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Use and characteristics of the English Thoroughbred
Although English Thoroughbreds mostly require special care and management, this is well repaid by their performance and spirit. Standing between 15 hands (60 inches/152 cm) and 17 (68 inches/173 cm) hands high, these tall, deep-barrelled horses require confident handling. For this reason, it is generally experienced equestrians who buy an English Thoroughbred. Racing Thoroughbreds tend to be of two types: flat racers and steeplechasers. Flat racers are bred for speed over limited distances, while steeplechasers are larger, stronger and also slower, as they jump obstacles while they are racing over longer courses. When vendors sell an English Thoroughbred for racing, they are often described by category, as either sprinters, stayers, or middle-distance horses. Thoroughbreds and their crosses with other breeds make successful eventers, show jumpers and dressage horses.
Origin and history of breeding English Thoroughbreds
Horse racing has undoubtedly taken place in many countries since ancient times. The Greeks and Romans enjoyed exciting and dangerous chariot races, and winning charioteers and their horses had a fan following just as rock stars and football teams do today! However, the ultimate racehorse emerged in Britain in the eighteenth century, and the reason for this is complex and fascinating. Although described as English Thoroughbreds, several types and breeds of horse contributed to their creation. Many people have heard of the three founding fathers of “Oriental” type (that is, Arabian, Turkoman and Barb), who are held to be the originators of the Thoroughbred. These three are the Byerley Turk, the Godolphin Arabian (or Barb) and the Darley Arabian. In fact, many imported sires contributed to the Thoroughbred. However, far fewer people know of the other horses, some of them pony-sized, who contributed in early times. These were the Galloways of Scotland and the somewhat larger Hobbies of Ireland, both of which were extremely fast riding and racing horses, and very well-known from late medieval times onward. DNA has now shown that the speed gene came from these types of British and Irish horse. Formal racing for prizes, particularly of bells made from silver and gold, was established at places like Chester and Carlisle in the sixteenth century, long before the arrival of horses of Oriental type. From the late seventeenth century onwards, hundreds of horses of “Oriental” type were imported into Britain and they too contributed to the development of the Thoroughbred. Rulers such as Charles II were keen racegoers and even took part in races themselves. While Newmarket became the centre for racing in England, there were numerous other racecourses throughout the country and racing became a popular sport for all classes.
English Thoroughbreds in equestrianism
From Eclipse and Hyperion to Red Rum and Desert Orchid, the sight of Thoroughbreds demonstrating their power and speed on the green turf of a racecourse is still an essential part of English culture. Thoroughbreds are one of the main contributors to modern international warmblood sports horses.