breeding this heavy horse was used to create a strong but ridable animal suitable for carrying heavily-armored knights in battle.
Centuries later, when Europeans wanted faster horses, they imported Arabians and other oriental horses to breed to their heavier, local animals. This led to the development of breeds such as the Thoroughbred, a horse suitable for racing or the cavalry. The Andalusian was another product of breeding an oriental horse to a local heavy horse, this time in Spain. It was powerfully built, but extremely nimble and capable of the quick bursts of speed over short distances necessary for warfare and bullfighting.
In modern times, various horse breeds have been continually selectively bred to further specialize at certain tasks. One example of this is the quarter horse. Once a general-purpose working ranch horse, different bloodlines now specialize in different events such as team roping, calf roping, racing and cutting cattle.
Another example is the Thoroughbred. While most are bred for racing there are also specialized bloodlines suitable as show jumpers.
Each of the breeds listed here has a breed description and a brief history.